B i o g r a p h y
HERSCHEL GARFEIN is a twice-GRAMMY® award winning composer, writer and stage director. He composed Mortality Mansions: Songs of Love and Loss After 60 (Delos Records), a collaboration with the late US Poet Laureate Donald Hall. (“Shimmering, expressive song cycle” —San Francisco Chronicle). Mortality Mansions was a co-production of the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University, Barnard College and the art-song organization Sparks and Wiry Cries. Recent work includes the premiere of King of the River for baritone and orchestra on a text by Stanley Kunitz (“a marvelous piece of descriptive modernism.” —BC Reviews) and The Layers for cello and piano, commissioned by Sophie Shao and premiered at Bargemusic, Brooklyn. He is the composer/librettist of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, the first-ever operatic adaptation of a play by Tom Stoppard. When excerpts were performed at Fort Worth Opera “Frontiers” in 2014, the Wall Street Journal wrote, “composer-librettist Herschel Garfein set the diamond-bright dialogue of the Tom Stoppard play with clarity and wit, heightening the comedy through skillful ensemble writing and characterization.”
Garfein conceived, wrote and directed the jazz theater piece My Coma Dreams for composer/pianist Fred Hersch, which has been seen in New York, San Francisco and Berlin and was released on dvd in 2014. (“Best of 2014” Boston Globe; “Brilliant...smart, honest and true” Downbeat). My Coma Dreams has been embraced by the medical community for its reflections on the patient’s experience of contemporary medical practice; in Berlin it was produced by the European Society for Intensive Care Medicine, its 2013 NYC premiere was produced by The Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University Medical School.
Garfein’s recent work as a composer includes two vocal premieres with Brooklyn Art Song Society: The Luminous Particular (on poems of Jane Kenyon), and A Tuesday Spot, a duet on a poem of KC Trommer; three songs for the all-star CD he co-produced, An AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing for Hope, featuring Joyce DiDonato, Yo-Yo Ma, Jamie Barton, Anthony Dean Griffey and many others (GPR Records). His work is published by Bill Holab Music and by CF Peters.
Garfein teaches Music Composition at The Steinhardt School, New York University where in 2013 he was awarded The Excellence in Teaching Award. He also teaches privately in New York City.
Garfein was awarded the 2012 GRAMMY® award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for his “wildly operatic libretto” (–BBC Music Magazine) for Robert Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry in a performance by Florentine Opera, Milwaukee. Released on Naxos, the disk won a second GRAMMY® for Best Engineered Classical Recording.
He won his 2016 GRAMMY® award as Producer of the critically-acclaimed Presidential Suite: eight variations on freedom by composer Ted Nash. The album won GRAMMY’s for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, and Best Instrumental Composition (for the movement “Spoken at Midnight”).
Garfein’s other libretti include Aldridge's Sister Carrie, which Opera News called "an important addition to the American operatic canon"; and Parables, a symphonic oratorio on issues of religious tolerance, premiered by the Topeka Symphony Orchestra and subsequently staged by the University of Minnesota Opera Theater, filmed by Twin Cities Public Television and released as a Naxos DVD. Opera News made it a video 'pick' of the month in 2015. Garfein also wrote the libretto for the oratorio Alzheimer’s Stories by Robert S. Cohen, which Garfein created from first-hand accounts of Alzheimer’s caregivers. Alzheimer’s Stories is one of the most performed large-scale choral works in the US; it received its NYC premiere in 2022 at Carnegie Hall and was a keynote work at the ACDA Conference in Kansas City, Feb 2019.
Garfein first gained recognition for Mythologies, (lyrics and music) an evening-length dance triptych commissioned for The Mark Morris Dance Group, based on essays of Roland Barthes, which premiered at the BAM ‘Next Wave’ Festival. Mr. Garfein has collaborated with famed experimental theatre group Mabou Mines, noted mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and director Sir Peter Hall. His concert music compositions include American Steel for the Alabama Symphony; Places to Live for the Boston Classical Orchestra; and two string quartets –one written for the Lark Quartet.
He has won awards and fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, The National Institute for Opera/Music Theater, and the MacDowell Colony. He teaches Music Composition at The Steinhardt School, New York University where, in the 2012-13 academic year, he was awarded The Excellence in Teaching Award.