Ursula Oppens has long been recognized as the leading champion of contemporary American piano music. Her original and perceptive readings of other music, old and new, have earned her a place among the elect of today’s performing musicians.
In addition to her performance at MusicFest Perugia, Ms. Oppens’ 2015/16 season included recitals at Northwestern University, the Cutting Edge New Music Festival, and New York City’s Bargemusic. Ms. Oppens also returned to Music Mountain for a performance with the Cassatt Quartet in September and was the featured artist along with the International Contemporary Ensemble in a residency celebrating composer Christian Wolff at Dartmouth College in October. Ms. Oppens also appeared with the Boston Pops in Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat major, K. 365 (with Philip Moll), at the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music, Alberta Piano Fest, and Cincinnati’s Art of the Piano Festival.
Ms. Oppens also performed at the prestigious Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, and Symphony Space in New York City.
The fall of 2015 also brought the Cedille Records release of Ms. Oppens’ new recording of Frederik Rzewski’s cult classic “The People United Will Never Be Defeated”, coupled with Mr. Rzewski new composition “Four Hands”, earning her fifth Grammy nomination in the coveted category of “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” last December. Written for Ms. Oppens and premiered by her in 1976, the first recording of “The People United Will Never Be Defeated” earned her the first of her Grammy nominations in 1979. Ms. Oppens was nominated in 2011 in the coveted category of “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” for the highly praised album “Winging It: Piano Music of John Corigliano,” also released on Cedille Records. The disc featured the world premiere recording of John Corigliano’s work by the same name, which had its debut performance by Ms. Oppens at New York’s Symphony Space in May 2009. Journalist Tom Huizenga from the Washington Post praised Ms. Oppens’s interpretation: “Her rigorous, unforced performances again prove that few pianists of any era can claim a hold on contemporary piano music as she does” (August 2011).
Distinguished piano expert Jed Distler’s praised the new The People United recording as “stupendous,” awarding it 10 out of 10 for both Artistic Quality and Sound Quality on classicstoday.com:
Oppens’ virtuosity, musicality, and insightful inspiration add up to the most gratifying People United on disc…The recorded premiere of Rzewski’s more recent and delightfully inventive Four Hands features Oppens and Jerome Lowenthal relishing the music’s tricky rhythmic hockets, airy contrapuntal traps, fleeting allusions to Romantic fare, and jazzy final fugue with masterful glee. No lover of 20th- and 21st- century piano music should miss this important release. (October 6, 2015)
Earlier Grammy nominations were for Oppens Plays Carter; a recording of the complete piano works of Elliott Carter for Cedille Records (which also was named a “Best of the Year” selection by The New York Times long-time music critic Allan Kozinn); and her Piano Music of Our Time featuring compositions by John Adams, Elliott Carter, Julius Hemphill, and Conlon Nancarrow for the Music and Arts label. Ms. Oppens recently added to her extensive discography by releasing a two-piano CD for Cedille Records devoted to Visions de l’Amen of Oliver Messiaen and Debussy’s En blanc et noir performed with pianist Jerome Lowenthal. Recent releases also include a collaboration with pianist Robert Levin in a recording of the noted British composer Bernard Rands’s selected piano works on Bridge records and a collaboration with Meredith Monk, “Piano Songs”, on ECM Records.
Over the years, Ms. Oppens has premiered works by such leading composers as John Adams, Luciano Berio, William Bolcom, Anthony Braxton, Elliott Carter, John Corigliano, Anthony Davis, John Harbison, Julius Hemphill, Laura Kaminsky, Tania Leon, György Ligeti, Witold Lutoslawski, Harold Meltzer, Meredith Monk, Conlon Nancarrow, Tobias Picker, Bernard Rands, Frederic Rzewski, Allen Shawn, Alvin Singleton, Joan Tower, Lois V Vierk, Amy Williams, Christian Wolff, Amnon Wolman, and Charles Wuorinen.
As an orchestral guest soloist, Ms. Oppens has performed with virtually all of the world’s major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the American Composers Orchestra, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), and the orchestras of Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Milwaukee.
Abroad, she has appeared with such ensembles as the Berlin Symphony, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Deutsche Symphonie, the Scottish BBC, and the London Philharmonic Orchestras. Ms. Oppens is also an avid chamber musician and has performed with the Arditti, Cassatt, JACK, Juilliard, and Pacifica quartets, among other chamber ensembles.
Ursula Oppens is a Distinguished Professor of Music at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. From 1994 through the end of the 2007-08 academic year she served as John Evans Distinguished Professor of Music at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. In addition, Ms. Oppens has served as a juror for many international competitions, such as the Concert Artists Guild, Young Concert Artists, Young Pianists Foundation (Amsterdam), and Cincinnati Piano World Competition. Ms. Oppens lives in New York City.