Michael Gilbertson’s day started the same as any other day: teaching ear training to Freshmen students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and then getting ready for his upcoming premiere with the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, but all that changed when his lunch meeting with conductor Benjamin Simon was interrupted, “I received a phone call from Donald Nally [Conductor of the Grammy Award-winning ensemble, The Crossing] congratulating me. That’s how I found out.” Those congratulations were well earned, as Gilbertson was one of the youngest ever composers to be named a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize. His 2017 work Quartet, written for the Verona Quartet, is Gilbertson’s first work in the string quartet medium, and a rare chamber work from a composer who regularly delights audiences with his colorful orchestral works.

Gilbertson began composing the work in the Fall of 2016 but he reconsidered what he has already written in November after the US election. “After several weeks of sketching my first quartet in the fall of 2016, I started over in mid-November as the piece became a sort of personal reaction to the presidential election.” Looking to the opening chords of Sibelius’s Second Symphony for inspiration, the pulsing harmonics of the opening give way to lush, beautiful string writing that played to the Verona Quartet’s strengths. Gilbertson felt a strong aesthetic kinship with the Verona Quartet, “they are an ambitious group and I wanted to write them an ambitious piece.” The work was premiered at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in February 2017. 

While Gilbertson described himself as being “in shock” at the news, anyone who has heard his recent performances with the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Washington National Opera, Albany Symphony, San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, and countless others, wouldn’t be surprised. His “vivid, tightly woven” and “delectably subtle” (Baltimore Sun) music continues to impress audiences and critics throughout the United States. His Graffiti: Concerto for Chamber Orchestra will receive its world premiere this weekend with the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, where Gilbertson just started his three-year tenure as their BMI Foundation Composer-In-ResidenceWe can’t wait to see what other exciting projects are waiting for him on the horizon. Stay tuned!

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