Acclaimed for her “unique voice in American music, transcendent…witty… colorful…profound,” composer Debra Kaye’s body of work blends her deep classical roots with a wide range of influences including jazz, world music, folk, experimental improvisation, world events and sounds of daily life. Kaye’s catalogue, which includes close to 50 works, chamber and orchestral music, art songs, choral and theatrical compositions, continues to expand through her steady stream of commissions.
Recognized with ASCAP Plus Awards since 2009 for her “creative contributions to American music,” Kaye is the recipient of additional grants and awards from Meet the Composer, Mannes College of Music, the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir, the New School and the Edward T. Cone Foundation. She has held residencies at the Millay Colony for the Arts and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico.
The 2017-18 season features a number of new commissions including a string quartet commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Howland Chamber Music Circle (Beacon, NY), Fantasy for flute and piano, and a commission from Composers Concordance for an electro-acoustic work to be performed at the New West Electronic Arts and Music Organization Festival in San Diego featuring Gene Pritsker (electric guitar/DJ computer), Dan Cooper (electric bass) and Lukas Ligeti (drums).
Kaye celebrated the premiere of four interrelated new works in the 2016-2017 season, Mouth of the Sky and The Dance the Turtle Dreamed from Kaye’s String Quartet No. 1, with titles drawn from the poetic imagery of Lorca. Encountering Lorca, an arrangement of her quartet for string orchestra, was programmed on the Composers Concordance’s All About Spain concert. The second set of related works based on the myth of Ikarus include an orchestral piece, Ikarus Among the Stars, commissioned by the Portland Youth Philharmonic, and Ikarus – Duo for Binya for violin and viola, commissioned by the Community Music Center of Portland. Since its Portland Premiere, the duo has been programmed on the National Association of Composers USA spring concert, David Oei’s Classical Salon at Mezzrow, and was presented in New Paltz. The newly expanded version celebrated its world premiere at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music on their fall concert.
Additional recent highlights include Hey Yud Yud-Parallel Universes presented by Composers Concordance in their series Pitches at an Exhibition – CHORUS 72, Dance to Unknowing – a Klezmer Prelude, and Wrestling with the Moon, also from Kaye’s String Quartet No. 1, featuring the Klang Quartet. Kaye’s composition, Freedom & Truth for voice and violin, inspired by women’s rights activist Margaret Fuller’s poem of the same name, was commissioned by Beacon Arts (Beacon, NY) for the unveiling of a historic landmark in Fuller’s honor and was featured at the October 2017 Dutchess County Executive’s Arts Awards. Beacon Arts sponsored a recording of the performance for inclusion in their archive celebrating the 15th Anniversary of the organization. Buscando, Kaye’s composition for solo harpsichord, commissioned by Arthur Haas of Yale University, was published by Bellmann Musik in their two volume collection, The Contemporary Harpsichordist.
Throughout her life, Debra Kaye has been inspired by nature. Some of her most powerful works reflect both its wonder and concerns. Commissioned for a Fulbright ceremony at the University of Maine, Chain Reaction, an art song for soprano and piano delivers ironic humor about climate change. Her passionate piano impromptu While We Were Sleeping, commissioned by Composers Concordance is Kaye’s response to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. It has been described as “outstanding, intensely passionate – fiery arpeggios alternating with nocturnal passages building on the romantic lyricism of Chopin, Liszt, Scriabin and other influences with modern elements.” Kaye’s residencies in New Mexico inspired her to write music evoking the awe and healing of nature in The Beauty Way for string trio, and her collection of piano pieces, Visions.
Her catalogue also includes dramatic works. My American Shtetl for piano trio and narrator, commissioned by Alaria Chamber Ensemble, was written in collaboration with author Bel Kaufman and premiered at Carnegie Hall where it was received with a standing ovation. Ms. Kaufman’s text, adapted from stories of her grandfather Sholem Aleichem, tells a Jewish immigrant’s tale. Kaye’s music weaves strands of klezmer dance tunes, Yiddish songs, ragtime and jazz resulting in a contemporary classical approach. Kaye’s dramatic settings of Shel Silverstein’s poetry earned her initial commission from the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir. The cantata The North Wind & the Sun, later arranged as a chamber opera, received subsequent performances at Mannes College of Music, Steinway Hall and Greenwich House Music School. The success of this piece paved the way for Kaye to work with Literally Alive Theatre Productions on a musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale, The Ugly Duckling which was recognized by the New York Times as “a fantasy-filled hour that combines classical ballet with songs ranging from the blues and gospel to lively show tunes.” Following three successful Off-Off Broadway runs, The Ugly Duckling continued to evolve into a new composition, Incidental Ducklings, a suite of dance and incidental music for piano trio described as “marvelous, sensitive pieces that rival anything Stravinsky ever did.”
Her debut album on Ravello Records, And So It Begins, produced by Grammy winner Judith Sherman, was included on Ted Gioia’s list of top 100 CD’s. The disc carries its listeners on expeditions through New York City streets, to the wonders of the Taos Mountains and into a world of dancing ducklings. Kaye’s music embraces the pulse and feeling of each world. The recording was recognized as “a valuable discovery, given the quality and originality of the music that promises Kaye a bright future.”
A selection of artists and ensembles who have performed Kaye’s music include Basso Moderno, Access Contemporary Music, Opus Three Trio, Miolina and Music of the Beehive. She has been commissioned by the Alaria Chamber Ensemble, The Lark Ascending, the Classical Saxophone Project, Empire Viols, the Atlanta Music Teachers Association, and bass-baritone Paul Houghtaling among others.
Her works have been featured in performances across the country and have been presented by the New York Women Composers, Composers Concordance, Women Composers Festival of Hartford, Spectrum, and on the Friends of Music Series in Forest Park, IL. New York City venues at which her music has been performed include Carnegie Hall, Bargemusic, Merkin Concert Hall, Greenwich House, the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Ethical Culture Society, DROM, Columbia University, Mannes College and Steinway Hall. Other presenting venues include the Hartt School of Music, Cleveland State University, University of Washington, Emory University, Sacramento River Music Festival, and at the Stony Brook Chamber Music Festival among others.
Kaye’s media credits include Chicago’s WFMT, Burlington’s WRUV, Princeton’s WPRB’s Classical Discoveries, Berkeley’s KALX, WFCF-Flagler College Radio, as well as a recent interview for Women’s History Month on Merle Exit’s radio show. She has appeared as a special guest on New York’s TWC-TV show Minding Your Business and Italian publisher Odoya recently included Kaye in it’s book “Guide to Women Composers” by Italian conductor and author, Adriano Bassi.
In addition to her work as a composer, future plans include writing a series of pieces for the New Music Box blog. Kaye has also served as Executive Director of The New York Composers Circle, grants panelist for the Queen’s Council on the Arts, on the Mannes College Executive Committee, and as President of the Howland Chamber Music Circle in Beacon, NY.
A faculty member of Mannes College, Kaye runs an established private studio where she teaches piano, theory and composition. She holds a Bachelor of Music in piano from Mannes College of Music, and a Masters of Arts in composition from New York University. She furthered her studies at the Longy School of Music where she received her Dalcroze certification.
When not composing, Kaye is an avid reader and enjoys mountain climbing and the outdoors.