Meet the Composer: Paul Moravec
By: Angelica DiIorio
Music has been an important part of composer Paul Moravec’s life from a young age. His interest in composition helped guide everything from what he studied to the career he built. Moravec has composed over 100 orchestral, chamber, choral, lyric, film, and electro-acoustic compositions. Learn more about the pieces he has worked on and what went into the creation of The Shining.
The Road to Success
Born in 1957 in Buffalo, NY, Paul Moravec found his passion for music as a child playing the recorder and singing in the choir at church. He began composing while working on his bachelor’s degree at Harvard University and completed a fellowship with the American Academy in Rome the year after he graduated. After returning home from a year abroad composing in Italy, Moravec went on to complete a Master of Music (1982) and Doctor of Musical Arts (1987) in composition at Columbia University. A true academic, the composer has taught at Columbia, Dartmouth, and Hunter College and is currently a professor at Adelphi University.
With the determination needed for a successful musical career, Moravec won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in Music for composing Tempest Fantasy, a chamber music piece for the cello, clarinet, violin, and piano. Following this success, he went on to compose operas such as The Letter (2009), Dance Russe (2011), and The King’s Man (2013). Moravec has a diverse range of compositions, having also composed a score for the ballet Scorpio Desert, Scherzo for chamber ensemble, and the song cycle A New Country about immigrants arriving in America.
“One of the things about music is its mystery. We do not understand why it affects us the way it does. It is invisible, much like spirits and ghosts. There is something about music, for all its rational qualities, its power is irrational—it subverts reason in some way. If you are delving deep into the unconscious mind, then music is the way to do that.”
Creating The Shining
In 2012, Moravec was approached by Minnesota Opera to create an opera for The Shining. He believes that this story is ideal for an opera because it has three main components: love, death, and power. In his composer’s note about the opera, Moravec stated, “Much of the music in the opera, including the orchestral interludes, works to get the audience inside Jack’s mind and central nervous system so that we can feel the transformation of a basically decent guy trying to do the right thing as he is overwhelmed by madness and evil.”
Jack is a conflicted character, and Moravec believes that music is a fantastic outlet for exploring the psychological distress people can be under, especially when words fail to convey the right emotion. In an interview with Opera Colorado, He said, “One of the things about music is its mystery. We do not understand why it affects us the way it does. It is invisible, much like spirits and ghosts. There is something about music. For all its rational qualities, its power is irrational—it subverts reason in some way. If you are delving deep into the unconscious mind, then music is the way to do that.”
Despite some of the darker moments in The Shining, Moravec emphasizes that he wanted to inject elements of hope and love into the production. When asked what “the shining” itself was, he replied, “I think the shining, among other things, is the power of love.”
The Road Forward for Moravec
Moravec’s wife’s name is Wendy, and she must have been pleased when The Shining was completed; she no longer had to be frightened by her name being screamed when Moravec was trying to compose. Since The Shining’s premiere in 2016, Moravec has again joined forces with librettist Mark Campbell to work on a project for American historical oratorios. One production is Sanctuary Road which follows William Still, an African American conductor on the Underground Railroad, as he recounts his time helping around 800 individuals escape to freedom. A short production debuted in 2017, but the composer is working on the oratorio as an extended, staged opera to debut in 2022 with North Carolina Opera. The recording for Sanctuary Road even features Opera Colorado favorite, Laquita Mitchell! We look forward to seeing what this composer does going forward!
Now that you have met Paul Moravec, you understand a bit more about his style. Come hear his music for yourself this Feb./March at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Tickets to The Shining on sale now>>
Have you heard any of Moravec’s music yet? What are your favorite pieces? Who are some of your favorite living American composers? Let us know in the comments below!