The music of Kati Agócs is performed with increasing regularity across the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Hailed for merging sensuous allure with lapidary rigor, her diverse and growing body of work delivers a searing emotional impact. The Boston Globe has cited its elegance, praising “music of fluidity and austere beauty” which “disperses its energy in unexpected ways,” “combining great tensile strength with a gorgeous unfolding of luminous lyrical episodes, rich inventive counterpoint, and a feeling of deep, elusive mystery.”
Born in 1975, Kati Agócs is a citizen of three countries: the United States, Canada, and Hungary (European Union), and has served on the composition faculty at New England Conservatory since 2008. In 2014 The American Academy of Arts and Letters presented her with the Arts and Letters Award in Music, honoring artistic achievement and acknowledging the composer who has arrived at his or her own voice. Her music has been commissioned and performed by ensembles such as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, the National Arts Center Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, and eighth blackbird, and has been broadcast nationally across the U.S. and Canada.
Most recently, The Debrecen Passion, a 25-minute work for chorus and orchestra, was heard in its premiere performance by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Lorelei Ensemble. The Boston Globe described it as “a striking work that places a complex sonic palette at the service of a visceral intensity of expression.” The Boston Musical Intelligencer cited vocal music that sounded “ravishingly beautiful” and “orchestral interludes of great power and beauty,” while Boston Classical Review characterized the work as “a kind of Song-of-Solomon like merging of spiritual and earthly ecstasy … unpredictable to the end.” An ongoing collaboration between Kati Agócs and Boston Modern Orchestra Project will culminate in the release of the first album devoted to recordings of her orchestral music on the BMOP/sound label in 2016.
Other recent commissions include Vessel for New York’s Metropolis Ensemble; Devotion for the 50th Anniversary of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players; the cello-cimbalom duet Saint Elizabeth Bells, premiered by fellow NEC faculty member Paul Katz on New England Conservatory’s "First Monday at Jordan Hall" series; Requiem Fragments for the CBC Radio Orchestra; Perpetual Summer for the 50th anniversary of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada; Elysium, premiered by the National Arts Center Orchestra at the 2010 Winter Olympics; the short orchestral fanfare Shenanigan, “a hoedown whirl of symphonic fun … a burst of party energy” (The Toronto Star), commissioned by fellow NEC faculty member James Sommerville; and Crystallography, commissioned by Vancouver’s Standing Wave Ensemble and noted by Vancouver Classical Music for its “wondrous ease and flow” and “exotic rhythms.” The New York Times has characterized her chamber music as “striking,” her orchestral music as “filled with attractive ideas,” and her vocal music as possessing “an almost nineteenth-century naturalness.”
An audience-choice winner at the 2011 Sounds of a New Century Festival in New York, chamber works by Kati Agócs are championed by leading performers such as saxophonist Timothy McAllister, harpist Bridget Kibbey, and pianist Fredrik Ullén. The multiple Grammy-award winning group eighth blackbird toured the U.S. with Immutable Dreams. Cited by The Cleveland Plain Dealer as “mesmerizing,” the work has entered the repertoire of a dozen other ensembles since its 2007 premiere as a Jerome Foundation commission. Fanfare magazine hailed her violin-piano duet Supernatural Love as “serene and unworldly, exploring space with sound in a way that seems to evoke the time before the universe hosted life.” Hymn, a PRISM quartet commission, has become a favorite of emerging saxophone quartets. Time Out New York listed Bridget Kibbey’s album Love Is Come Again—featuring Agócs’s Every Lover is a Warrior—as one of its top ten recordings of 2007, calling the work “powerful.” The Philadelphia Inquirer compared it to “a series of haiku poems, written with an economy that allowed room for the listener to contemplate a multiplicity of meaning … that told you that nothing was what it seemed.”
Other orchestras and ensembles that have performed and commissioned works by Kati Agócs include the American Composers Orchestra, Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, Ensemble Reconsil Vienna, Lontano (London, U.K.), Albany Symphony Orchestra, Da Capo Chamber Players, Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal, New Juilliard Ensemble, Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Da Capo Chamber Players, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Duo Concertante, Budapest Saxophone Quartet, Antares, Jullliard Symphony, New England Conservatory Symphony, Newfoundland Symphony, Symphony Nova Scotia, and many more.
Further awards and honours include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Charles Ives Fellowship and Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, The Boston Foundation’s inaugural Brother Thomas Fellowship, the ASCAP Leonard Bernstein Fellowship at the Tanglewood Music Center, a Fulbright Fellowship to the Liszt Academy in Budapest, a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education, the Presser Foundation Award, and others. She has served as Composer-in Residence with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada for its Fiftieth Anniversary Season, and at the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival.
In its award citations, The American Academy of Arts and Letters said: “The music of Kati Agócs reveals a wonderfully accessible lyricism that unfolds with both drama and complexity … It has heart: it reaches the hearer through melody and clear design, with its soulful directness and its naturalness of dissonance.”
Kati Agócs earned doctoral and master's degrees from the Juilliard School, where her principal teacher was Milton Babbitt. She is also an alumna of the Aspen Music School, Tanglewood Music Festival, Sarah Lawrence College, and Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific (United World Colleges). She has written on recent American and Hungarian music for Tempo, and wrote a candid inside glimpse into the new-music scene in Hungary for The Musical Times. She had previously spearheaded an exchange program between the Juilliard School and the Liszt Academy in Budapest. As a result of these activities, the progressive Vienna-based publication Bécsi Napló credited her with raising the visibility of Hungarian composers abroad. Her works are published by Agócs Music.
Master's degree, D.M.A., The Juilliard School. Studies at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, Aspen Music School, Tanglewood, Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific (United World Colleges), and Sarah Lawrence College. Composition with Milton Babbitt. Additional studies with George Tsontakis, Zoltán Jeney, Michael Gandolfi, John Harbison, Joan Tower, Christopher Rouse, and James MacMillan. Voice with Adele Addison and Adrienne Csengery.
photo © Samantha West Photography
- Arts and Letters Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2014
- Guggenheim Fellowship, 2013
- Audience Choice Winner, Sounds of a New Century Festival, New York, 2011
- Fulbright Fellowship, 2005–2006