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Kati Agócs

  • Composition

“One of the brightest stars in her generation of composers” (Audiophile Audition), Kati Agócs has served on the composition faculty at New England Conservatory since 2008. Agócs writes music that is heard with increasing regularity across the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Her diverse and growing body of work is hailed for merging sensuous allure with lapidary rigor and delivers a searing emotional impact. The Boston Globe has praised its elegance, citing “music of fluidity and austere beauty” with “a visceral intensity of expression” and encouraging audience members to “go, listen, and be changed.” The New York Times has characterized her chamber music as “striking” and her vocal music as possessing “an almost nineteenth-century naturalness.” A recent Guggenheim Fellow, she is also a winner of the prestigious Arts and Letters Award, the lifetime achievement award in music composition from The American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Recently her work for chorus and orchestra The Debrecen Passion was heard in its premiere performance by Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Lorelei Ensemble. The Boston Musical Intelligencer cited vocal music that was “ravishing” 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.” The first album devoted to recordings of Kati Agócs’s orchestral music was released on the BMOP/sound label in 2016. New York’s WQXR called the album (The Debrecen Passion) “high-craft, high-drama music” which “hurtles themes of love and devotion through a particularly intense prism of influences and language,” while Boston’s WBUR described it as “deeply spiritual.”

Music by Kati Agócs has been commissioned and performed by many premier ensembles and organizations, including the Fromm Foundation, the Toronto Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the American Composers Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, Ensemble Reconsil Vienna, Lontano (London, U.K.), the Albany Symphony Orchestra, the Da Capo Chamber Players, Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal, the New Juilliard Ensemble, PRISM Saxophone Quartet, and the multiple Grammy Award–winning ensemble eighth blackbird, who toured the U.S. with her Immutable Dreams. Recent commissions include Vessel for New York’s Metropolis Ensemble; 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, commissioned by James Sommerville for the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, “a hoedown whirl of symphonic fun… a burst of party energy” (The Toronto Star); and Crystallography, commissioned by Canada’s Standing Wave Ensemble and noted by Vancouver Classical Music for its “wondrous ease and flow” and “exotic rhythms.”

In January 2016 a portrait concert of Kati Agócs’s chamber works was presented in Boston by Hub New Music. The Boston Musical Intelligencer noted "stunningly varied works that clearly emerge from a single personality … a distinct voice that is challenging without being elusive … an unshakable emotional core.” Chamber works by Kati Agócs are championed by leading performers such as saxophonist Timothy McAllister, pianist Fredrik Ullén, and harpist Bridget Kibbey. Time Out New York listed Kibbey’s album Love Is Come Again—featuring Agócs’s Every Lover is a Warrior—as one of its top ten recordings of 2007. 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.”

Awards and honors include the Guggenheim Fellowship; the Arts and Letters Award, Charles Ives Fellowship, and Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; The Boston Foundation’s inaugural Brother Thomas Fellowship; composition fellowships from the Massachusetts Arts Council and the New York Foundation for the Arts; 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; residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Virginia Center; the Presser Foundation Award; and others. She has served as Composer-in Residence with the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival and with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada for its Fiftieth Anniversary Season.

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 is music that seems to come directly from nature. It reaches the hearer through melody and clear design, with its soulful directness and its naturalness of dissonance.”

Born in 1975 in Canada of Hungarian and American parents, 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, with fifty percent of all sheet music sales currently being donated to help children and families in Budapest, Hungary.

M.M., 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 by Kate Lemmon Photography

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