Composer Ray Shattenkirk draws his inspiration from the natural world and humankind's problematic place within it. The grandest statement of this theme is found in American Icons, an hour-long work for five vocal soloists, treble and mixed choruses, and orchestra. As the culmination of his tenure as Composer-in-Residence, the work was premiered in May 2001 by the Grand Rapids Symphony, featuring the Theatre of Voices and four choruses, conducted by David Lockington.
The five movements of American Icons elegize species that have become extinct and celebrate the resurgence of others that have until recently been endangered. In telling his story, Shattenkirk employs a broad range of musical techniques, from plainchant to post-modernism, and a variety of languages: English, Latin, and various Native American dialects. In the final movement, the 23-minute Wings of Hope, Shattenkirk marshals all of his forces in a moving tribute to the nobility of the American bald eagle. The Grand Rapids Press wrote that American Icons is "touching and beautiful . . . In his more contemplative moments, his music calls to mind such so-called holy minimalists as Arvo Pärt. In his more exuberant passages, his orchestrations have the spacious, broad-shouldered appeal of Aaron Copland's ballets. . . . Shattenkirk has been working on this piece for years. It's been well worth the wait."
Born in Brooklyn in 1954, Shattenkirk is also an accomplished and active bassist (acoustic and electric), as well as a proficient pianist, flutist, guitarist, cellist, bass-baritone and conductor, with experience in a variety of idioms (symphony orchestra, marching bands, choirs, chamber choirs, jazz bands, lounge bands, garage bands, new music ensembles, etc).
Shattenkirk’s musical studies began with his singer/pianist father who was a 3rd generation NYC musician. His formal education began at Juilliard Prep, where he studied double bass with Homer Mensch and music theory with Robert Hoffstader. He received his B.M. (with honors) in music theory and composition and a B.A. in experimental psychology from the University of Florida in 1978. Shattenkirk pursued graduate studies first at the Yale School of Music, and then at Harvard. His doctoral thesis, The Raven Variations, was commissioned and premiered by the Santa Rosa Symphony. His composition teachers were Krzysztof Penderecki, John Corigliano, Jacob Druckman, John Harbison, Betsy Jolas, Earl Kim, Leon Kirchner, Donald Martino, and Andrew Imbrie.
Among the awards and prizes he has won for his compositions are a National Endowment for the Arts Composer Fellowship (1995-96); the Lakond Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, "for an established composer" (1994); a fellowship from the California Council for the Arts (1991); and Meet the Composer Awards in 1981, 1993, and 1995. He was a Composer Fellow at the 1978 American Dance Festival and a MacDowell Colony Fellow the following year. In 1982 he studied with Luciano Berio at the Tanglewood Festival on a Fromm Music Foundation Fellowship then subsequently continued his studies with maestro Berio in Florence with the assistance of a grant from the Frank Huntington Beebe Fund.
His earlier student work was honored with many distinctions, among them the BMI award; California Composers Competition; Jewish Music Commission Annual Competition; East and West Artists Composers Competition; Aspen Festival Composition Competition; Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Composers Competition; Stroud Festival Composition Competition; Delius Festival Composition Competition; "Gian Battista Viotti" Concorso Internazionale di Musica; and the National Federation of Music Clubs Young Composer Contest, as well as awards from the American Music Center. He received Harvard's George Arthur Knight Prize for his string quartet Cythara (1981) and Yale's John Day Jackson Prize for the clarinet work, Interpolations (1980).
Shattenkirk’s compositions have been commissioned by IBIS Chamber Music the New Mexico Symphony, the Long Island Philharmonic, Chamber Music America, and Collage, among others. Tatonka, premiered by Brady Allred and the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh with David Stock’s PNME, was broadcast on over 200 radio stations in Chorus America's "The First Art" series in the fall of 1995. Other performers of his music include the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the New York New Music Ensemble, the Aspen Music Festival, and Paul Hillier's Theater of Voices.
In addition to early student teaching assignments at Yale and Harvard, Shattenkirk has taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the University of South Florida School of Music and Hope College, where he was also Composer-in-Residence.
The father of 4 children, Shattenkirk took a ‘family leave’ from formal composition after the premiere of his violin concerto Velocirapsody in 2002, but continued his Book of the Endan-gered and Extinct contrapuntal 'exercises' which now number in the hundreds. The May 15, 2010 premiere of One Light, for chorus and orchestra, marked his return. Commissioned by the Salt Lake Choral Artists, the 5 movement work sets spiritual texts in a moving celebration mankind's shared religious vision.
The composer writes:“There is a striking similarity in the common focus on the spiritual nature of light as a manifestation of God, of mankind's unity with his Creator and his prophets, and as the embodiment of eternal goodness and heavenly splendor, in the poetry of medieval saints, mystics and prophets - whether they be Christian, Islamic, Sufi, Buddhist, Jewish or Hindu. When one contemplates the fundamental unity of mankind’s spiritual aspirations, the infinite variety of paths to that unity transform from latent curse to blessing. I hope that, in some small way, One Light contributes to such a transformation.”