University of Minnesota
Regents Professor emeritus Dominick Argento taught at the School of Music for nearly 40 years.
Setting life to music
The U of M School of Music celebrates Dominick Argento and his music on October 20.
Pulitzer Prize winning composer and Regents Professor emeritus Dominick Argento taught for nearly 40 years at the University of Minnesota School of Music, helping to illuminate paths for young composers. At 85, Argento has left an indelible mark on the musical landscape of Minnesota and the world.
School of Music students and faculty, as well as luminaries from the Twin Cities community including soprano Maria Jette and opera legend Vern Sutton, will come together to bring Dominick Argento’s work to life as part of the school’s 12th annual Collage Concert on Saturday, October 20, at Ted Mann Concert Hall. The concert will feature a selection of Argento’s music from throughout his career, including selections from his vast song repertoire, several early chamber works, and the popular Valentino Dances in a rarely performed version for orchestra and chorus. Argento will be in attendance and will be honored at the event.
“I think that music...began as an emotional language. For me, all music begins where speech stops.”
— Dominick Argento
Argento is one of America’s leading composers, and among the most frequently performed 20th-century composers of opera. In addition to his more than a dozen operas, he has written several song cycles, including Casa Guidi, which won a Grammy Award in the contemporary classical music category in 2004, and From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1975. His choral symphonic works have been performed by leading choruses and orchestras nationwide.
Philip Brunelle—renowned conductor, artistic director of VocalEssence, and one of Argento’s former students—remarked, “There can be no more wonderful musical gift for a community than to have a composer of world renown living and working among us.”
It’s impossible to quantify the alchemy involved in creating music. The work of composers can be as mysterious to musicians as it is to non-musicians. Even a simple composition often requires great discipline and hours of solitude. Yet remarkably, that intimate process can result in a far-reaching connection beyond words—engaging musicians and audiences alike.
Building a creative community
Steven Rosenstone, former dean of the College of Liberal Arts, points out that while Argento was instrumental in building the University’s composition program and drawing outstanding young composers here to study, “he also helped to found and build the strength of the internationally recognized artistic organizations that we are privileged to call our own: the Minnesota Opera, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Guthrie Theater, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Dale Warland Singers, VocalEssence, and also the Walker Art Center…. Legions of acclaimed performers are his fans as well as his friends, because of his generous collaborative spirit.”
Teaching and sharing the elusive art of composition is not for all composers, and inspiring new composers is an uncommon ability. Argento, by all accounts, possessed that ability and lit a fire under the next generation of composers. Described as imposing and even intellectually intimidating, his students also recall his warmth, wisdom, and razor-sharp sense of humor. He taught by demonstrating what it meant to be a working professional composer, and by welcoming his students into the activity of Minnesota’s creative musical community. Those students have gone on to light up the world, collecting Grammy Awards and having their music premiered across the globe.
Argento profoundly influenced Libby Larsen, U of M School of Music alumna and celebrated composer. “Dr. Argento taught all of us (though he may not be aware of this) that to study composition is really to study oneself in the world in which we live. We all left his tutelage firm in our knowledge that as human beings, we are composers of music and ultimately of life.” Larsen is co-founder of the American Composers Forum, an organization committed to supporting composers and developing new markets for their music, and she is one of America’s most prolific and most performed living composers.
Argento’s artistry has inspired his colleagues as well has his students. School of Music director of choral activities Kathy Saltzman Romey shares, “We look for opportunities at the U of M School of Music to showcase the work of Dominick Argento, one of our most distinguished emeritus faculty. His significant contributions, especially in regards to vocal repertoire, have impacted generations of performers, composers, and educators who have been inspired by the power and drama of his music.”