Described as “an intense, luminous American composer” (Los Angeles Times), as “a painter who knows exactly where her picture will be hung,” (New York Times), and as “offering an extraordinary interface between the traditional and avant-garde,” (New Zealand Herald), the music of Alexandra du Bois is often propelled by issues of indifference and inequality throughout the United States and the world. Alexandra du Bois is a Manhattan-based composer and violinist whose musical imagery has continually attracted commissions created to honor or mourn world events both historical and contemporary. Her music has been heard in concert halls across five continents—her travels connecting her tangibly to the countries that inform and inspire her work.
Kronos Quartet founder and first violinist, David Harrington, described the music of du Bois in 2003 as having “found a voice when many people were speechless” and “attempts to be a conscience in a time of oblivion. She dared, in ‘An Eye for an Eye’, to counter abuses of moral authority with an internal, personal sound using the string quartet as a witness, a reminder, that music and creativity are part of a continuing web of responsibility” (Strings Magazine).
Born in Virginia Beach, Virginia and a Northeast coast resident for most of her life, du Bois (M.M. The Juilliard School; B.M. Indiana University) found her early musical voice through the violin, beginning lessons at the age of two years old. After a move to rural Virginia, she began hearing music in the natural world around her. It was this intimate connection to nature and the sea combined with solitude that inspired her to begin composing and underscores her music to this day.
Alexandra du Bois’ connection to chamber music began at an early age through her connection to the violin and is often inspired by the sea and her childhood spent at the seaside. Before she was described as “one of America’s most promising young composers,” (LA Times) du Bois had been commissioned by Kronos Quartet—at that time the youngest composer ever to be commissioned by the quartet at age twenty-one years old. The ensemble subsequently commissioned her first, third and fifth string quartets and released the first commercial recording of first quartet, Oculus (An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind). Du Bois is also the youngest composer ever commissioned by legendary pianist Menahem Pressler with the Beaux Arts Trio who premiered her first piano at the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam when du Bois was twenty-three years old.
The music of Alexandra du Bois has made its home at concert halls on five continents, including Carnegie Hall, Théàtre de la Ville, Paris, the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, De Oosterpoort, Groningen, the Netherlands, Hanoi Opera House, Ha Noi, Vietnam, The Barbican, London, Teatro Gran Rex, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Smetana Hall, Prague, Czech Republic, Zipper Hall, Los Angeles, Centro Kursaal, San Sebastián, Spain, City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney, Australia, Khachaturian Concert Hall, Yerevan, Armenia, Auckland Town Hall, New Zealand, Muziekcentrum, Eindhoven and the Nikolaisaal Potsdam, Germany, among others.
Alexandra du Bois was composer-in-residence with Grammy-award winning Southwest Chamber Music as they toured Vietnam and Los Angeles as part of the Ascending Dragon Music Festival—a project described by the U.S. State Department as the largest cultural exchange between the U.S. and Vietnam in history. Southwest Chamber Music commissioned du Bois’ Within Earth, Wood Grows featuring the Vietnamese monochord, the đàn bầu. The world premiere at the Hanoi Opera House in Vietnam was reviewed by Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times:
She has an unerring sense of beauty, and her new score began with the accrual of melody in slow, soft, overlapping layers, the way Mahler did in his most affecting adagios. But also like Mahler, she revealed innocence as always an illusion. In her program notes she spoke of overcoming mental images of Vietnamese afflicted with the results of Agent Orange and of American war veterans wounded in Vietnam or haunted by memories. Sweetness never left her score, but beauty and pain intermingled. A bass line provided a heartbeat, and beguiling melodic lines led through a maze of dead ends. The ending was a stunner – a scream became a spiritual cadence, as if giving thanks for sour, sensuous fruit.
For du Bois, music is at its core song and dance—yet music is also an internal dance within oneself where one can find solace and understanding. After receiving a grant from the Netherland-America Foundation to retrace the footsteps of young Dutch writer and Holocaust victim Etty Hillesum, du Bois wrote Night Songs (Nachtliederen), a 30-minute quartet commissioned by Kronos Quartet—described by the New York Times as “well-made and deeply sincere.” Molly Sheridan, in NewMusicBox, offers a deeper description:
The composer…reading Hillesum’s work and visiting Amsterdam, [Kamp] Westerbrook, and Auschwitz [Birkenau] to step as close to the Dutch Jew’s wartime life experience as possible. The music born of this was starkly touching, conveying the complexity of individual human darkness rather than the epic turmoil of nations in a time of genocide.
Championed by conductor Randall Craig Fleischer, du Bois wrote Fanfare for orchestra—inspired by and dedicated to the inauguration of the first African-American to hold the office of President of the United States. The Anchorage Symphony Orchestra premiered the work in 2009. Conductor Marin Alsop and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra commissioned her orchestral work Beneath Boundaries, which was premiered in collaboration with NPR’s Kitchen Sisters’ multimedia project sharing stories of women and girls from diverse cultures. Du Bois’ Beneath Boundaries, in particular, was inspired by the photography of Iranian artist Shadi Ghadirian.
Du Bois’ first commission from Kronos Quartet, An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind (the title, a quote frequently attributed to M.K. Gandhi) was written during the months leading up to the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq. During its premieres, the work was praised as “an impressively sustained essay in musical melancholy” (The Guardian, London), “a stunning piece that explored the landscape of war and conflict with a sorrowful tone of foreboding, chaos and devastation” (BBC Manchester), an “anti-war placard,” (New York Times) and as an “astonishing work, written when the composer was in her early 20s, [which] seems deeper with each hearing” (LA Times).
Alexandra du Bois’ compositions often draw from the human narrative. In Beauty, May I Walk, for double choir and chamber ensemble, commissioned by Present Music in Milwaukee, is a tribute to the Navajo people. In essence, the work draws upon the seemingly unending injustice inflicted upon Native Americans by settlers of the U.S. The Navajo Nightway ceremonies’ spiritual practice of restoring balance and harmony inspired the work and gives hope for future generations of all Americans, no matter where they were born. Du Bois’ second attempt to meditate on genocide was for her 2015 work, Hope Dies Last (a nonet for winds and strings commissioned by the Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings for trombonist David Jackson and violinist Ida Kavafian), du Bois travelled throughout the Armenian countryside with prize-winning photojournalist and artist Michelle Andonian in creative preparation for 45-min work which acknowledges the 100th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in 2015. Du Bois’ fourth string quartet, commissioned by the Apollo Chamber Players, found inspiration in folk music from Croatia.
Alexandra du Bois has previously been composer-in-residence at Dartmouth College, Carnegie Hall through the Weill Institute’s Professional Training Workshop Kronos: Signature Works, Merkin Concert Hall, Mammoth Lakes Music Festival, the Harrison House, Hermitage Artist Retreat and with Southwest Chamber Music in Los Angeles and Vietnam. Her work has been recognized with awards from the BMI Foundation, Netherland-America Foundation, Kronos: Under 30 Project, Kuttner Quartet, NewMusicUSA, New York State Council on the Arts, Indiana University and The Juilliard School, among others.
Du Bois, an educator herself for the last ten years, is privileged to include amongst her own teachers, Sheila Silver, Christopher Rouse, Sven-David Sandström, Claude Baker, Don Freund, Federico Agostini, Henryk Kowalski, Osvaldo Golijov, David Patterson, Sophie Vilker, Howard Frazin, Lynn Chang, Stephen Shipps, Peter Haase and Suzanne Schreck, among others. Ms. du Bois is currently pursuing her Ph.D at Stony Brook University.
As a composer of orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal, solo and collaborative and multi-discipline works, Alexandra du Bois has received commissions from the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, The Beaux Arts Trio, Kronos Quartet, Apollo Chamber Players, Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings, Savannah Music Festival with Daniel Hope & Friends, Present Music with the Milwaukee Choral Artists and the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, PALS Children’s Chorus Boston, Southwest Chamber Music, New York Classical Players, New York City Guitar Orchestra, Bargemusic, Merkin Concert Hall, Bang on a Can Festival, Azure Ensemble, Maya Trio, The University of Massachusetts at Boston’s Chorus and Chamber Singers and the Piano Project at the Kaufman Center, among others. Further performances of du Bois’ commissioned works include those presented by ensembles such as JACK Quartet, Felici Trio, Mimesis Ensemble, Lost Dog New Music Ensemble, ALIAS Chamber Ensemble, Serenata of Santa Fe, Syzygy New Music, Tribeca New Music Festival, neoLit, Duplexity, Serenata of Santa Fe, American Modern Ensemble, the Chun Sisters and New Music Detroit, among many others.
Alexandra du Bois’ music has been performed across the United States and throughout France, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Austria, Armenia, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Canada, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. Her works and arrangements have been released on Harmonia Mundi, Kronos Quartet and Perspectives Recordings labels with several releases planned for the 2017-18 season. Alexandra du Bois has lived in Manhattan since 2005 and is a member of BMI.