Described by the Los Angeles Times as “an intense, luminous American composer” and by the New York Times as “a painter who knows exactly where her picture will be hung,” Alexandra du Bois is a Manhattan-based composer and violinist whose deep musical imagery has continually attracted commissions created to honor 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.
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 that inspired her to begin composing and underscores her music to this day.
Before she was described as “one of America’s most promising young composers,” (LA Times) du Bois had already been commissioned by Kronos Quartet—at that time the youngest composer ever to be commissioned by the quartet. The group has subsequently commissioned her first, third and fifth string quartets and has released a recording of first quartet. Du Bois is also the youngest composer ever commissioned by the legendary Beaux Arts Trio.
The music of Alexandra du Bois has made its home at venues around the world including Carnegie Hall, Théàtre de la Ville, Paris, the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, 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, Khachaturian Concert Hall, Yerevan, Armenia and the Nikolaisaal Potsdam, Germany, among many 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, offered a deeper description.
The composer…reading Hillesum’s work and visiting Amsterdam, Westerbrook, and Auschwitz 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 Shadi Ghadirian.
Du Bois’ first commission from Kronos Quaret was written during the months leading up to the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. The quartet 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) 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. InBeauty, May I Walk, commissioned by Present Music, is a tribute to the Navajo people and the spiritual practice of restoring balance and harmony. For Hope Dies Last (a nonet commissioned by the Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings for trombonist David Jackson), du Bois travelled the Armenian countryside with prize-winning photojournalist and artist Michelle Andonian in creative preparation for 45-min work commemorating the Armenian Genocide. Du Bois’ fourth string quartet, commissioned by the Apollo Chamber Players, finds inspiration in the folk music from the former Republic of Yugoslavia.
Kronos Quartet founder and first violinist, David Harrington, described the music of du Bois 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).
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 and with Southwest Chamber Music in Los Angeles. Her work has been recognized with awards by the BMI Foundation, Netherland-America Foundation, the Harrison House, NewMusicUSA, New York State Council on the Arts, Indiana University and The Juilliard School, among others.
She is privileged to include among her former teachers Christopher Rouse, Sven-David Sandström, Claude Baker, Don Freund, Federico Agostini, Henryk Kowalski, Osvaldo Golijov, Peter Haase, Howard Frazin, David Patterson, Suzanne Schreck, Sophie Vilker, Stephen Shipps and Lynn Chang.
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 (Marin Alsop, conductor), the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Lukes, 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 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 Kaufman Center NYC among others. Other notable performances include those presented by ensembles such as JACK Quartet, American Modern Ensemble, Felici Trio, Mimesis Ensemble, Lost Dog New Music Ensemble, Syzygy New Music, Tribeca New Music Festival, neoLit, Duplexity, the Chun Sisters and New Music Detroit.
Alexandra du Bois’ music has been performed across the United States and in other countries including France, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Canada, Armenia, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. Commercial recordings of du Bois’ music can be found on recordings released by Kronos Quartet and Perspectives Recordings for MAYA. Alexandra du Bois has lived in Manhattan since 2005 and is a member of BMI.