Broad gestures and rich textures are hallmarks of the “compelling” (The New York Times), “deliciously wistful” (San Francisco Classical Voice), “personal, expressive, and bold,” (I Care If You Listen) music of composer Alex Weiser. Born and raised in New York City, Weiser creates acutely cosmopolitan music combining a deeply felt historical perspective with a vibrant forward-looking creativity.
Weiser’s debut album and all the days were purple, was named a 2020 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Music. Released by Cantaloupe Music in April 2019, the album includes songs in Yiddish and English sung by Eliza Bagg and has been praised as “ravishing” (The New Yorker), “reverent and magical... devastatingly beautiful,” (American Record Guide), “gorgeous” (Tablet Magazine), “utterly original and exquisitely unsettling... sweeping, bewitching, divinely dissonant... pitch-perfect.” (In Geveb).
An EP released by Bright Shiny Things in September 2022 features Weiser’s water hollows stone, a multi-movement four hand piano work written for HOCKET piano duo (Sarah Gibson and Thomas Kotcheff) alongside a solo piano postlude, fade. water hollows stone was extolled as “a compelling work” and “a very immersive disc” (Whole Note); with “substantial pieces” featuring “considerable wealth of ideas and imagination” it is “an EP that qualifies as something more than a mere interim report.” (Textura).
A forthcoming album features two song cycles performed by singer Annie Rosen: in a dark blue night which sets to music Yiddish poetry about New York City at night, and Coney Island Days which explores the Jewish immigrant word of Coney Island in the 1930s and 40s.
February 2024 will see the premiere of a clarinet concerto called Tfiles. Inspired by three Yiddish poems of Kadya Moldowsky, the concerto has been commissioned by the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews for clarinetist Andrzej Cieplinski and the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Warsaw. Subsequent performances will include the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR) in Katowice in Spring 2024.
Active as an opera composer, Weiser has two operas in development. Tevye’s Daughters, written with librettist Stephanie Fleischmann, is a commission from American Lyric Theater. Based on Sholem Aleichem’s iconic Yiddish stories, it explores the tragic death of Tevye’s lesser-known daughter, Shprintse. The opera also traces the lasting impact of Shprintse’s fate on her sisters who are now elderly and living in New York. The Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language with librettist Ben Kaplan is set in 1950s post-war New York and follows linguist Yudel Mark as he sets out to write the world’s first fully comprehensive Yiddish dictionary — an effort of linguistic preservation, and a memorial to the dead. Mark is haunted by three divine figures who compel him to breathe new life into Yiddish.
Weiser recently completed another opera with Kaplan called State of the Jews. Hailed as “stunning, heavenly, marvelous” by Israeli National Public Radio, the opera is based on the life of Theodor Herzl and juxtaposes a historical narrative focusing on the last year of his life, with the more intimate story of Theodor’s conflicted relationship with his wife, Julie Herzl, and the toll his political views and activities took on their family life. Developed as a part of a two-year fellowship with American Opera Projects, the LABA fellowship of the 14th Street Y, a Roulette residency, and with support from the ConEd Exploring the Metropolis Composer Residency program, the opera received a series of preview performances at the 14th Street Y in December 2019 and awaits a premiere production.
Other recent projects include a song cycle based on poetry of Adelaide Crapsey, above the bulk of crashing water, to be released on an album by Kristen Gornstein and Jeremy Chan in fall 2023; Shimmer, an extended work for eight spatially arrayed cellos written for Ashley Bathgate which will be released on an album in July 2023; a collection of works inspired by David Vogel’s poem with gentle fingers including a setting for singer and piano, a work for singer with a percussion quartet performing inside a piano, and a pair of works for cello and piano; and Three Epitaphs originally written for singer Kate Maroney and chamber orchestra Cantata Profana.
An energetic advocate for contemporary classical music and for the work of his peers, Weiser co-founded and directs Kettle Corn New Music, an “ever-enjoyable” and “engaging” concert series which “creates that ideal listening environment that so many institutions aim for: relaxed, yet allowing for concentration” (The New York Times), and was for nearly five years a director of the MATA Festival, “the city’s leading showcase for vital new music by emerging composers” (The New Yorker).
Weiser is now the Director of Public Programs at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research where he curates and produces programs that combine a fascination with and curiosity for historical context, with an eye toward influential Jewish contributions to the culture of today and tomorrow. At YIVO Weiser has commissioned over fifteen works from some of today’s leading composers that were featured in concerts he curated.
Weiser’s musical education began in earnest while attending Stuyvesant High School writing pieces for their symphonic orchestra, studying theory and conducting with Joseph Tamosaitis, and studying composition with Paul Alan Levi. Weiser then continued his studies at Yale University and New York University where teachers and mentors included Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe, Michael Klingbeil, Kathryn Alexander, Martin Bresnick, David Lang, Ingram Marshall, and Christopher Theofanidis.