David Ludwig, composer

David Ludwig headshot

David Serkin Ludwig’s first memory was singing Beatles songs with his sister–his second was hearing his grandfather perform at Carnegie Hall; foreshadowing a diverse career collaborating with many of today’s leading soloists, ensembles, filmmakers, choreographers, and writers. An accomplished artist who has achieved recognition in a wide range of media he has been described as “a composer with something urgent to say” (Philadelphia Inquirer) whose music is “arresting and dramatically hued” (The New York Times) and “supercharged with electrical energy and raw emotion” (Fanfare Magazine). His work, “The New Colossus,” opened the private prayer service for President Obama’s second inauguration, followed the same year by NPR Music naming him in the world’s “Top 100 Composers Under 40.” In 2016, he won the A.I. du Pont Award for his “significant contribution to contemporary classical music” and last year received the prestigious 2018 Pew Center for Arts and Heritage Fellowship in the Arts.

Last season’s highlights include the premiere of a concerto written for pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, commissioned by the Bravo! Vail music festival in honor of their thirtieth anniversary. Ludwig was also awarded a Pew Center Performance Grant to support the creation of The Anchoress, a monodrama for the PRISM Quartet, Piffaro “The Renaissance Band,” and soprano Hyunah Yu. The work opened the 2018 season for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and was described by the New Yorker as having an “audience rapt,” with music “not bound by any era.” Other recent commissions include “Paganiniana,” a chamber concerto for violin written for Soovin Kim and three other violinists commissioned by a consortium of several major summer music festivals, “Spiral Galaxy” for the Morgenstern Trio, and “Moto perpetuo” commissioned by violinist Jennifer Koh for the New York Philharmonic biennial. 

Ludwig has received commissions and notable performances from many of the most recognized artists and ensembles of our time. In 2009, he conducted a tour of his Concertino with the Vermont Symphony which was one of the top ten most frequently performed orchestra works by a living composer that year, according to the League of American Orchestras. In 2015, he wrote a violin concerto for his wife, acclaimed violinist Bella Hristova, commissioned by a consortium of eight major orchestras across the United States. Past seasons have featured performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, National Symphony, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the Dresden Music Festival. Performers who have commissioned him include pianists Jonathan Biss and Jeremy Denk, violinists Jaime Laredo and Jennifer Koh, eighth blackbird, the Dover and Borromeo Quartets, PRISM Saxophone Quartet, Carnegie Hall, Ravinia Steans Institute, and Music from Angel Fire. His music is currently featured on over a dozen commercially recorded CDs, including a complete album of his choral music recorded by the Choral Arts Society.

An accomplished film composer, Ludwig recently scored Michael Almareyda's Cymbeline, which stars Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris, Ethan Hawke, Milla Jovovich, and Penn Badgley and was produced by Academy-Award winning producer Anthony Katagas (Twelve Years a Slave). Variety magazine wrote of Cymbeline: "[the director] has stripped the play down to only the most essential dialogue, filling the remaining space with slick music..."

The recipient of numerous awards and honors, in addition to the Pew Center Fellowship and Performance Grants, Ludwig was a winner of the First Music Award, a two-time recipient of the Independence Foundation Fellowship, a Theodore Presser Foundation Career Grant, and awards from New Music USA, the American Composers Forum, the American Music Center, Detroit Chamber Winds, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Last year, the Delaware Symphony awarded him the A.I. du Pont Award for his “significant contribution to contemporary classical music.” Choral Arts Philadelphia honored Ludwig as a City Cultural Leader in 2009.

Ludwig was the Young Composer in residence at the Marlboro Music School for three consecutive years. In addition to Marlboro, he has had several fellowships at the Yaddo and MacDowell artist colonies and was a resident artist at the Isabella Gardner Museum. After a three-year residency with the Vermont Symphony funded by Meet the Composer, he has been the permanent New Music Advisor for that orchestra for over a decade. Next year features residencies with Symphony Tacoma and the Grossman Ensemble at the University of Chicago.

He is the composer-in-residence and director of composition programs at the Atlantic Music Festival, Lake Champlain Festival, and the Lake George Festival, and is the Artistic Director of the Curtis Young Artist Summer Program and Curtis Chamber Music Nantucket. Additionally, he has served on the faculty of Yellow Barn and the Ravinia Festival Steans Institute. Active abroad, Ludwig is in residence at the HighSCORE festival in Italy, the Shanghai International Summer Music Festival, the Shanghai University for Science and Technology, and was in residence with the STUDIO2021 Ensemble at Seoul National University and the Intimacy of Creativity Program at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He also served as composer-in-residence for the Kingston Chamber Music Festival for their twenty-fifth Anniversary Season and was the 2015 Composer-in-Residence at Music from Angel Fire for their thirtieth. 

Born in Bucks County, P.A., Ludwig comes from several generations of eminent musicians. His uncle is Peter Serkin, grandfather the pianist Rudolf Serkin, and his great-grandfather, the violinist and composer Adolf Busch. His teachers have included John Corigliano, Richard Danielpour, Jennifer Higdon, Richard Hoffmann, Oliver Knussen, and Ned Rorem, and he holds degrees from Oberlin, The University of Vienna, The Manhattan School, Curtis Institute, Juilliard School, and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Ludwig is chair of the composition faculty of the Curtis Institute where he also serves as the Gie and Lisa Liem Artistic Advisor. As director of the Curtis 20/21 Contemporary Music Ensemble since 2009, he has overseen the commissioning and recording of dozens of new works and the performance of a multitude of programs in some of the most recognized venues in the US and abroad.

Ludwig lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Bella Hristova, as well as their four cats Lili, Frankie, Uni, and Schmoopy (who now has his own Instagram account).

David Serkin Ludwig's Neshamah premiered on May 20, 2022 with the Grossman Ensemble. 

Program notes:

The Hebrew word “Neshamah” describes the soul or “breath of life” present in all living things. One author suggests that if our actions are musical notes and our lives are the score, the Neshamah is the composer—the creator within, who guides and inspires us.

The music is built out of Hebrew chant and the process of cantillation and troping, where melodic lines expand and contract as they evolve through a performance. This elasticity of overlapping phrases is a metaphor for breath, itself.

Neshamah was written in honor of my uncle, Peter Serkin, who passed away just before the pandemic. It is offered in his memory and with all gratitude to Augusta Read Thomas and the wonderful musicians of the Grossman Ensemble.

David Serkin Ludwig's "Neshamah"