Stephen A. Taylor, composer

Stephen Taylor headshot

Stephen Andrew Taylor composes music that explores boundaries between art and science. His first orchestra commission, Unapproachable Light, inspired by images from the Hubble Space Telescope and the New Testament, was premiered by the American Composers Orchestra in 1996 in Carnegie Hall. Other works include the quartet Quark Shadows, commissioned by the Chicago Symphony; and Seven Memorials, a 30-minute cycle for piano inspired by the work of Maya Lin and featured at Tanglewood in 2006. The Machine Awakes, a CD of his orchestra, chamber and electronic music, was released in 2010; and Paradises Lost, an opera based on a novella by Ursula K. Le Guin, received its Canadian premiere in 2013, conducted by the composer. In 2015 The New York Times called his piano work Variations Ascending, premiered by Ian Hobson, “persuasive and powerful.”

Taylor  also works with technology in pieces such as 2017’s Ocean of Air, written for the Detroit Symphony’s principal trombonist Kenneth Thompkins. He is active as a conductor with the Illinois Modern Ensemble, and as a theorist, writing and lecturing on African music, data sonification, György Ligeti, Björk and Radiohead. He also collaborates with the band Pink Martini, rock singer Storm Large, and cabaret/performance artist Meow Meow, and was a 2014-15 Fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation.

Born in 1965, he grew up in Illinois and studied at Northwestern and Cornell Universities, and the California Institute of the Arts. His music has won awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Howard Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Conservatoire Américain de Fontainebleau, Composers, Inc., the Debussy Trio, the College Band Directors National Association, the New York State Federation of Music Clubs, the Illinois Arts Council, the American Music Center, and ASCAP. Among his commissions are works for Northwestern University, University of Illinois, the Syracuse Society for New Music, the Jupiter Quartet, the Spoleto Festival, Pink Martini and the Oregon Symphony, the Quad City Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, Quartet New Generation, Piano Spheres, and the American Composers Orchestra. Taylor is Professor of Music at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he lives with his spouse, artist Hua Nian, and their two children.