Kirke Mechem

Most of Mechem's early work was for chorus. Some of these pieces, composed as an undergraduate and graduate student, were published and have become staples of the choral literature, including "Make A Joyful Noise", (recorded by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir) and "Give Thanks Unto The Lord." The latter won the tri-annual SAI American Music Award and helped thrust Mechem's choral work into prominence. His Opus 5 was a Suite for Piano, later followed by a Piano Sonata and a book of teaching pieces called Whims. In Vienna, he began writing chamber music. His Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano was followed by a Divertimento for Flute and String Trio, and by his first String Quartet, which was the only American prize-winner at the fourth International Concourse for Composition in Monaco.

Mechem's first major orchestral success was the 1965 San Francisco Symphony premiere of his Symphony No. 1 under Josef Krips, who called the work "one of the world's great pieces of music" (Associated Press). Krips commissioned Mechem to write a Second Symphony, which he premiered in 1967 with such success that he repeated it two years later.

Mechem wrote many commissioned choral suites, cantatas and other vocal works during the early 1970s. Seven doctoral dissertations have been written about his choral music. In the 70s he saw a performance of Molière's classic satire, Tartuffe, which inspired him to write his first opera. He wrote his own libretto, as he does for all his operas. Premiered in 1980 by the San Francisco Opera, Tartuffe was an immediate hit and has since played to audiences in Canada, China, Russia, Austria and Germany, as well as in the USA. In 1998 the National Opera Association presented Mechem with its Lifetime Achievement Award. The success of Tartuffe encouraged Mechem to embark upon his most ambitious work, an opera based on the life of the controversial abolitionist, John Brown. An essay Mechem wrote for the American Music Center's online magazine, New Music Box, describes the long evolution of this work. The premiere of John Brown did not take place until 2008, when Lyric Opera Kansas City scored "the sort of magical success that composers and musicians dream of" (Kansas City Star), at which "the crowd leapt to its feet and clapped so long and hard that hands grew sore" (Pitch.com). In the twenty-some years between John Brown's inception and premiere, Mechem wrote many other compositions, including two new operas: The Rivals, based upon Sheridan's classic play of the same name; and Pride and Prejudice, on Jane Austen's famous novel. Both have been tried out in workshops and are presently (2009) being prepared for professional premieres. Mechem's Songs of The Slave, a suite from John Brown, had its full premiere in 1994 and has enjoyed more than 70 performances.

In 1990 Mechem made his first of three trips to Russia, then still the Soviet Union. That year he was a guest of honor at the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow, and was invited back for an "enormously successful" (Pravda) all-Mechem symphonic concert by the USSR Radio-Television Orchestra in March, 1991—the first time a Soviet orchestra had devoted an entire concert to a living American composer. Five years later he was invited to attend the Russian-language premiere of Tartuffe by the Mussorgsky National Theater for Opera and Ballet in St. Petersburg. Throughout his career Mechem continued to write a large number of commissioned choral works. In 2007 the American Choral Directors Association celebrated his 50 years of choral publications with a retrospective concert at its national convention.

OPERA America/Opera.ca Grants Awarded
Click here to learn more about OPERA America granting programs.
The Opera Fund: Repertoire Development2006
Opera Fund: Partnership 2002
Opera for a New America 1994
Opera for a New America 1994
Opera for a New America 1993

Click company name to view productions details.
Lyric Opera of Kansas CityJohn Brown5/5/2008 - 5/11/2008
Opera SaratogaTartuffe6/6/2007 - 7/7/2007
Skylight Music TheatreTartuffe1/1/2007 - 2/11/2007
Maryland OperaTartuffe11/11/1997 - 11/22/1997
Opera North (U.S.)Tartuffe8/8/1996 - 8/23/1996

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