Theodore Morrison began composing at the age of forty-two, more than twenty years after he was well established as a conductor specializing in large works for voices and orchestra, as well as music for chamber orchestra. Over the past three decades he has composed an epic choral symphony and a number of other large works. He has created a substantial body of shorter pieces including an overture for wind ensemble, chamber works for woodwinds and strings, a sonata and a set of variations for organ, several works for chorus and organ, four song cycles, and many smaller choral pieces and songs. His music has been performed throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and New Zealand.
Commissioned by the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the five-movement symphony War and Reconciliation on American Civil War poems by Walt Whitman was the most extensive of Morrison's works prior to his opera Oscar. The piece is scored for large orchestra, tenor and baritone soloists with symphonic chorus, and was reviewed in The Baltimore Chronicle as "delicately sculptured with a decisively pungent harmonic language ... (War and Reconciliation) wended its way from moments of great tranquility to the savage encounters of drum-beats, blaring brass, and choral forces driven to the ultimate in terms of dynamic nuances. There were moments of almost mystical beauty."
I have known the distinguished American composer and conductor Theodore Morrison as colleague and friend since 1956. It has been my great pleasure to premiere a number of his works over the years, always an invigorating and rewarding experience.
Theo's style is deeply rooted in the western classical tradition, including many of the innovations of our own time. With impressive creative surety, he has crafted an individual voice which is instantaneously recognizable and fully communicative. With dramatic flair and consummate skill in writing for voices and instruments, he has produced works in many forms that delight both performer and listener.
Theo's music is intensely human, and touches all who hear it with its power and beauty.
- Norman Scribner
Founder and Artistic Director Emeritus,
The Choral Arts Society of Washington
Late in 2009 The Santa Fe Opera commissioned Theodore Morrison and the eminent English stage director John Cox to create an opera in two acts on the subject of Oscar Wilde's trial and imprisonment starring countertenor David Daniels in the title role. In 2011 Opera Philadelphia became the commissioning partner. Oscar received its world premiere on July 27, 2013 at The Santa Fe Opera, followed by four additional performances. The production of the newly revised opera will have its East Coast premiere in Philadelphia beginning February 6, 2015, also followed by four additional performances. The publisher is G. Schirmer, Inc. Read more about Oscar
Morrison's song cycle Chamber Music, on poems by James Joyce, was commissioned by countertenor David Daniels and premiered by Mr. Daniels and pianist Martin Katz on an eleven-city American tour in 2002 ending with an acclaimed performance in Carnegie Hall. In 2004-2005 Daniels and Katz performed Chamber Music in Toronto, London, Glasgow, Paris, Toulouse, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Geneva and Munich. Additional American performances have included Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and at the Art Song Festival at the Cleveland Institute of Music. The London premiere in Barbican Hall was recorded by BBC-TV and broadcast throughout the United Kingdom along with interviews of Daniels and Morrison. Of the song cycle, one British critic wrote, "Not surprisingly, the most moving moments of the evening came with Chamber Music - settings of James Joyce, specially written for Daniels by the American composer Theodore Morrison. Their simple, lyrical style - as naturally formed as any of Benjamin Britten's - was conveyed by the countertenor with complete authority and engaging intimacy."
Through his long career as a conductor, Morrison gained an intimate understanding of the voice and the orchestra, preparing him to compose for both beginning in his early forties. He founded the Baltimore Choral Arts Society in 1966 and served as its music director for sixteen years. Under his leadership, BCAS became one of the most respected independent choral/orchestral organizations in the United States. He engaged many of the finest vocal soloists of the time for large oratorio productions. These included John Aler, Helen Boatwright, Elaine Bonazzi, Charles Bressler, Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Lily Chookasian, Donald Gramm, Tom Krause, Leslie Guinn, Sherrill Milnes, John Reardon and Benita Valente. Morrison worked principally with three instrumental ensembles: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which he also guest conducted on numerous occasions; The Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia (now The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia); and the early music ensemble Pro Musica Rara.
Morrison was director of choral music and conductor of the chamber orchestra at Peabody Conservatory of Music of The Johns Hopkins University from 1975-1978, and held a similar post at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts from 1981-1987. As a member of the faculty of The University of Michigan's School of Music from 1987 to 2005 he served as both director of university choirs and director of graduate studies in conducting. Morrison began his professional career at age nineteen as organist-choirmaster at Baltimore's Cathedral of the Incarnation, a post he held for ten years.