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Alice Shields

New York City, NY   

I'm a  composer and librettist, and write operas, instrumental and electronic music.  My work is heavily influenced by my exposure to forms of non-Western ritual drama, music and ancient literature, and focuses on the position of women in different cultures. 

My operas include Criseyde (2010), a chamber opera performed by the New York City Opera VOX and the American Virtuosi chamber orchestra in 2008 and by the University of North Carolina - Greensboro in 2009. It is a feminist retelling of Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde" in a twisted version of Chaucer’s own medieval English. Komachi at Sekidera (2000), my mini-opera based on a Japanese Noh recorded on Koch International Classics, and was last performed Dec.1, 2015 at Opera America in NYC.  Apocalypse (1994), recorded on New World Records, uses my choreographic knowledge gained from 10 years’ study and performance of Indian Bharata Natyam dance-drama to apply  traditional Indian theatrical techniques for use by Western singers.  In traditional Bharata Natyam dance-drama itself,  I performed with the Swati Bhise Bharata Natyam Troupe at venues including Wesleyan University, The Asia Society, and Juilliard . Other operas include Mass for the Dead (1993), and Shaman (1992) premiered by the American Chamber Opera Company in NYC; Wraecca (1987) premiered by The Composers Chamber Theater in NYC; and Shivatanz (1994), premiered at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin.

Currently I'm working on two one-act operas:  Zhaojün - A Woman of Peace, which is based on Chinese traditional theatrical techniques; and Komachi on the Path of Clouds, which is based on traditional Japanese theatrical techniques. ---But how can I apply such non-Western theatrical movements  to Western opera singers, you might ask? -- Because I myself have been a professional opera singer, performing roles on the roster of the New York City opera, at the Metropolitan Opera At-the-Forum, the Washington Opera Society and other companies. So I know pretty well what's possible in the way of acting and movement for classically trained singers, expressive movements which will not disturb their hard-won vocal technique.

Upcoming performances of my works  include The River of Memory for trombone and fixed audio media (in which the trombonist sings through the instrument), with trombonist Haim Avitsur and The Association for the Promotion of New Music (APNM), May 18, 2016 at Opera America, NYC; the world premiere of  Quintet for Piccolo, Piano and Three Percussionists (which uses rhythmic interactions inspired by Indian Bhatata Natyam dance) with the Iktus Ensemble, June 4th, 2016 at The Firehouse Space, Brooklyn NY; and The Mud Oratorio (2003), a fixed audio media installation for the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, June 14th, 2016 at the Abrons Art Center in Manhattan (which uses electronic samples of Indian instruments).  The Mud Oratorio is a 51-minute long  work for modern dance with recorded libretto and music by myself, created for Dance Alloy of Pittsburgh, with Mark Taylor, choreographer, and the Theater and Dance Dept. of Frostburg State University.

As for my training as a composer, I received the Doctor of Musical Arts in music composition from Columbia University, studying with opera composers Jack Beeson and Otto Luening, Chou Wen-Chung, and electronic music pioneer Vladimir Ussachevsky.  You can find recordings of my work on Koch International Classics, New World Records/CRI, Albany Records and Opus One Records. For more information, please see and for musical scores to my three work samples, please go to|/welcome


Articles by Alice Shields:

Articles July 14 2016 | By Alice Shields
Electroacoustic Music with Video: Comparison with Sound for Film

If a concert composer is using video with their music, that composer is writing a film score.

Articles June 23 2016 | By Alice Shields
Timbre, Envelope and Variation in Electroacoustic Music

Timbre and envelope are intricately related and are major determinants of how effective a sound event in music will be, whether in acoustic music or electroacoustic music. Since the sound...

Articles June 9 2016 | By Alice Shields
Structural and Playback Issues in Current Electroacoustic Music

I’ve composed works using electroacoustic technologies since 1963, and I want to share with you over the next several weeks some of my thoughts about the current state of the...

Headlines June 8 2010 | By Alice Shields
Jack Beeson (1921-2010): Composer, Teacher, Advocate, and Born Satirist

Jack Beeson was my teacher in graduate school and beyond. I could say much about his operatic compositions and how he helped me with mine. But right now, as he...