Amy Beth Kirsten (b. 8/21/1972 in East St. Louis, Illinois) began composing late in life, having had her first composition lesson at the age of 30. Prior to this she studied piano performance and vocal jazz as an undergraduate and secretly composed when she was supposed to be practicing. Since then she has gone on to participate in some of the most coveted opportunities for young composers.
In 2007, she was a finalist in the 16th Annual Underwood New Music Readings with the American Composers Orchestra where her piece, Strange Angel, was described as has having "original, unusual textures" and "very colorful, detailed orchestration. She also held a residency with the acclaimed vocal ensemble, Volti, during which the press described her San Francisco premier as "the most singularly original event of the evening.” Her distinct style is a synthesis of lyricism and experimentation and often features some element of theater. Recent works have been premiered by l'Orchestre de la francophonie canadienne, the gamUT ensemble (University of Toronto), Missouri Verses and Voices, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (in a reading session with Marin Alsop), the CAGE Ensemble, Harbor Opera Company, San Francisco Cabaret Opera, and at New York’s International Fringe Festival.
Ms. Kirsten’s was most recently named the 2009-10 Missouri Composer Laureate, which culminated in the premier of a new work. She was also honored to receive a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center to develop a new opera (2009). In addition, she was named a finalist for the Rome Prize in Music Composition (2008), received Honorable Mention in the Minnesota Orchestra Reading Competition (2008), and a Composer Assistance Grant from the American Music Center (2007). She has also held composition fellowships at Norfolk New Music Workshop and Bang on a Can summer music festival (both in 2009). This summer she will be a Composition Fellow at Music10 in Blonay, Switzerland and at Mizzou’s New Music Festival.
Raised in the suburbs of Kansas City and Chicago, Ms. Kirsten received her Bachelor’s Degree in Vocal Jazz Studies from Illinois’ Benedictine University, a Master’s Degree in Composition from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Currently, she is an adjunct instructor at the University of Connecticut where she teaches "The History of Rock and Society."
Before moving to Baltimore to attend Peabody, Ms. Kirsten was a regular fixture in the Chicago singer-songwriter scene performing at such venues as Fitzgerald’s Nightclub, Quenchers Saloon, The Subterranean, Katerina's, and Uncommon Ground. She got her start as a singer by studying the great improvisors of jazz. To this day, she uses the skills she developed in her jazz training as a tool in her work as a composer of contemporary concert music. Ms. Kirsten is also a fan of working with words. Her poem, “November Prayer,” is a featured text in the choral work by Christopher Theofanidis entitled Messages to Myself (2007) and two of her poems have been selected for publication (Red Wheelbarrow: National 2008 and The Avatar Review: Summer 2009). She currently lives and works in New Haven, CT.