WFIU’s featured contemporary composer for the month of October is New York artist Mary Jane Leach. Originally from Vermont, Leach has become a noted composer of contemporary works for vocal ensemble.
Mary Jane Leach’s formal education began at the University of Vermont before moving to New York City to study music at Columbia University. Influential teachers include composer and music theorist Mark Zuckerman and noted vocal pedagogue Jeannette LoVetri.
Drawn into the performance art scene in New York City during the 1970s, Leach’s music focuses on the physicality of sound, its acoustic properties and how they interact with space. Her interest in exploring the timbres of similar instruments is evident in compositions such as Feu de Joie for solo bassoon and 6 taped bassoons and Ariel’s Song for 8 treble voices. Concerned with both the aural and visual aspects of performance, Leach’s concerts often feature her own hand-painted slides that are shown in pairs, to make continuously evolving configurations.
A sought after composer, Leach moved to Colonge, Germany in 1989 where she served as the Composer in Residence at Sankt Peter Koln. Her compositions have been performed in North America, Europe, Australia, South America, and Japan, and she has worked with numerous notable artists, including Manuel Zurria, Emanuele Arciulli, Sarah Cahill, Guy Klucevsek, Shannon Peet, and Libby Van Cleve.
Although she has received considerable acclaim for her choral music, Leach’s compositional output also includes works for chamber ensemble as well as solo and electroacoustic repertoire. Her 1993 album, Ariadne’s Lament, draws its inspiration from a variety of sources, including works by Monteverdi, Bruckner and the fourteenth century composer and poet Solage. It features performances by the New York Treble Singers, the Rooke Chapel Choir, and the Cassatt String Quartet, along with various instrumental soloists. Recordings of her work are available on the New World, XI, Wave/Eva, Lovely Music, and Aerial labels.
Recognized for her independent musical voice, Mary Jane Leach was selected for a prestigious grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts in 1995, which was established by Jasper Johns and John Cage to support innovative artists in the performing arts. She has received commissioning awards from the NEA, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Danish Arts Council, Westdeutcher Rundfunk and the New York State Council on the Arts. In 2002, Leach was awarded the Miriam Gideon Prize in Composition at the International Alliance for Women in Music for her work, The Sacred Dance for soprano and string quartet.
Mary Jane Leach has served on the faculties of the California Institute of the Arts, Bennington College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Leach recently moved away from New York City and currently lives in an old church in upstate New York where she composes and presents concerts.
WFIU will feature music of Mary Jane Leach in our classical music programming throughout the month of October.