Mizzou International Composers Festival Spotlight: Distinguished Guest Composer Mary Kouyoumdjian

The Mizzou New Music Initiative is pleased to welcome Pulitzer Prize finalist Mary Kouyoumdjian as one of two Distinguished Guest Composers for the 2024 Mizzou International Composers Festival (MICF).

The Festival, which takes place from Monday, July 22 through Saturday, July 27 on the campus of the University of Missouri and at select Columbia locations, will also welcome Distinguished Guest Composer George Lewis.

Kouyoumdjian, who returns to the Festival after attending as a Resident Composer in 2016, will have private meetings with the current Resident Composers, work with groups who will be performing her music at the Festival, and make a public presentation about her music and career as a composer. The presentation is at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 23 at the Sinquefield Music Center’s Sheryl Crow Hall.

Mary Kouyoumdjian

An excerpt from Kouyoumdjian’s “Paper Pianos,” which was a finalist for the 2024 Pulitzer Prize, will be performed at the Festival by MICF Ensemble-in-Residence Alarm Will Sound. The piece was developed at the MICF when she was a Resident Composer at the Festival in 2016.

The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 25 at the Sinquefield Music Center’s Sheryl Crow Hall. It will also feature music by Kouyoumdjian and Andrew Norman, plus a piece by MNMI Artistic Director Stefan Freund celebrating the 15th Festival.

Mary Kouyoumdjian is a composer and documentarian with projects ranging from concert works to multimedia collaborations and film scores. As a first generation Armenian-American and having come from a family ​directly affected by the Lebanese Civil War and Armenian Genocide, she uses a sonic palette that draws on her heritage, interest in music as documentary, and background in experimental composition to progressively blend the old with the new. A strong believer in freedom of speech and the arts as an amplifier of expression, her compositional work often integrates recorded testimonies with resilient individuals and field recordings of place to invite empathy by humanizing complex experiences around social and political conflict.

A finalist for the 2024 Pulitzer Prize in Music, Kouyoumdjian has received commissions for such organizations as the New York Philharmonic, Kronos Quartet, Carnegie Hall, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Beth Morrison Projects/OPERA America, Alarm Will Sound, Bang on a Can, International Contemporary Ensemble, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, the American Composers Forum, Roomful of Teeth, WQXR, REDSHIFT, Experiments in Opera, Helen Simoneau Danse, the Nouveau Classical Project, Music of Remembrance, Friction Quartet, Ensemble Oktoplus, and the Los Angeles New Music Ensemble, among others.

Her work has been performed internationally at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MASS MoCA, the Barbican Centre, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Millennium Park, Benaroya Hall, Prototype Festival, the New York Philharmonic Biennial, Cabrillo Festival, Big Ears Festival, 21C Music Festival, and Cal Performances. Her residencies include those with EMPAC, Buffalo String Works, Alarm Will Sound/The Mizzou International Composers Festival, Roulette/The Jerome Foundation, Montalvo Arts Center, and Exploring the Metropolis.

Kouyoumdjian’s music has been described as “eloquently scripted” and “emotionally wracking” by The New York Times and as “politically fearless” and “the most harrowing moments on stage at any New York performance” by New York Music Daily. In her work as a composer, orchestrator, and music editor for film, she has collaborated on a diverse array of motion pictures, including writing the original score for documentary An Act of Worship (Capital K Pictures and PBS’s POV Docs) and orchestrating the soundtrack to The Place Beyond the Pines (Focus Features). Upcoming projects include an album of her works with the Kronos Quartet and the West Coast premiere of her opera, Adoration, with LA Opera in 2025. 

Kouyoumdjian holds a D.M.A and M.A. in composition from Columbia University, where she studied primarily with Zosha Di Castri, Georg Friedrich Haas, Fred Lerdahl, and George Lewis; an M.A. in Scoring for Film & Multimedia from New York University; and a B.A. in Music Composition from the University of California, San Diego, where she studied with Chaya Czernowin, Steven Kazuo Takasugi, Anthony Davis, Steven Schick, and Chinary Ung. Dedicated to new music advocacy, Kouyoumdjian is a Co-Founder of the annual new music conference New Music Gathering, served as the founding Executive Director of contemporary music ensemble Hotel Elefant, and served as Co-Artistic Director of Alaska’s new music festival Wild Shore New Music.

As an avid educator, Kouyoumdjian is on composition faculty at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University and The New School; she has previously been on faculty at Columbia University, Boston Conservatory at Berklee, Brooklyn College’s Feirstein School of Cinema, Mannes Prep, and the New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers program. Kouyoumdjian is proud to have her music published by Schott’s PSNY and is based in Brooklyn, NY.

“It’s wonderful to have Mary Kouyoumdjian return to the MICF to continue her work with Alarm Will Sound,” Freund said. “I know she will take great joy in passing down her past experience from the festival to this year’s Resident Composers. I’m particularly looking forward to having her coach the Mizzou New Music Ensemble on her piece “Sea of Two Color,” which is incredibly expressive.”

For a complete schedule of events, times, dates, and venues for the 2022 Mizzou International Composers Festival, please visit the MICF website.