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Guest Composer

Shawn Okpebholo, Guest Composer Fall 2024

Shawn OkpebholoGRAMMY®-nominated for his latest solo album "Lord, How Come Me Here?"—a collection of reimagined Negro spirituals—and named one of the 2023 Musical America Top 30 Professionals of the Year, Nigerian-American composer Shawn E. Okpebholo's music resonates globally, earning widespread acclaim from critics and audiences alike. The press has described his music as "devastatingly beautiful" and "fresh and new and fearless" (Washington Post), "affecting" (New York Times), "lyrical, complex, singular" (The Guardian), "searing" (Chicago Tribune), "dreamy, sensual" (Boston Globe), and "powerful" (BBC Music Magazine). Okpebholo has garnered numerous accolades, including awards from The Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Prize in Composition, the Music Publishers Association, ASCAP, and was awarded the Inaugural honoree of the Leslie Adams-Robert Owens Composition Award.

Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America, Barlow Endowment for the Arts, Illinois Arts Council, Tangeman Sacred Music Center, The Mellon Foundation, Wheaton College, and many others have supported the work of Okpebholo. Some notable commissions include the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, United States Air Force Strings, Copland House Ensemble, Tanglewood, Aspen, and Newport Classical Music Festivals, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Imani Winds, Sparks and Wiry Cries, Urban Arias, and the Kennedy Center. His art songs have been presented in concert by the Chicago Lyric Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Portland Opera, and Des Moines Metro Opera. His chamber music has been performed by eighth blackbird, Copland House Ensemble, Picosa, Fifth House Ensemble, Lincoln Trio, and others. Orchestras including the Chicago, Cincinnati, and Houston Symphonies and the Lexington Philharmonic have featured his music. Okpebholo has also collaborated with renowned solo artists including vocalists J'Nai Bridges, Lawrence Brownlee, Rhiannon Giddens, Will Liverman, Michael Michael Mayes, Ryan McKinney, and Tamera Wilson; pianists Aldo-López Gavilán, Mark Markham, Paul Sánchez, and Howard Watkins; and instrumentalists including Rachel Barton Pine, Steven Mead, and Adam Walker. His extensive artistic reach has led to regular performances at prestigious venues like Carnegie and Wigmore Halls, Lincoln, Kennedy, and Kimmel Centers, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

PBS NewsHour and radio broadcasts across the country, including NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition, SiriusXM's "Living American" series on Symphony Hall Channel, and Chicago's WFMT have highlighted Okpebholo's music. NPR selected his art song "The Rain" as one of the 100 Best Songs of 2021, with only a handful of classical works making the ranking. His compositions are featured on twelve commercially released albums, three of which are GRAMMY®-nominated.

As a pedagogue, Okpebholo has conducted masterclasses at various academic institutions worldwide, including two universities in Nigeria. His research interests have led to ethnomusicological fieldwork in both East and West Africa, resulting in compositions, transcriptions, and academic lectures. He earned his master's and doctoral degrees in composition from the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) at the University of Cincinnati. During his upbringing, a significant part of his music education came from The Salvation Army church, where he received free music lessons regularly. Inspired by that altruism, Okpebholo is deeply passionate about music outreach to underserved communities.

Recently, he completed a residency with the Chicago Opera Theater, culminating in the premiere of his opera, "The Cook-Off," with librettist Mark Campbell (librettist of the Pulitzer-prize-winning opera Silent Night). Currently, he serves as the Jonathan Blanchard Distinguished Professor of Composition at Wheaton College-Conservatory of Music and the Saykaly Garbulinska Composer-in-Residence with the Lexington Philharmonic.

Shawn E. Okpebholo is based in Wheaton, IL, a suburb of Chicago, with his wife, violist Dorthy, and their daughters, Eva and Corinne.

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