Called “America’s most wired composer” by The Los Angeles Times and a “musical visionary” by The New York Times, Tod Machover is recognized as one of the most innovative composers active today and a pioneer in the use of AI in music. He is praised for creating music that breaks traditional artistic and cultural boundaries and for developing technologies that expand music’s potential for everyone, from celebrated virtuosi to musicians of all abilities. Machover studied with Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions at The Juilliard School and was the first Director of Musical Research at Pierre Boulez's IRCAM in Paris. He is Academic Head of the MIT Media Lab, where he is also Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Music and Media and Director of the Opera of the Future Group. Machover is also Visiting Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Tod Machover's compositions have been commissioned and performed by many of the world's most prestigious ensembles and soloists, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble InterContemporain, Lucerne Festival, Edinburgh International Festival, Ensemble Modern, BBC Scottish Symphony, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Pops, Houston Grand Opera, Bunkamura (Tokyo), Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Centre Georges Pompidou, Carnegie Hall, Royal Academy of Music, Ars Electronica, Casa da Musica (Porto), American Composers Orchestra, Tokyo String Quartet, Kronos Quartet, Ying Quartet, Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Matt Haimovitz, Renée Fleming, Joyce Di Donato, and many more. His work has been awarded numerous prizes and honors, by such organizations as the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Fromm and Koussevitzky Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, the German Culture Ministry, and the French Culture Ministry, which named him a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He was the first recipient of the Arts Advocacy Award from the Kennedy Center’s National Committee of the Performing Arts in 2013, and he was honored as Musical America’s 2016 Composer of the Year.
Machover is especially known for his visionary operas—as varied as they have been groundbreaking—including VALIS (1987), based on Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi classic and commissioned by the Centre Pompidou in Paris. In September 2023, a new production of VALIS, premiered at MIT, starring bass-baritone Davóne Tines and directed by Jay Scheib (Parsifal, Bayreuth Festival 2023).
Machover’s other operas are Media/Medium (1994), premiered by magicians Penn & Teller; Brain Opera (1996/8), based on the work of AI pioneer Marvin Minsky and which invites the audience to collaborate live and online; Resurrection (1999), commissioned by Houston Grand Opera and based on Tolstoy’s final novel of the same name; and Skellig (2008), based on David Almond’s award-winning novel and premiered at the Sage Gateshead. The “robotic” opera, Death and the Powers, premiered in 2010 and was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize. A recording of the opera was released on SACD by BMOP/sound in 2021; Gramophone called the recording “an electrifying surround-sound thriller” and American Record Guide commended Machover and BMOP for “hit[ting] it out of the park.” Machover’s most recent full-length opera, Schoenberg in Hollywood, commissioned and presented by Boston Lyric Opera, had its hugely successful world premiere in Boston in November 2018 and its European premiere at the Vienna Volksoper in April 2022. A new production of the opera is being presented in 2023 by the School of Music of the University of Hong Kong (Shenzen), China as a centerpiece of the festival honoring Schoenberg’s 150th birthday.
He is currently working on his next opera, The Overstory, based on Richard Powers’ Pulitzer-prize-winning novel of the same name. A prelude to that opera, Overstory Overture, premiered in March 2023 at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, starring mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, and performed by the Sejong Soloists, who commissioned the work.
In a wholly original and flourishing series of collaborative “City Symphonies,” Machover invites people of all ages and backgrounds to work with him – using specially designed online tools, smartphone apps, and public workshops and forums – to create a musical portrait of their city, by combining “normal” musical resources with sounds discovered and collected in that place. He has written works in this series for and with the cities of Toronto, Edinburgh, Perth (Australia), Lucerne (Switzerland), Detroit, and Philadelphia. Upcoming City Symphonies are being planned for Chennai and New Delhi (India), Bilbao (Spain), Venice (Italy), South and North Korea, and various U.S. destinations. He is working on a new City Symphony, which is scheduled to premiere in Dubai in 2024, in addition to a Global Symphony – Wellbeing of the World – which will premiere at various worldwide sites in 2025.
Machover is also widely recognized for designing new technologies for music performance and creation, such as Hyperinstruments, “smart” performance systems that extend expression for virtuosi, from Yo-Yo Ma to Prince, as well as for the general public; the popular video game Guitar Hero grew out of Machover’s group at the Media Lab. His Hyperscore software—which allows anyone to compose original music using lines and colors—has enabled children around the world to have their music performed by major orchestras, chamber music ensembles, and rock bands. Machover is also deeply involved in developing musical technologies and concepts for medical and wellbeing contexts, helping to diagnose and reverse conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, or allowing people with cerebral palsy to communicate through music. His recent Gammified for the Kronos Quartet and VocaGammified for Renée Fleming are examples of powerful healing sonorities embedded in musical compositions.
In October 2022, MIT presented a program featuring three new works by Machover that explore the ways that music affects human bodies and minds. Machover’s essay, “Composing the Future of Health,” appears in Music and Mind, a collection of essays edited by Renée Fleming, about harnessing the arts for health and wellness (Penguin Random House, April 2024).
Tod Machover’s music is published by Boosey & Hawkes and Ricordi Editions, and has been recorded on the Bridge, Oxingale, Erato, Albany, New World, Pentatone and BMOP/sound labels. Much of his music is also available via Apple Music, Amazon Music, and on YouTube, SoundCloud and Spotify.
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