Conservatory of Music’s Ursula Oppens Receives Third Grammy Nomination

December 15, 2009 | Brooklyn College

Brooklyn, NY—Renowned concert pianist Ursula Oppens, a distinguished professor of music with the Conservatory of Music, has been nominated for a Grammy for her album Oppens Plays Carter, on the Cedille record label.

The recording, released in late 2008, features Oppens playing the complete piano works of legendary American composer Elliott Carter, who turned 100 years old last year. He and Oppens have been long-time musical collaborators.

“I thought I was out of this year’s cycle,” Oppens says of her nomination. “I am completely surprised by it.”

Oppens joined the Conservatory of Music in September 2008. Prior to that she spent 14 years at Northwestern University, where she was the John Evans Distinguished Professor of Music.

This is the third Grammy nomination for Oppens, who in addition to her teaching career is an internationally acknowledged star of both the concert stage and the recording studio.

Her parents were European-trained musicians who fled the spread of Nazi oppression in the late 1930s and settled in New York City. Growing up in an Upper West Side apartment, Oppens could read music before she was four and began receiving piano lessons by the time she was five.

Shortly after receiving her master’s degree from Juilliard, Oppens made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1969. She went on to win a number of other musical awards and over the years has appeared as a soloist with virtually every major orchestra in the United States, including the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

In addition to mastering the standard repertoire of Bach, Beethoven, Haydn and others, she has received praise as a champion of contemporary American classical music. Time said that Oppens “understands that the same pianistic virtues called for in Beethoven and Mozart are necessary in new music.”

Oppens received her first Grammy nomination for her 1979 recording of The People United Will Never Be Defeated! by composer Frederic Rzewski. It consists of a set of 36 variations on the Chilean song ¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! by Sergio Ortega and Quilapayún.

Her second Grammy nod came following the original 1989 release of American Piano Music of Our Time, a classic compilation of piano works by 20th-century American composers for the Music & Arts label. Included were compositions by Carter, Conlan Nancarrow, Julius Hemphill, Lukas Foss and a number of others.