Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions

People - Music Composition

Herschel Garfein

Herschel won a 2012 Grammy Award. Read more here.

GRAMMY® winner Herschel Garfein is active as a composer, librettist and stage director.  In 2012-13 he was the proud winner of an NYU Teaching Excellence Award. His recent work includes three new songs for the 20th Anniversary AIDS Quilt Songbook premiered on World AIDS Day, 2012 at Cooper Union; a song–cycle The Divine Image, forthcoming on GPR Records; writing and direction of My Coma Dreams, a collaboration with jazz pianist/composer Fred Hersch (Miller Theater, Peak Peformances Montclair, Berlin, and San Francisco). The New Republic called it ‘“a work of dream art as elegant as Stravinsky’s “Petit Concert” and as memorable as “Yesterday.”’ Upcoming: music and libretto for the operatic adaptation of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the first-ever operatic adaptation of a Stoppard play. Excerpts have been heard on New York City Opera’s VOX, in workshops directed by Mark Morris, and at CU Now in Boulder, CO. Garfein wrote the celebrated libretto for composer Robert Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry (based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis.) Elmer Gantry premiered to rave reviews in 2007 at Nashville Opera, and was recorded at Florentine Opera Milwaukee, in March 2010.

The Naxos recording won two 2012 GRAMMY® awards, for Best Contemporary Classical Composition and Best Engineered Classical Recording. It was a Gramophone Editor’s Choice, 2011, and was chosen by Opera News as the #1 Opera Recording of the Year.  Elmer Gantry was the subject of a front-page feature article in The New York Times Arts & Leisure section (“Behold! An Operatic Miracle” 1/20/08.) Garfein’s libretto was also featured in an Opera News cover article (“Opera’s Book Club” August, 2008.)

Richard Dyer, writing in the Boston Globe, has called Mr. Garfein “a triple-threat man. A strong composer, as we knew; a strong librettist, with a knack for the poetry of plain English, and a strong stage director.” And TimeOut New York has said: “Garfein has all the makings of a post-millennial Carlisle Floyd. His music and themes are deeply American and rooted in the social mores of Gens X and Y.”

Garfein’s previous music/theater credits include: the dance trilogy Mythologies (Brooklyn Academy of Music / Theatre Royale de la Monnaie), the evening-length theater piece Sueños (Boston Musica Viva), and incidental music for Troilus and Cressida (Theater for a New Audience). He has had the honor of collaborating with great theater artists including mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, choreographer Mark Morris, director Sir Peter Hall, and experimental theater troupe Mabou Mines. His concert works include American Steel for the Alabama Symphony, a String Quartet for The Lark Quartet, and Places to Live for the Boston Classical Orchestra (named by the Boston Globe as one of the “year 2000’s best.”) Other libretti include Alzheimer’s Stories (for composer Robert S. Cohen), which has been performed by choruses around the country,and Parables (for Robert Aldridge), an evening length symphonic oratorio on the subject of religious tolerance, premiered by the Topeka Symphony (“Powerful music and message… a masterwork” The Topeka Capitol-Journal).

Mr. Garfein received his musical training at Yale University, New England Conservatory, and the Experimental Music Studio at MIT. He has received grants and awards from: The National Endowment for the Arts, The Massachusetts Artists Foundation Fellowship (twice), The National Institute of Opera/Musical Theater, the Jerome Foundation, American Dance Festival, the Sundance Institute, and the MacDowell Colony. 

At NYU Steinhardt, Mr. Garfein teaches private lessons in Music Composition, and the graduate seminar in Script Analysis (for the Program in Vocal Performance). Excerpts from his works can be heard here.