Chaya Czernowin

Walter Bigelow Rosen Professor of Music
Graduate Advisor in Composition
Music Building 308N

Czernowin’s chamber and orchestral music has been played all over the world and include commissions by major ensembles, orchestras, and festivals. Characteristic of her work are attempts to find alternative temporalities, changing perspectives and scale, fragmentation, examination, and stretching of identity; all coupled with a strong physical imprint and high emotional intensity.

Chaya Czernowin was born on 7 December 1957 in Haifa and was brought up in Israel. She studied composition at the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv with Abel Ehrlich and Izhak Sadai, and at the age of 25 went to study in Berlin on a DAAD Scholarship with Dieter Schnebel. In 1986 she moved to the United States to study at Bard College with Eli Yarden and Joan Tower. She pursued her PhD at the University of California San Diego, studying with Roger Reynolds (dissertation advisor) and Brian Ferneyhough. Upon completing her formal education, Czernowin undertook a period of travel and composition in Japan 1993–1995 (Asahi Shimbun Fellowship, NEA Scholarship) and Germany (1996, Akademie Schloss Solitude). This was a seminal time in the development of her compositional language. 

Czernowin considers teaching to be an important aspect of her continued compositional development. She was Professor of Composition at the University of California San Diego from 1997–2006, a professor at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna from 2006–2009, and in 2009 was appointed Walter Bigelow Rosen Professor of Music at Harvard. She has been a guest professor in a number of institutions, and has taught at the International Summer Course for New Music at Darmstadt since 1990. Czernowin founded a course for young composers at the Akademie Schloss Solitude near Stuttgart with her husband, the composer Steven Takasugi, and Jean Baptiste Joly, as well as a course in Israel at the festival Tzlil Meudcan along with Yaron Deutsch. 

Czernowin’s output includes chamber and orchestral music, with and without electronics. Her works were played in most of the significant new music festival in Europe and also in Japan Korea, Australia, US and Canada. She composed four large-scale works for the stage: Pnima…ins Innere (2000, Munich Biennale) chosen to be the best premiere of the year by Opernwelt yearly critic survey, Adama (2004/5) with Mozart’s Zaide (Salzburg Festival 2006)  Adama has a second version written with Ludger Engles, with an added choir which was presented in Freiburg Stadttheater (2017). The opera Infinite Now was written in 2017 a commission of Vlaamse Opera Belgium, IRCAM paris and Mannheim Stadtheater. The piece, combines/superimposes materials of the first world war (Luk Perceval theater piece Front) with the short story “Homecoming” by Can Xue. Also this opera was chosen as the premier of the year in the international critics survey of Opernwelt. In 2020 Czernowin wrote the text and music to Heart Chamber, which was premiered and commissioned by the Deutsche Opere Berlin, in the direction of Claus Guth to a strong critical and public acclaim. Czernowin was appointed Artist-in-Residence at the Salzburg Festival in 2005/6 and at the Lucern Festival, Switzerland in 2013. Characteristic of her work are working with metaphor as a means of reaching a sound world which is unfamiliar; the use of noise and physical parameters as weight, textural surface (as in smoothness or roughness etc), problematization of time and unfolding and shifting of scale in order to create a vital, visceral and direct sonic experience, all this with the aim of reaching a music of the subconscious which goes beyond style conventions or rationality.

Similarly to the political rebelliousness of the operas, the chamber music enacts an impatience with known and accepted assumptions. The chamber pieces from the 1990s explore the possibilities of temporal and formal divergence. In both Afatsim (1996) and String Quartet (1995), a game is made of changing the identity of the instruments by creating “meta instruments”—combining a few instruments into one identity and then separating them. By doing so the ensemble is able to change its identity within the piece. The unfolding of the piece is further fractured by cutting and displacing parts of the continuity into a forest of chaotic utterances. The Wintersongs series uses the same septet material reinterpreted five times, becoming an entirely different musical experience with each iteration. 

Maim (2001–07), for a large orchestra and a group of soloists, and other works from the 2000s including the electronic works of the experimental studio, speculate about the physicality and motion of material. They touch on a strange and unfamiliar kind of “physics,” which toys with our expectations. The exploration of time and form on the one hand, and of material, its nature and physicality on the other, find a new expression in HIDDEN (2013–14) for string quartet and electronics, where a slowed down experience of time is coupled with distorted reflections of material, showing a glimpse into a world of unfamiliarity. 

In addition to numerous other prizes, Czernowin represented Israel at Uncesco composer’s Rostrum 1980; was awarded the DAAD scholarship (1983–85); Stipendiumpreis (1988) and Kranichsteiner Musikpreis (1992), at Darmstadt Fereinkurse; IRCAM (Paris) reading panel commission (1998); scholarships of SWR experimental Studio Freiburg (1998, 2000, 2001 etc); the composer’s prize of Siemens Foundation (2003); the Rockefeller Foundation, (2004); a nomination as a fellow to the Wissenschaftkolleg Berlin (2008); Fromm Foundation Award (2009); and Guggenheim Foundation fellowship (2011); Heidelberger Kunstlerinen Preis (2016); The WERGO portrait CD The Quiet (5 orchestral pieces) has been awarded the Quarterly German Record Critics’ Award (2016 ). She was chosen as a member of the Akademie der Kuenste in Berlin in 2017.

Chaya Czernowin’s website