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Ursula Oppens

Pianist Ursula Oppens has dedicated most of her career to performing, recording, and generally working to advance contemporary keyboard literature; many of the most prestigious contemporary composers have dedicated new music to her. At this writing, Oppens has been nominated for Grammy Awards five times. Oppens was born in New York on February 2, 1944. Her first lessons came from her mother, Edith Oppens, a famed piano teacher, and she later studied with Leonard Shure. Ursula attended Radcliffe College in Massachusetts, graduating in 1965, and then, settling on a career in music, enrolled in master's degree studies at the Juilliard School in New York. Her teachers there included Rosa Lhévinne and Felix Galimir, and she earned her degree in 1967. She made her New York debut in 1969 and also won first prize that year at the Busoni International Piano Competition. Interested in contemporary music from the beginning, she founded the ensemble Speculum Musicae in 1971 and remained with the group until 1982. Oppens is notable for the wide range of A-list composers who have written works for her; these include not only Americans, such as Charles Wuorinen, Elliott Carter, and Conlon Nancarrow, but also György Ligeti and Witold Lutoslawski. From 1994 to 2008, she was on the piano faculty at Northwestern University, and she also taught courses at the Tanglewood Music Festival's influential summer music institute for some years. Oppens is especially well known for her large recording catalog, which began in 1979 with her recording of Frederic Rzewski's monumental The People United Will Never Be Defeated! Her releases have mostly but not exclusively been devoted to contemporary music. The Rzewski album garnered a Grammy Award nomination, and Oppens has gone on to earn four more nominations: for Carter: Night Fantasies / Adams: Phrygian Gates (1990), Oppens Plays Carter (2009), Winging It -- Piano Music of John Corigliano (2011), and a second recording of The People United Will Never Be Defeated! in 2015. Oppens has recorded for Cedille, ECM, Arte Nova, and many other labels. Remaining active well into old age, Oppens released the album Fantasy: Oppens Plays Kaminsky on Cedille in 2021.
© James Manheim /TiVo
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