Gordon Getty, born in Los Angeles in 1933 and residing in San Francisco since 1945, studied piano with Robert Vetleson and voice with Easton Kent during his formative years.
As a student at the University of San Francisco he majored in English Literature. His first published piece was the a cappela chorus All Along the Valley (1959). In the early 1960s he enrolled at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, studying music theory with Sol Joseph, and there composed the Homework Suite (1964) for solo piano.
Since the 1980s he has produced a steady stream of compositions, beginning with The White Election (1981), a much-performed cycle of 32 poems by Emily Dickinson for solo singer and piano. Recorded (on the Delos label) by the late soprano Kaaren Erickson, this cycle has been performed in Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall and the Pierpont Morgan Library (in New York), the Kennedy Center and National Gallery of Art (in Washington, D.C), and the Hermitage Theater in St. Petersburg Russia, among many other venues.
In 1984 he unveiled his opera Plump Jack, an operatic interpretation (to his own libretto, based on HenryIV.) of Shakespeare’s outrageous but poignant Falstaff. Following premiere performances by the San Francisco Symphony, Plump Jack was revived in semi-staged concert versions by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic, and, most recently, in London, by the London Philharmonia, London Voices, and an international cast of soloists. Most of Getty’s compositions, which are published by Rork Music and distributed by Theodore Presser Company, involve the voice.
His Victorian Scenes (1989) and Annabel Lee (1990) are choral settings--with orchestra or, optionally, piano--of poems by Tennyson, Housman, and (in the latter work) Poe. Both were premiered by the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center. The San Francisco Symphony and the Men of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus performed Annabel Lee in both 1998 and 2004, conducted on those occasions by Michael Tilson Thomas.
Getty’s Young America (2001), a cycle of six movements for chorus and orchestra to texts by the composer and by Stephen Vincent Benét, was also performed and recorded in 2004 by the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus, with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. Young America was released (on PentaTone Classics) in 2005 on Getty’s choral music CD, which also includes his Victorian Scenes, Annabel Lee, Three Welsh Songs (1998), and Jerusalem (a choral extract from Plump Jack).
Getty’s cantata Joan and the Bells (1998), to the composer’s own libretto about the execution of Joan of Arc, was released in 2003 in a critically acclaimed recording by the Russian National Orchestra, Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, and soloists Lisa Delan and Vladimir Chernov, with Alexander Vedernikov conducting (PentaTone Classics). Joan and the Bells was performed in March 2004 in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle under the baton of Mikhail Pletnev. Since its premiere in 1998, Joan and the Bells has been performed extensively throughout the United States, Europe and Russia. Getty’s non-vocal compositions include his Three Waltzes for Piano and Orchestra (1988, performed by André Previn and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra), and works for orchestra, chamber ensembles and for solo piano including the ballet suite Ancestor Suite, loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher. His music has been performed in such prestigious venues as New York’s Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Festival Hall, Vienna’s Brahmssaal, and Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Hall, as well as at the Aspen and Spoleto Festivals.
Getty has been widely applauded for his creative and philanthropic achievements and has received honorary doctorates from the University of Maryland, Pepperdine University, the University of California at San Francisco, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and the Mannes College of Music in New York. In 1986 he was honored as an Outstanding American Composer at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and in 2003 he was awarded the Gold Baton of the American Symphony Orchestra League.
Of his compositions Getty has said: “My style is undoubtedly tonal, though with hints of atonality, such as any composer would likely use to suggest a degree of disorientation. But I’m strictly tonal in my approach. I represent a viewpoint that stands somewhat apart from the 20th century, which was in large measure a repudiation of the 19th, and a sock in the nose to sentimentality. Whatever it was that the great Victorian composers and poets were trying to achieve, that’s what I’m trying to achieve.”

March 21, 2007
This biography was most recently edited by...
Helena - 28 Oct 2010