C. Curtis-Smith

Curtis Curtis-Smith (C.)
Part-Time Instructor of Music
Composer in Residence
Office: (269) 387-4691
Fax: (269) 387-1113
2302 Dalton Center, Mail Stop 5434
Mailing address
School of Music
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5434 USA
Teaching interests
  • Composition

C. Curtis-Smith is a composer in residence and part-time music instructor specializing in composition at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich. Born in 1941 in Walla Walla, Wash., he studied at Whitman College with John Ringgold and David Burge, Northwestern University with Alan Stout and Guy Mombaerts, the University of Illinois with Ken Gaburo, at Tanglewood with Bruno Maderna and at the Blossom Music Festival in master classes with Pierre Boulez. He taught composition at the University of Michigan and was professor of music at Western Michigan University until 2011.

He is the recipient of more than 100 grants, awards and commissions, including a Guggenheim Fellowship; an award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood; the Medaglia d'Oro from the Concorso Internazionale di Musica e Danza G.B. Viotti; the Prix du Salabert; an award from the Concorso Internazionale de Composizione; 26 consecutive Standard Awards from American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; grants from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council for the Arts, and the Arts Foundation of Michigan; the State of Michigan Governor's Award; and in 2000, a commission from the Barlow Endowment. At Western Michigan University, he was, at age 38, the youngest faculty member ever to be awarded the Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award, the University's highest academic honor.

He is cited in the Oxford Dictionary of Music, the Harvard Biographical Dictionary, Bakers Biographical Dictionary, Groves Dictionary of Music, Contemporary Composers and the Encyclopedia of American Music (Edward Jablonski, Doubleday and Company). His music is published by Editions Salabert (Paris), Elkan-Vogel (Theodore Presser), Mel Bay Publications and Edward B. Marks Music.

In 2001, his Twelve Etudes for Piano were selected by competition for the repertoire list for the 11th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. After a performance of the etudes in Tully Hall, New York Times reviewer Bernard Holland wrote: "Mr. Curtis-Smith takes up where Debussy's lonely, bleakly beautiful last music ends. Yet these pieces have a voice of their own. One hears ideas at work and a momentum that carries thoughts coherently and convincingly from first note to last."

He was also awarded a Fromm Foundation Commission in 2001 to compose a set of preludes for piano.

Leon Fleisher has performed his Concerto for Left Hand and Orchestra on the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's subscription series (Neemi Jarvi conducting), with the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, and with the American Composers Orchestra in Carnegie Hall. Dennis Russell Davies performed his Great American Symphony twice with the American Composers Orchestra in Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Other Great American Symphony performances by Davies include the Stuttgart Opera Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, and the West German Radio Orchestra at the Cologne Philharmonic, where it was recorded for CD release. Recently, Sergiu Luca premiered the Violin Concerto with the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra and later performed the work in Houston.

In 1972, Curtis-Smith invented the technique of bowing the piano, using flexible bows made of monofilament nylon line. This technique, exemplified in such pieces as Rhapsodies of 1973, has been widely imitated and used by many other composers, including George Crumb.

As a pianist, Curtis-Smith has appeared as a soloist in recitals at the National Gallery and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Orchestral appearances include performances with the Indianapolis, Seattle, Spokane, and Kalamazoo symphonies. In 1986, he premiered the last three etudes of William Bolcom's Pulitzer Prize-winning Twelve New Etudes, and Knockst├╝ck from Bolcom's Three Dance Portraits. Recently, he and Bolcom have written a collaborative piece, "Collusions," where each composer takes turns writing successive phrases of the music.