Norman Mathews has written for symphony orchestra, chamber music ensembles, chorus, recitalists, musical theater, jazz performers, and cabaret. His work has been performed by esteemed soloists as well as major Broadway and cabaret stars in concert halls and theaters around the world.
Mathews’s art songs were featured, along with the works of John Kander, Charles Strouse, and Galt MacDermot, at the Kennedy Center by The Other Side of Broadway, a New York City organization devoted to the classical music written by theater composers.
His song cycle, Songs of the Poet, settings of Walt Whitman poetry, had its European premiere at Amerika Haus in Munich by Gregory Wiest, an American tenor with the Munich Opera. Wiest recorded the work for Capstone Records (CPS 8646). In the United States it has been performed at several venues by soprano Tracy Bidleman. Grand Is the Seen from the cycle was performed at the American Composers Orchestra’s Whitman and Music Celebration. The Last Invocation received the Recognition of Excellence award at the Fifth Diana Barnhart American Art Song Competition (adjudicators were John Harbison, composer of the opera The Great Gatsby, and tenor Paul Sperry.) Dalton Baldwin, world-renowned accompanist for Jessye Norman, Elly Ameling, and Gerard Souzay, says that these songs are “set with striking sensitivity and emotional depth.”
As composer-in residence at Shorter University, Mathews was commissioned to write Flights of the Heart, a 20-minute work for soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone, and piano. That composition, which is about the French composer Cecile Chaminade, formed the centerpiece for a full-evenings concert of his work—both concert and musical theater.
Sonnet No. 61, set to words of Shakespeare for mixed chorus, piano, and oboe obbligato, was a winner of the the American Composers Forum 2011, Vocal Essence Award. The work was performed in Minneapolis by the Vocal Essence chorus, conducted by its famed Artistic Director Philip Brunelle.
Rossetti Songs, a cycle of five songs set to Christina Rossetti poetry for mezzo-soprano, piano, flute, and cello, was recorded by Navona Records (NV5827) and distributed by Naxos. The cycle is featured on a recording of vocal chamber works titled Rapport, along with a piece by Pulitzer-Prize-winner David del Tredici. Reviewing the CD, the French music journal “Monsieur Délire” calls the music “gorgeous, especially Mathews’ Rossetti Songs.” Recently, Mathews’s String Quartet was performed by Accessible Contemporary Music in Chicago.
Mathews, who was born in Rockford, Illinois, began his career as a dancer-singer-actor in Broadway and film musicals. After a back injury, he returned to school and earned a B.A. Degree in music from Hunter College, where he was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Roosevelt Memorial Scholarship for Graduate Study. He completed an M.A. Degree in music theory from New York University. He studied classical piano with John Ranck of the Mannes School of Music and jazz piano with Harold Danko at the Manhattan School of Music. His composition and orchestration teachers have included Richard Danielpour, Richard Hundley, and Charles Turner.
After a highly successful career as private teacher of piano and theory and a performing career as part of a classical piano duo with Sarah Renberg, with whom he appeared in concert halls throughout the United States, he began composing in 1993.
Mathews’s one-woman musical play about Dorothy Parker, You Might as Well Live, has been performed by Tony-Award-Winner Michele Pawk and Drama Desk-Award-Winner Karen Mason. The play, in which Mrs. Parker’s verses are set to music, was Mathews’s first venture into playwriting. It was a winner (along with works by Arthur Kopit, Wally Harper, and Sherman Yellen) of Stages 2003: a Festival of New Musicals, sponsored by Theatre Building Chicago. It was presented at Chicago’s new 1,500-seat opera house, as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, was part of the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre’s PlayFest, and appeared in the New York Musical Theater Festival. It has been a finalist for the Stanley Drama Award and the Mill Mountain Playhouse (Roanoke, VA) Best Play Competition. Selections from You Might as Well Live were featured in Bound for Broadway III, at the Merkin Concert Hall, in New York City. Chicago critic Albert Williams wrote, “The score is packed with delicious new numbers in the sassy, sophisticated vein of Porter, Sondheim and Rodgers and Hart.”
Mathews and lyricist Patty Seyburn, along with book writer Todd Lehman, have collaborated on a musical version of Lost Empires, J. B. Priestley’s novel about the English music hall. A starry demo CD of the show features: Michele Pawk (star of Sondheim’s Bounce) as Julie; John Dossett (Tony nominee starring in the role of Herbie opposite Bernadette Peters in Gypsy) as Uncle Nick; Danny Gurwin (New York City Opera’s and Kennedy Center’s Henrik in A Little Night Music) as Richard; and Brynn O’Malley (Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast and Sunday in the Park With George) as Nancy.
Somebody Write Me a Song, a cabaret revue written with Patty Seyburn, was presented at The Arts and Artists Series at the Donnell Library’s Banker’s Trust Auditorium in New York City. It featured Tony-Award-Winner Debbie Gravitte and Tony-nominee Liz Callaway.
Mathews has received numerous awards, grants, and commissions. He is published by Graphite Publishing and in The Anthology of American Art Songs for the Sacred Service (Classical Vocal Reprints of New York). Mathews is a member of ASCAP, the Harry Fox Agency, the American Music Center, American Composers Forum, the Boston New Music Initiative, and the Dramatists Guild and is listed in Who’s Who in America.