Ursula Oppens, a legend among American pianists, is widely admired particularly for her original and perceptive readings of new music, but also for her knowing interpretations of the standard repertoire. No other artist alive today has commissioned and premiered more new works for the piano that have entered the permanent repertoire.
A prolific and critically acclaimed recording artist with five Grammy nominations, Ms. Oppens most recently released a new recording of Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated, nominated for a Grammy in 2016, and Piano Songs, a collaboration with Meredith Monk. To be released in 2021 with Cedille Records, Ms. Oppens has recorded a CD of solo, chamber, and orchestral works by Laura Kaminsky. Earlier Grammy nominations were for Winging It: Piano Music of John Corigliano; Oppens Plays Carter; a recording of the complete piano works of Elliott Carter for Cedille Records (also was named a “Best of the Year” selection by The New York Times long-time music critic Allan Kozinn); Piano Music of Our Time featuring compositions by John Adams, Elliott Carter, Julius Hemphill, and Conlon Nancarrow for the Music and Arts label, and her cult classic The People United Will Never Be Defeated by Frederic Rzewski on Vanguard. Ms. Oppens recently added to her extensive discography by releasing a two-piano CD for Cedille Records devoted to Visions de l’Amen of Oliver Messiaen and Debussy’s En blanc et noir performed with pianist Jerome Lowenthal.
On February 2, 2019, Ms. Oppens performed a recital at Merkin Concert Hall for a celebration of her 75th birthday, inaugurating the Kaufman Music Center’s newest series, Only at Merkin with Terrance McKnight. Her program showcased all works written for her by Elliott Carter and John Corigliano, and gave the world premiere of a piano quintet by Laura Kaminsky—commissioned by the pianist for the occasion with production support from the Newburgh Institute for The Arts & Ideas—alongside the Cassatt String Quartet and Tobias Picker’s Ursula for solo piano, a birthday present for his dear friend and collaborator.
Of Ms. Oppens’ Merkin Hall concert, David Wright of New York Classical Review wrote on February 3, 2019:
Merkin Concert Hall was packed Saturday night…for a celebration of the pianist’s 75th birthday on its exact date. Here one was especially aware of the quality of Oppens’ tone—full and projected even in the softed pianissimo, and capable of producing tremendous impact in forte chords without sounding pinched or banged. Her pedaling was unusually subtle for new-music interpretation, managing resonances and overlapping tones like an expert Chopin player.
Over the years, Ms. Oppens has premiered works by such leading composers as John Adams, Luciano Berio, William Bolcom, Anthony Braxton, Elliott Carter, John Corigliano, Anthony Davis, John Harbison, Julius Hemphill, Laura Kaminsky, Tania Leon, György Ligeti, Witold Lutoslawski, Harold Meltzer, Meredith Monk, Conlon Nancarrow, Tobias Picker, Bernard Rands, Frederic Rzewski, Allen Shawn, Alvin Singleton, Joan Tower, Lois V Vierk, Amy Williams, Christian Wolff, Amnon Wolman, and Charles Wuorinen.
As an orchestral guest soloist, Ms. Oppens has performed with virtually all of the world’s major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the American Composers Orchestra, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), and the orchestras of Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Milwaukee. Abroad, she has appeared with such ensembles as the Berlin Symphony, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the
Deutsche Symphonie, the Scottish BBC, and the London Philharmonic Orchestras. Ms. Oppens is also an avid chamber musician and has performed with the Arditti, Cassatt, JACK, Juilliard, and Pacifica quartets, among other chamber ensembles.
Ursula Oppens is a Distinguished Professor of Music at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City; she also joined the faculty of Mannes College, The New School, in fall 2017. In 2019, Ms. Oppens was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from The New England Conservatory. From 1994 through the end of the 2007-08 academic year she served as John Evans Distinguished Professor of Music at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. In addition, Ms. Oppens has served as a juror for many international competitions, such as the Bachauer, Busoni, Concert Artists Guild, Young Concert Artists, Young Pianists Foundation (Amsterdam), and Cincinnati Piano World Competition. Ms. Oppens lives in New York City.
"Oppens’s handling of the fast-moving octave passages in the Scherzo took our breath away as did the entire group in the relentless good cheer of the finale."
“…her playing is unprecedentedly rich and nuanced; she is the ideal interpreter for every composer.”
“Oppens has always excelled in densely packed music that would make most pianists cower...she applied equal amounts of energy and subtlety, finding the muscle and poetic heart in the music even as she sailed nimbly through the keyboard extremities.”
“What makes Oppens a compelling musician...is her probing intellect and curiosity; her ability to clarify what she perceives.”