Grammy-Winner Billy Childs Returns to Oberlin for Three Wide-Ranging Concerts

March 29, 2018

By Erich Burnett

Billy Childs photo
Photo credit: Unlimited Myles

Composer in residence to present large-scale works, perform as solo artist, and collaborate with students.

Multi-genre pianist and composer Billy Childs will return to Oberlin the second week of April to continue a residency that began with a series of master classes in October 2017.

This time, works by Childs will highlight three performances featuring Oberlin students:

On Tuesday, April 10, the Oberlin Sinfonietta will present a program that includes Childs’ Unrequited: String Quartet No. 3 and his Four Portraits for Violin, which will be played by violinist Asher Wulfman ’20. Also on the program, under the direction of Timothy Weiss, are Julian Anderson’s Van Gogh Blue and David Liptak’s Ancient Songs, featuring faculty baritone Timothy LeFebvre. The 8 p.m. performance takes place in Warner Concert Hall.

On Friday, April 13, Childs will perform his Grammy Award-winning 2001 composition Into the Light in collaboration with Oberlin students, in addition to other solo works and a second performance of Unrequited. The concert begins at 8 p.m. in Finney Chapel.

On Saturday, April 14, Childs returns to Finney to join forces with the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra, Oberlin College Choir, and Musical Union. The program will include his 2005 piece Voices of Angels, featuring faculty vocalist La Tanya Hall and student vocalist Celine Opdycke. Also scheduled is Lutoslawski’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 35, featuring 2018 Concerto Competition winner Hyeonseo Lee on piano. It begins at 8 p.m.

All of the performances are free and open to the public. The Tuesday and Saturday performances will be live-streamed on

Childs’ visit continues a two-part residency that began in October 2017 with a public master class, classroom sessions and private lessons with jazz and classical composition students, coachings with Performance & Improvisation ensembles, and auditions for the ensembles that will perform his music in April.

Childs will lead another master class at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 14, in Stull Recital Hall.

The residency came about through Professor of Composition Stephen Hartke, who met Childs while serving on the faculty of Childs’ alma mater, the University of Southern California.

“The first time I heard Billy Childs do a presentation on his music, I was bowled over by his extraordinary musicality and creative flair—he is truly an astounding artist in so many ways,” says Hartke. “Upon coming to Oberlin, I knew that I wanted to invite him to work with our students, sharing his broad vision of the many ways we as composers can create paths for ourselves in the increasingly diversifying world of music.”

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Childs was a star in area clubs by the time he graduated from USC, earning gigs alongside Freddie Hubbard, J.J. Johnson, Joe Henderson, and Wynton Marsalis. Influenced throughout his life by jazz, classical, and popular music, Childs has also met with great success as a composer, securing commissions from Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Kronos Quartet, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, among other ensembles. He has won four Grammy Awards and been nominated 13 times. He has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Composers Grant from Chamber Music America, of which he is the current board president—the first jazz musician to hold the position.

Shortly after arriving at Oberlin in 2015, Hartke began collaborating with Bobby Ferrazza, director of the Division of Jazz Studies, to design a Childs residency that would benefit jazz and classical students, as well as student composers.

“This residency means a great deal to the conservatory, but beyond that, it is a fantastic cross-disciplinary collaboration,” says Ferrazza. “I was enthusiastic from the beginning because I've always loved Billy's music, but I also was eager to have a much more collaborative relationship with the Composition Department. To have all of these departments working together is great for everyone, and most of all the students. For the students in all of our departments to know that they can tap into all of these disciplines makes everyone stronger.

“Billy is a perfect example of someone who isn't inhibited by any musical genre barriers. We want our students to be forward-thinking, and Billy and this collaboration are great models for them.”

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