American composer and educator Daniel M. Brewbaker, Ph.D. (1951-2017), was one of the most esteemed artists of his generation. Born in Elgin, Illinois, Brewbaker began his musical education at an early age, studying piano at the age of 4, learning the trumpet, and participating in many musical activities both in and out of public school. Following graduation from Elgin High School, where he was elected president of the senior class, he continued studies towards a promising academic and professional career.
Brewbaker began formal training in music composition with Gordon Binkerd at the University of Illinois, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He continued with Roger Sessions, Elliott Carter, and Vincent Persichetti at the Juilliard School in New York City where he received the Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees. His first notable work, Psalm 39 for Soprano and Piano, was premiered in 1970 at the University of Illinois, initiating a body of work that grew to more than 70 compositions in all genres. Over time his oeuvre reflected his deeply spiritual and somewhat mystical nature and communicated to the listener with powerful effect.
He was commissioned to compose works for leading conductors, ensembles and soloists worldwide, including oratorios, cantatas, symphonic works and concertos for Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra and Chorus, James Conlon and the Cincinnati Symphony and Chorus, Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony and Chorus, the New York Chamber Symphony and Young People’s Chorus of NYC, Doreen Rao and the Irish Chamber Orchestra, St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra and Millennium Festival Chorus, Kent Nagano and the Berkeley Symphony, and violinist Vadim Repin, with conductor Yuri Temirkanov and the Baltimore Symphony. In 1995, Brewbaker's Concerto for Cello entitled “La Serenissima” was premiered by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and later recorded by cellist Carter Brey. In 1999, the final movement of the concerto was performed at a gala concert by the Elgin Symphony Orchestra featuring soloist Yo-Yo Ma.
Daniel Brewbaker composed chamber and solo works for renowned ensembles and artists including the Borromeo String Quartet, pianist Richard Goode, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, He composed a vast body of choral music for, among others, Chanticleer, Musica Sacra, Handel Oratorio Society of Dartmouth College, Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, Santa Fe Desert Chorale, New Classic Singers, Heartland Voices, Brooklyn Youth Chorus and Symphony, Portland Symphonic Girlchoir, Children’s Aid Society Chorus of NYC, Anima Young Singers (who performed at the 2009 SAI National Convention in Chicago), and the Children’s Theater of Elgin. Other commissions included symphonic works for the Seattle and Elgin Symphony Orchestras, three brass quintets, two string quartets, a piano trio and an evening-length dance work for the Buglisi Dance Theater as composer/pianist.
His music held special significance at Festival Napa Valley. The world premiere of his composition Sinfonietta per Sofia was conducted by Carlo Ponti, Jr. at the Festival in 2014, as part of a tribute honoring screen legend Sophia Loren. In tribute to Brewbaker since his death, the Festival Napa Valley announced its newest award in 2022--the Maria Manetti Shrem-Daniel Brewbaker Composer Prize, awarded annually to a composer whose works will be performed as part of the summer season.
Brewbaker’s music was also featured in 2014 during The Awakened Palate, a gala event to support Copland House in Cortlandt Manor, New York, by pairing with chef Lidia Bastianich, introducing each course of a meal with part of a musical work.
Brewbaker lived extensively abroad, working with composers Hans Werner Henze, Luciano Berio and Henri Dutilleux. He served as Composer in Residence at the Spoleto USA Music Festival in Charleston, the Cabrillo Music Festival, the Prince Albert Music Festival in Hawaii, the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, the Fundacion Valparaiso in Spain, the Ligurian Study Center in Italy, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico, Copland House, Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, and the American Academy in Rome. He received awards from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, The Nadia Boulanger Foundation, Copland House/ Borromeo String Quartet, and the International Rotary Foundation. He held teaching positions at the Juilliard School, Hunter and Queens Colleges (CUNY), St. Stephen’s School in Rome, and the Westminster Choir College. He was also active as a guest conductor and lecturer.
Despite national and international achievements, Brewbaker maintained a close connection with his roots in the Fox Valley and Chicago area. He was initiated as a Sigma Alpha Iota National Arts Associate by the Oak Park (IL) Alumnae Chapter. In 2006 he was inducted into the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame. He composed frequently for local musical groups, including the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, DuPage Chorale, and the Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus. In 2016, he was inducted into the Elgin High School Alumni Hall of Fame.
The Baltimore Sun said of a Brewbaker’s violin concerto, “It did what precious few pieces of contemporary music do — light a fire under the audience. With good reason. Daniel Brewbaker’s Playing and Being Played has the right stuff. In a single, compact movement, Brewbaker’s concerto packs a remarkable amount of thematic material that is developed clearly and arrestingly. From its misty opening measures to a breathless dash for the finish line, the score travels through a variety of moods with a restless energy that, even at the slowest, quietest moments, exudes a powerful tension. At one of those soft spots, a lyrical theme, simple and direct, emerges from the violin. Many a composer, past or present, would envy its haunting pull. Brewbaker has a flair for writing unabashedly beautiful themes.”
Daniel Brewbaker lived in New York City until 2015 when he moved back to his home in Elgin, Illinois following the onset of his illness, where he died in 2017. His music is published by Boosey & Hawkes, and American Composers Alliance, and is distributed by Hal Leonard Corporation and other companies worldwide.
*Biography information provided by Daniel M. Brewbaker Declaration of Trust with the following credits:
*SAI Composers Bureau, The 68th Annual American Composers Update, SAI Philanthropies, Inc.
Winter 2017 Digital Exclusive
*School District U-46 Library, Daniel M. Brewbaker, “Brewb” - Class of 1969
*Westchester Magazine's Wine and Food Festival, October 6, 2014
*Daniel M. Brewbaker | Symonds-Madison Funeral Home
*Crescendo, Festival Napa Valley, 2022.