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Jan Gilbert is a nationally recognized composer. Her work has been commissioned by Chanticleer, the Dale Warland Singers, Ars Nova Singers, LISTEN, the American Guild of Organists, the St. Paul Civic Symphony, the University of Illinois Chamber Singers, the University of Maine Chamber Singers, Hamline University, A Cappella Singers, WomanVoice and the United Nations Association International Choir. She has received support from the National Endowment for the Arts, McKnight Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Northwest Area Foundation, Walker Art Center, American Composers Forum and the Otto Bremer Foundation, and has completed several residencies at the MacDowell Colony.
Gilbert's interest in experimental and non-western music has led her to create many works centering on African and Asian cultures, including the choral work Let that day be darkness (set in Krio), NightChants (settings of American Indian, African and Sanskrit poetry), One Evening (a setting in Tamil for South Indian dance and choir) and the orchestral works Nine in One (a setting of a Hmong folktlae) and Khoj: The Search for Light (a collaboration with Asian Indian storyteller Gita Kar. Chanticleer features selections from NightChants on Sound in Spirit, released on Warner Classics (2005). Recent works have explored collaborative relationships with Renee Ramaswamy, South Indian Bharatnatyam choreographer in Gitanjali (Song Offerings for Soprano, String Quartet and Dance) and with Nirmala Rajasekar, veena artist and composer in Shakuntala for Soprano, String Quartet and Veena and Suite for Veena and Orchestra, premiered in May 2007. In 2009, a new choral work That the dove may rest for soprano Adriana Zabala (Minnesota Opera) and the United Nations Association International Choir, accompanied by the Space City Gamelan Ensemble, was premiered in Houston, commissioned in honor of the ensemble's tenth anniversary.
Gilbert's vocal music has been described by critics as "innovative with an eerie and mysterious beauty" (San Francisco Chronicle), and her multimedia composition "perfectly captures the flavor of dance and the spirit of storytelling." (Minneapolis Star Tribune)