Richard Sortomme — Biography

After two decades of a successful chamber music career performing on violin and viola, Richard Sortomme returned to his great love, composition. By 1997 he was devoting all of his creative energies to writing, composing new works for the concert hall. The first concert piece from this period, Culmination 1 for Viola, Orchestra and Synthesizers, received a Special Distinction citation from ASCAP’s annual Rudolph Nissim Prize in January 2007.  He has had a steady outpouring of concert works since 1997 and burst onto center stage in 2004 with a New York Philharmonic commission for the orchestral version of his Androcles and the Lion, with narrator and 3 actors in Chinese shadow theater.  This highly successful Young People’s Concert premiered in Avery Fisher Hall on 11 Dec. 2004.  Richard’s continuing output included chamber, orchestral and piano works but it was his 2007 world premiere, Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra commissioned by The Cleveland Orchestra, which catapulted his rising star even higher.  Rhapsody, with principal violist Robert Vernon as soloist and Music Director Franz Welser-Möst conducting, premiered to rave reviews on 26 April 2007 in Severance Hall.  “…Between Mozart and Tchaikovsky, however, came the highpoint of the evening: the world premiere of a Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra…Here is a work that speaks to an audience with music for savoring rather than academic exercises or arcane technical experiments.  There is not so much repertory for viola and orchestra that such an imaginative and listenable work cannot make its way in the wider concert world…”, Robert Finn, The American Record Guide.  “An affectionate folk like quality pervades the melodic material… Sortomme paints sonic images in tonal language that caresses the mellow and often melancholic personality of the viola. Yet his writing has just enough dashes of spice to keep it from being merely a lilting idyll.”, exclaimed Donald Rosenberg of The Plain Dealer. After other glowing press notices continued to come in it became apparent that Richard had joined the ranks of America’s leading composers.  

Presently his future is bright: His second commission by The Cleveland Orchestra, a concerto for two violas and orchestra was Premiered to standing ovations and rave reviews in November, 2015 in Severance Hall. Robert Vernon and Lynne Ramsey were the soloists with Maestro Christoph von Dohnanyi conducting.  Based on Smetana’s “From My Life” Quartet, Sortomme’s readily approachable second gift to Cleveland emerged as…a gripping, vigorously colorful re-imagining of the original…Under Dohnanyi Thursday, the large ensemble … surrounded the soloists in a prismatic array of sounds, courtesy of the percussionists and such instruments as the piccolo, trombone, piano and accordion. Indeed, Sortomme knows how to write for orchestra, and must be permitted to do so again.”,  Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer.  “…Sortomme’s keen ear for orchestral color reveals itself from the beginning, when a dramatic gesture leaves a clarinet note floating high in the air above the low brass and piano…The piece is well written, expertly scored and fun to listen to…”  

Daniel Hathaway, American Record Guide.

The February 20, 2020 World Premiere of his Piano Concerto performed by Pamela Mia Paul and the North Texas Wind Symphony, Daniel Cook conductor, was greeted with raves and a standing ovation.

Brava Pamela!  Wonderful performance of a strangely enchanting work. Thank you for your collaboration with Richard and bringing an entirely new dimension to the Wind Symphony repertoire!”

James Ryon, Professor of Oboe, University of North Texas

Sortomme’s second commission from the Savannah Philharmonic, an overture honoring their 10th anniversary season, premièred on Sept. 22nd, 2018.  TEN was conducted by Artistic Director Peter Shannon.   “…The piece opened with fanfare, but shifted more sensually into a sweeping ballad — echoing the haunting and alluring nature of Savannah’s streets, gazed upon through Spanish moss hanging over dimmed Victorian street lamps.  A shift back to the more fanciful and bustling seemed to represent the movement and flow of a pre-1900s city filled with the scurrying steps of commerce and prosperity, signaled through the string and woodwind melody. To close, the brass section brings you to attention as the timpani swells and the grand gesture to the Hostess City is given its due completion…”

Zach Dennis, Savannah Morning News

Elmar Oliveira commissioned him to compose a violin concerto and the World Premieres were heard as a joint commission with the Savannah Philharmonic, Sept. 10, 2016 and The Jackson (TN) Symphony, Sept. 17, 2016, Peter Shannon Conductor and Artistic Director.  …it was the second movement of the program’s three pieces that created an extraordinary night of symphonic music…The world premiere of a new violin concerto by Richard Sortomme… is a daring piece of postmodern symphonic music… Lonely, broken solos of strumming oscillated with excursions into a high range of staccato notes were as refreshing as they were nearly painful at times…The concerto received a standing ovation, duly deserved for a piece which was as daring and beautiful as it was lonely and desolate, coursing a wide swath of emotion and tonal embodiment…”

Joshua Peacock, Savannah Morning News.

Elmar performed the violin concerto again Sept. 23 & 24, 2017 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.  Guillermo Figueroa conducted the Lynn Philharmonia.  The Palm Beach ArtsPaper exclaimed:

“…the work was inspired (according to the composer’s program note) by the Violin Concerto of Erich Wolfgang Korngold… The two works are of about equal length (30 minutes) and share elaborate and inventive orchestration… His orchestra glows and glitters appealingly…”

Sortomme is composing a major symphonic work with voices based on the holiday THE DAY OF THE DEAD.  He has been joined by the writer/director Andrei Severny and producer/director/visual artist Doug Fitch to create a film that will be mounted with the production.  The three are working toward a consortium in the upcoming seasons.  

On 19 Jan. 2009 his Prelude and Dance for Viola and String Orchestra, commissioned by Adam Michlin and the Barron Collier High School String Orchestra, Naples, Florida, received its world premiere.  Craig Mumm, associate principal viola of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, performed the solo part along with The Barron Collier High School String Orchestra.  

Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra received its regional premiere at the Sarasota Music Festival on 21 June 2008, again with Robert Vernon as soloist.  Other commissions have included two works based on Aesop fables:  Androcles and the Lion in 2003, for 11 instruments, narrator and three actors in Chinese shadow theater and The Tortoise and the Hare in 2004.  Philip Myers, principal French horn of the New York Philharmonic, commissioned him to compose a Cadenza for Mozart’s Fourth Horn Concerto, for his solo performances with the New York Philharmonic in November of 2003.  Other works include Piano Prelude No. 1 and an orchestral tone poem, Out of the City

Richard graduated from the Juilliard School as a concert violinist.  His performing career centered on two chamber music groups: For the Love of Music, where he served as founding music director and artist member violinist and violist for ten seasons in concerts at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City and at the Library of Congress in Washington DC; and L’Ensemble, in which he was an artist member violinist and violist performing at historic sites throughout the United States, at Alice Tully Hall in New York, and in joint concerts with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.  

biography January 3, 2021