Dawn Upshaw



Competition Winner

Born: July 17, 1960 (Nashville, TN)

Joining a rare natural warmth with a fierce commitment to the transforming communicative power of music,  Dawn Upshaw, soprano, has achieved worldwide celebrity as a singer of opera and concert repertoire ranging from the sacred works of Bach to the freshest sounds of today. Her ability to reach to the heart of music and text has earned her both the devotion of an exceptionally diverse audience, and the awards and distinctions accorded to only the most distinguished of artists. In 2007, she was named a Fellow of the MacArthur Foundation, the first vocal artist to be awarded the five-year “genius” prize, and in 2008 she was named a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Her acclaimed performances on the opera stage comprise the great Mozart roles (Susanna, Ilia, Pamina, Despina, and Zerlina) as well as modern works by Stravinsky, Poulenc, and Messiaen. From Salzburg, Paris and Glyndebourne to the Metropolitan Opera, where she began her career in 1984 and has since made nearly 300 appearances, Dawn Upshaw has also championed numerous new works created for her including The Great Gatsby by John Harbison; the Grawemeyer Award-winning opera, L’Amour de Loin and oratorio La Passion de Simone by Kaija Saariaho; John Adams’s Nativity oratorio El Niño; and Osvaldo Golijov’s chamber opera Ainadamar and song cycle Ayre.

It says much about Dawn Upshaw’s sensibilities as an artist and colleague that she is a favored partner of many leading musicians, including Gilbert Kalish, the Kronos Quartet, James Levine, and Esa-Pekka Salonen. In her work as a recitalist, and particularly in her work with composers, Dawn Upshaw has become a generative force in concert music, having premiered more than 25 works in the past decade. From Carnegie Hall to large and small venues throughout the world she regularly presents specially designed programs composed of lieder, contemporary works in many languages, and folk and popular music. She furthers this work in master classes and workshops with young singers at major music festivals, conservatories, and liberal arts colleges. She is the Head of the Vocal Arts Program at the Tanglewood Music Center and was the founding Artistic Director of the Vocal Arts Program at the Bard College Conservatory of Music.

A five-time Grammy Award winner, Dawn Upshaw is featured on more than 50 recordings, including the million-selling Symphony No. 3 by Henryk Gorecki for Nonesuch Records. Her discography also includes full-length opera recordings of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro; Messiaen’s St. Francois d’Assise; Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress; John Adams’s El Niño; two volumes of Canteloube’s “Songs of the Auvergne,” a dozen recital recordings, and an acclaimed three-disc series of Osvaldo Golijov’s music for Deutsche Grammophon. She received the 2014 Best Classical Vocal Solo Grammy for Maria Schneider’s Winter Morning Walks on the ArtistShare Label.

Dawn Upshaw holds honorary doctorate degrees from Yale, the Manhattan School of Music, the Juilliard School, Allegheny College, and Illinois Wesleyan University. She began her career as a 1984 winner of the Young Concert Artists Auditions and the 1985 Walter W. Naumburg Competition, and was a member of the Metropolitan Opera Young Artists Development Program.

Ms. Upshaw received her bachelor's degree at Illinois Wesleyan University, and in 1984, a master's degree from Manhattan School of Music where she studied with Ellen Faull. She studied with an DeGaetani at summer workshops at Aspen, Colorado.

Ms. Upshaw has recorded extensively for the Nonesuch label. She may also be heard on Angel/EMI, BMG, Deutsche Grammophon, London, Sony Classical, Telarc, and on Erato and Teldec in the Warner Classics Family of labels.

Dawn Upshaw is a member of the Walter W. Naumburg Board of Directors.

Excerpt from The New York Times, November 13, 1986 (as winner of the Naumburg Vocal Award)

Concert: Dawn Upshaw

"Dawn Upshaw, at present one of this country's finest sopranos and full of promise for the future, sang a recital at Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday as first-prize winner of the 1985 Walter W. Naumburg Vocal Competition. Having been a Young Concert Artists winner of 1984 and having already made her Metropolitan Opera debut, Miss Upshaw is no stranger to the New York musical public, and the recital drew a sizable audience.

It was rewarded with a fine program that began with Purcell, ended with cabaret songs by Schoenberg and Weill and included groups by Mozart, Schubert, Debussy and John Harbison. Robert Merfeld was the sensitive accompanist of the evening.

Miss Upshaw's voice is so clear and lovely in sound, and seemingly so easily produced, that the listener almost forgets about it in focusing upon the song and interpretation of the moment. And because the soprano has an instinct for lyric phrasing that is given to few singers, there is almost always something of interest going on.

In this recital, her English and German diction were excellent..Harbison's ''Mirabai Songs,'' new to New York, might be described as thoughtful combinations of evenly paced, declamatory vocal lines with often busy piano accompaniments." Allen Hughes


1985 Vocal Competition

First Prize

Commissioned Works

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Naumburg Performances

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Recording Awards

1985 Philip Naumburg Solo Recording Prize (Dawn Upshaw)

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