Elizabeth Ogonek


photo by Todd Rosenberg

Elizabeth Ogonek, whose music has been described as “shimmering” and “dramatic” by the Chicago Tribune, is an American composer living and working in the Midwest.

Her orchestral music has been commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. Her new work for the CSO, All These Lighted Things, will receive its premiere under Riccardo Muti in September 2017 after which it will be featured on the orchestra’s West Coast tour. Other recent and upcoming projects include Lightenings, which was commissioned by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival for Julianne Lee (violin), Romie de Guise-Langlois (clarinet), Alexis Corbin (percussion) and Juho Pohjonen (piano); In Silence, a CSO MusicNOW commission for violinist Benjamin Beilman, conductor Elim Chan and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and a new piano concerto for Xak Bjerken. Ogonek’s work has been recognized by the ASCAP Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Royal Philharmonic Society.

Born in 1989 in Anoka, Minnesota, Ogonek was raised in New York City. Her primary teachers included Don Freund, Claude Baker, Michael Gandolfi, Donald Crockett, Stephen Hartke and Julian Anderson. She holds degrees from Indiana University, Jacobs School of Music (BM, 2009), the University of Southern California, Thornton School of Music (MM, 2012), and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (PhD, 2017). Her graduate education was supported by the Beinecke Foundation and the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission. Currently, she holds the positions of Mead Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Assistant Professor of Composition at Oberlin Conservatory.

Program Note:

Written in 2015, Sleep & Unremembrance for orchestra is a reflection on the poem While Sleeping by Polish poet Wisława Szymborska. This particular poem, which was one of the last written before her death in 2012, grapples with the idea that memories often change so dramatically that they simply end up disappearing. What remains is a frantic quest to remember all of the things that mark our lives as special until we come to terms with the fact that forgetting is part of the cycle of life. Unique to Szymborska is her ability to find beauty and spontaneity in the simplest and most mundane objects and everyday activities. In this poem for example, dreams become a metaphor for time; sleep, a metaphor for death; drawers, a metaphor for secrets; snow, a metaphor for frailty. To me, this lends Szymborska’s poetry a profound sense of humanity.

The music that I have written attempts to capture the spirit and energy of this poem. Simple musical ideas such as a four-note ascending, scalar figure (heard at the opening of the piece) and sequences of parallel sixths are molded into highly recognizable gestures that reach far beyond their ordinary structural characteristics. As the piece develops, these kinds of ideas recede into the background as if they have changed or cannot be remembered anymore. Though this is only an excerpt of the piece, what will ultimately set the completed version of the work apart from the poem is perspective. Szymborska undoubtedly knew that she was near to her death when she wrote the poem, making the text a powerful opportunity to look back on life past. I, however, see it as a reminder that behind every corner lurks mystery, surprise and change. Thus, the music twists and turns in search of its own memories and its true identity.