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Sydeman at the radio station KZYX


• National Institute of Arts and Letters
• Boston Symphony Merit Award
• Koussevitzky Foundation (Library of Congress)
• Sigma Alpha Iota American Music Series
• Winner-KPFK Competition


• Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
• Boston Symphony Orchestra  

 (In Memorium John F. Kennedy)
• Tanglewood Music Center
• Sacramento Symphony Orchestra
• National Public Television
(Music for Comet Halley)
• Contemporary Chamber Ensemble
• Music in Our Time Series
• Dartmouth Congregation of the Arts


Sydeman in the 1960s


The New York Times

“He is one of the more prolific and most played of his generation...”

“More than many of his colleagues, he seems to know what will sound well, and he works for some remarkably attractive, pure textures.”

“The world of sound is quite the composer’s own and it is a world that has color and idea as well as a fine sense of forward thrust...”

“...The musical imagery was both fresh and appropriate and particularly beautiful...”

“...His sounds seem to grow from a physical sense of exactly what material is right.”

“...Refreshing, fascinating and continually surprising...astringent, brilliant...quite dazzling...”

“...Another of Mr. Sydeman’s carefully constructed, reflective tour de forces...”

“Sydeman - uncommonly gifted...”


Time Magazine

“ ‘The stuff has just exploded.’ The stuff is composer Sydeman’s music...”

“His works have become notable for the variety of their instrumental colors, for their fresh, perky themes and invigorating rhythms.”

New York Harold Tribune
“This is a composer to watch...He has much to say and the means with which to do so.”

“Sydeman is a highly individual composer...His music is full of life, variety and color...”

“Full of fresh and original sounds...his sense of form is delicate and accurate...his instrumentation is finesse itself...”

“...Compelling at every moment...a sense of having heard something important.”

“...Avant-garde music of a very high order...marvelously alive with ideas... consistently vital...”



The San Francisco Chronicle

“A shining light among N.Y. composers...blessed with grants, awards, commissions, even good reviews.”

“Top of the heap...”

“Sydeman...easily the musical high point of the evening...Such an experience leaves little doubt that music has a healthy and viable future...”

“...The music is as un-self-conscious and direct as his earlier scores were complex and reflective...”

“W. Jay Sydeman’s second life as a born-again composer seemed real and rewarding...welcome back, Mr. Sydeman.”

The Sacramento Bee

“Having sat atop the music world, he’s at peace here.” 

“...A brilliant symphonic star...not only a master of his art... a successful one.”

“...The most-performed composer of his generation.”

“...Conductors of major orchestras were at his door - knocking as insistently as the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.” 

“His transformation became musical as well as personal, and today one can listen to works more personal and pure...these include nine large orchestral pieces, some 80 chamber works and miscellaneous items that come to a total of 200.”

“Sydeman, the world-class composer...”


William Jay Sydeman was one of America’s most prolific and inventive composers. In an era in which many of his colleagues have defined their careers through a handful of brief works, he produced an output whose scope and variety are absolutely unique. His work is a prominent part of late 20th century American music - widely published and frequently performed - but the full extent of it’s accomplishments will probably not become entirely clear until we are well into the new millennium. At that time, when classical radio stations and mainstream ensembles have exhausted their repertoire of 18th and 19th century music, they will begin to explore our century, and there is no doubt that the rich veins of Mr. Sydeman’s creation will be a much-mined and frequently heard treasure.


There is a fluency and inspired craftsmanship illuminating Sydeman’s more than 400 compositions that is reminiscent of the Baroque and Classical eras. When asked recently if there are some forms he has yet to examine, he responded that he has written for just about every medium: “...two operas, scads of chamber music, ten orchestral pieces. There’s nothing that I still want to explore. But,” he continued, “it’s like every new piece is an exploration.” This is where Sydeman continued to work, getting in touch with his muse on a daily basis, and returning again and again to create works on what he called “the edge of the process”.




Sydeman’s life mirrors the breadth and variety of his music. Born in New York in 1928 and educated at Manhattan’s Mannes School of Music, he quickly became one of the most sought-after and honored composers of his generation, receiving commissions from such prestigious groups as the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Tanglewood Music Center, and the Boston Symphony, which premiered his orchestral work in memory of John F. Kennedy in 1966. “Sydeman uses a whole battery of far out techniques,” wrote the New York Times, “but he has an uncanny ability to throw in the whole avant-garde machinery as if it were the simplest, most normal way of making music in the world...More than many of his colleagues, he seems to know what will sound well, and he works for some remarkably attractive, pure textures. His sounds seem to grow from a physical sense of exactly what material is right.”


In 1970, after a heady period that included awards from the National institute of Arts and Letters, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and library of Congress, Sydeman left New York - and composition - to begin a journey of personal and artistic exploration. He taught at a teenage drug rehabilitation center in rural California, spent two years in Los Angeles’ commercial music industry, and another year studying Steiner education in England, before settling in Hawaii, where he composed liturgical music for a Tibetan Buddhist temple. “I’d done very well (in New York),” Mr. Sydeman said in a recent interview, “but I felt trapped, caught in a kind of style warp. I was writing music that was thought of very highly and some part of me didn’t feel quite comfortable writing. I didn’t consciously make the decision, ‘I’m going to stop and retrench,’ but I just left it - New York and my whole life: I got divorced, I left for parts unknown, not knowing exactly what would happen, and a whole period evolved... I was looking for a new way of being, really, and a new way of being a musician. I didn’t know that I was looking for a new way of being a musician; I was looking for a new way of being, and the musician just came on the heels of that.”


In 1981, Mr. Sydeman returned to the mainland, began teaching at the Steiner College in Fair Oaks, California, and finally returned to composition as the defining aspect of his life. The works that emerged reflected an enormous stylistic change, and projected a sense of inclusiveness that allowed him to draw freely from experimental and traditional idioms. “Around 1980,” he has written, “I returned to composition - at first a large number of choral works which reconnected me to the source of all music - the human voice. Out of this new lyric impulse have evolved all of my works since that time - more romantic, more accessible. I create music for the musician.”


Sydeman moved to Nevada City, California in 1988 and enriched the community with the beauty of his work and the enthusiasm of his love for the medium. Like many of his fellow artists, he created a private, nurturing environment for his compositional work, but he has clearly did not retreat from public life. On the contrary, he devoted himself to making music of all periods accessible to everyone with open ears and hearts. Whether as a conductor of visiting professionals, mentor of talented amateurs, or teacher of our gifted youth, he single-handedly helped elevate the quality and breadth of our musical life.


Here again is a connection between William Jay Sydeman and his Baroque and Classical predecessors - all artists who explored the most profoundly personal realms of the spirit, but remained closely engaged with, and deeply committed to the service of their society.


– (adapted from) Howard Hersh, Artistic Director of “Music Now”


Sydeman passed away  in May 2021 at his home in Mendocino. He composed, edited, and listened to his music until his final day.

Sydeman with the Nevada City Composers Collective

Sydeman in his home studio.

Mendocino, 2013

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