Paul Salerni

2022-2023 Season

Paul Salerni’s music “pulses with life, witty musical ideas and instrumental color” (The Philadelphia Inquirer), and has been described by the New York Times as “impressive” and “playful”. Henry Fogel (Fanfare) has said “It is…music that sings and dances.”

Salerni’s one-act opera Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast, with a libretto by Dana Gioia, won the National Opera Association’s Chamber Opera Competition. In 2007. It was premiered in Los Angeles in January 2008 in a co-production by the Los Angeles Opera, OperaWorks, CSU-Northridge, and the Southern California Opera Guild. A definitive recording was released on Naxos in 2010. His second one-act, The Life and Love of Joe Coogan, is adapted from a Dick Van Dyke TV Show episode. The original screenplay was written by Carl Reiner and adapted by librettist Kate Light. Joe Coogan had its premiere in September 2010.  Both one-acts are published by Theodore Presser. In March 2019, Salerni and Gioia saw the premiere of a one-act dance opera entitled Haunted. Based on a Gioia poem of the same name, it is scored for baritone, three dancers, string quartet, and percussion. On the same program, they also premiered Salerni’s setting of Gioia’s The Ballad of Jesus Ortiz.

Recent orchestral commissions include Cape Cod Symphony, San Diego Chamber Orchestra, New Haven Symphony, the Allentown Symphony, and the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra. Salerni’s choral work includes a setting of a Richard Wilbur poem for a cappella choir that was premiered at Amherst College, and Bethlehem Carol, another a cappella setting published by Fischer. It was tabbed as an “Editor’s Choice” in a recent J.W. Pepper Catalog.

Salerni’s chamber music and songs are widely performed. Recent highlights included the premiere of Quartet 1.5 commissioned by the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta and the premiere of Family Letters, a song on a narrative poem by Dana Gioia commissioned by Eileen Wescoe and premiered by Patricia Risley and SATORI..

One of Salerni’s most recent projects is called “Paul’s Song of the Week.” In 2017-18, having written 52 art songs, he decided to post a YouTube video of one of those art songs each week for a year. One of the cycles featured on the project is For Love Or Money (poems by Dana Gioia). That cycle had its premiere at a concert of Salerni’s music on texts by Gioia given at Colorado College in 2016. Included in the cycle are two of Salerni’s most popular songs, Alley Cat Love Song and Money. Alley Cat Love Song was recently chosen to be included in the New Music Shelf Baritone Anthology, has been sung widely by Met mezzo Jamie Barton, and was featured at a cabaret concert at the Seoul Arts Center in 2020. Salerni’s art song production has now reached 69 in total.

Other recently heard songs and chamber music include a performance by the Da Capo Chamber Players of two song cycles, Speaking of Love and Bad Pets, at New York City’s Merkin Hall, the premiere of Many Happy Returns, a brass quintet commissioned by the Philadelphia Brass and the Candelight Chamber Music Series, and two woodwind quintets (U-Turn and Sinfonietta Italiana) commissioned and premiered by East Winds. Salerni’s chamber music and songs appear on the Albany and New Focus labels. In 2021, a CD called “People, Places, and Pets” was released by Bridge Records. It features all of Salerni’s music written for the Bowers Fader Duo (Jessica Bowers, mezzo-soprano and Oren Fader, guitar)

Salerni’s passion for involving young people in music is evident in his choice of subject, audience, and performers for many of his compositions. The Big Sword and the Little Broom, a suite for solo violin and orchestra, is based on an old Neapolitan fable.  Its chamber ensemble reduction, with narration by Dana Gioia, has been performed frequently in the United States and Canada in educational and family concerts; its full orchestra version has been performed at the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp, where Salerni served on the orchestral conducting faculty for six years. Salerni’s recent piece for young string orchestra and harp, Hugging the Shore, is published by Alfred. Salerni’s ballet entitled FABLES was commissioned and premiered by RIOULT New York and is also family-friendly. FABLES has been performed in all of the five boroughs of New York City as well as in numerous venues in France and Germany.

Salerni is the NEH Distinguished Chair in the Humanities and Professor of Music at Lehigh University, where he teaches composition, theory, and directs the Lehigh University Very Modern Ensemble (LUVME). Salerni received a BA in Music from Amherst College and a Ph.D. in composition from Harvard University, where he studied with Earl Kim. Among his other composition teachers were Fred Lerdahl, Lewis Spratlan, and Donald Wheelock. He has held composition fellowships from the Sheldon Foundation, the Charles Ives Festival, and the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts, and has been the recipient of grants from Meet the Composer and the NEA. As the leading expert on the music of his mentor Earl Kim, Salerni has a long history of collaboration as guest pianist and lecturer with the internationally acclaimed string ensemble Sejong Soloists.  He has performed Kim’s music with the ensemble in Korea, at the Kennedy Center, the 92nd  St. Y, and the Aspen Music Festival. Sejong commissioned Salerni’s arrangement of Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango and premiered it in Carnegie’s Zankel Hall. That arrangement is published in Italy by BERBEN.

A dedicated educator, Salerni is recipient of the Stabler Award, Lehigh University’s most valued acknowledgement of excellence in teaching. His service to the larger community includes participation on Fulbright Fellowship and NEA peer review panels and seven years’ service on the Board of Directors of the Suzuki Association of the Americas. He served for two years as Chair of the SAA Board. Salerni was recently honored with a two-concert festival of his music at Murray State University, an event produced by his former student, composer Mike D’Ambrosio.

Salerni is married to opera and stage director Laura Johnson, and often writes for and performs with their two sons, violinist Domenic (Attacca Quartet) and percussionist Miles (Philadelphia Ballet).