"Shirley is the real deal, completely contemporary music that rewards the listener fully." -Dr. David Hopes,
poet, singer, painter, professor
at the University of North Carolina
Classical composer and pianist Nathan Shirley was born in 1981 on the celebrated birthday of Russian master Sergei Prokofiev. He was raised in North Carolina, the youngest son of an electrical engineer and a preschool teacher.
At the age of 21 Nathan Shirley composed Music for Strings and Marimba, which was awarded in the Andrzej Panufnik International Composer's Competition in Poland. His piece Locorum Musica for flute and string orchestra was chosen in the First International Garden Music Competition in Krakow, and the following season he served on that competition's jury. His chamber work In the Distance was awarded 1st place in the Orpheus Music Composition Competition in Australia, and his piano piece Cultus was awarded in the Renee Fisher Composer Awards in the USA. His composition Annabel Lee was performed and recorded by the London Schubert Players, selected for their Invitation to Composers project sponsored by the European Commission Culture Program. And Most recently, his composition Flesh and Bone won an award in the IronWorks Percussion Composition Competition for which it was performed, recorded, and will be published.
Nathan Shirley is an active performer as well as composer. He has given interviews and performed his music live on public radio in the United States, and his music has been featured on European and Canadian radio. He performs concerts of original music and has self-produced concert events including Images, an original series of ten solo piano pieces performed under a large projection of the paintings which inspired each piece. In 2009 he composed and produced The Black Cat, a tribute to the work of Edgar Allen Poe featuring piano, string sextet, soprano, and dramatic narration. All concerts are opened with a piano improvisation, in homage to the great composer-pianists of centuries past.
In adolescence Nathan discovered classical recordings and spent countless hours improvising at the piano. Though he received valuable lessons in basic music at age 10, he is heavily self-taught. As a teenager he was very fortunate to have been mentored in composition by Olga Harris, the last student of Khachaturian. He developed a strong Russian style in both composition and piano. At age 17 he received a composition scholarship, but after three years at various conservatories and universities he abandoned the academic world, devoting himself to the study of classical composition as he envisioned it.
Mr. Shirley's influences are very broad, from the interwoven counterpoint of Bach and the rhythmically driven harmonies of Vivaldi, to the divine lyricism of Chopin and Schumann, to the wild ferocity of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and beyond. His cross-cultural style reflects his interest in international folk music, including the exquisite timbres of Balinese gamelan music, beautifully dark Gypsy and Eurasian melodies, complex and layered African rhythms, exotic and highly ornamented music of Persia, and intense, fast-paced music of Latin America.
Nathan Shirley has composed numerous works for children, and taught piano, including improvisation and composition to many students. In western North Carolina he has worked with hundreds of public school children, introducing them to classical and world music instruments, leading them in group percussion performance, teaching the science of sound, and exposing them to classical masterpieces through active listening. He has also developed a new method of group music education using inexpensive "Pipe Bells" which he designed. Working with children has helped shape his style and has developed in him a strong instinct for accessible and engaging music.
He has written for independent film, animation, theater, and ballet, but composing for the concert hall is his true passion. He began accepting commissions for new work in 2005, and has since written for musicians around the world.
Nathan Shirley lives in the Mountains of North Carolina with his wife and children. He works as a freelance composer, accepting commissions for new music, and he performs his compositions in the now rare composer-pianist tradition of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and so many others. He has a number of published works available through Orpheus Music and has a CD & DVD available along with most of his sheet music here at NathanShirley.org. Nathan Shirley is the current president of the Asheville Piano Forum.