Dawn Upshaw (born July 17, 1960 in Nashville, Tennessee) is a world-renowned American soprano described as "one of the most consequential performers of our time" by the Los Angeles Times. The recipient of several Grammy Award and Edison Prize-winning discs, Upshaw is at home both in opera and art song, and in repertoire from Baroque to contemporary. Many composers, including John Harbison and Kaija Saariaho, have written for her, and her artistic achievements are extensive. On September 25, 2007 she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant."
She began her vocal career as a talented high school singer in Park Forest, Illinois. Upshaw received a B.A. in 1982 from Illinois Wesleyan University and went on to study voice with Ellen Faull at the Manhattan School of Music in New York, earning her M.A. in 1984. She also attended courses given by Jan DeGaetani at the Aspen (Colorado) Music School. She was a winner of the Young Concert Artists auditions (1984) and the Walter M. Naumburg Competition (1985), and was a member of the Metropolitan Opera Young Artists Development Program. Since her start in 1984, Upshaw has made over 300 appearances at the Metropolitan Opera.
Upshaw came to international fame with her million-selling recording (1993), with David Zinman, of the hauntingly powerful Symphony No 3 by Henryk Górecki, known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (Symfonia pieśni żałosnych).
In the past decade she has premiered more than 25 new works and has embraced several works created for her, including the Grawemeyer Award-winning opera L’Amour de Loin by Kaija Saariaho, The Great Gatsby by John Harbison, the nativity oratorio El Nino by John Adams, and Osvaldo Golijov's chamber opera Ainadamar and song cycle Ayre.
Her rendition of Ayre made her appear almost as a charismatic rock-singer. It is a tribute to her vocal range, as well as her star-stature, that she has moved out of the traditional role of a classical singer. Her engagements with James Levine over the years led to a 1997 recording of Debussy songs.
She tours regularly with piano accompanist Richard Goode. Margo Garrett and Gilbert Kalish are also long-standing partners. She has worked with the director Peter Sellars many times, including his staging of Händel's Theodora at Glyndebourne, his Paris production of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (1996), a staging of Bach's cantata BWV 199, presented in the 1995-96 season at New York's 92nd Street Y, and the Salzburg Festival production of Olivier Messiaen's St François d'Assise (1998).
Upshaw was a guest of President of the United States Bill Clinton and Mrs. Clinton on the NBC special, Christmas in Washington. The BBC presented a prime-time telecast of her 1996 London Proms Concert, "Dawn at Dusk", in which she performed songs from the American musical theater.
Dawn Upshaw joined the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra as Artistic Partner beginning with the 2007-08 season, and she is Artistic Director of the Graduate Program in Vocal Arts at the Bard College Conservatory of Music, which accepted its first students in the 2006-2007 academic year. She also is a faculty member at the Tanglewood Music Center.
She holds honorary Doctor of Arts, honoris causa, from Yale University, the Manhattan School of Music, Illinois Wesleyan University and Allegheny College.
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