Johns Hopkins Gazette | May 26, 2009
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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 26, 2009 | Vol. 38 No. 36
Obituary: Composer Nicholas Maw of Peabody Conservatory dies at 73

Maw in an undated photograph

By Richard Selden
Peabody Institute

British composer Nicholas Maw, a member of the Peabody Conservatory faculty from 1998 to 2008, died of heart failure in the early hours of May 19 at his home in Takoma Park, Md. Born in Grantham, a town of 35,000 in Lincolnshire, England, he had lived in the Washington, D.C., area since 1984. He was 73.

The Baltimore Sun's classical music critic, Tim Smith, called Maw "a brilliant thinker with a charming personality, a creative artist of remarkable integrity, insight and, I believe, courage."

Describing Maw as "a mighty composer and pedagogue," Peabody Institute Director Jeffrey Sharkey said, "Nicholas built Peabody's Composition Department into one of the world's most prominent while continuing to compose major works, including his opera Sophie's Choice."

Maw wrote both the score and the libretto of Sophie's Choice, based on William Styron's novel about a Polish Catholic concentration camp survivor in postwar Brooklyn, N.Y. The story's power and resonance struck him while watching a video of the 1982 film by Alan J. Pakula starring Meryl Streep. After the world premiere of Maw's opera in 2002 at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, it was staged at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Volksoper Wien in Vienna. Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony, conducted the American premiere by the Washington National Opera in 2006.

In an obituary in The New York Times, Allan Kozinn wrote that Maw's "unabashedly post-modernist, neo-Romantic music was admired for its rich textures and assertive melody."

Among Maw's other compositions are Odyssey, an extended, single-movement orchestral piece, and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, written for Joshua Bell. A recording of Odyssey by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Sir Simon Rattle was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1992, and Bell's recording of the concerto won a Grammy Award in 2001.

Maw is survived by his longtime partner, Maija Hay; two children from his marriage to the former Karen Graham; two sisters; and two grandchildren.


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