Thomas Whitman (b. 1960) began his musical studies with cellist Harry Wimmer. His first composition teachers were Gerald Levinson, Thomas Oboe Lee, and Joan Panetti at Swarthmore College and Max Lifchitz. He earned a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, where his teachers included George Crumb, Jay Reise, and Richard Wernick. As a Luce Scholar, he studied traditional music in Bali, Indonesia in 1986-7 where his principal teachers were the late I Madé Gerindem and I Wayan Rai. He is also an accomplished viola da gambist.
Critics have praised Whitman’s music as “lyrical” (The Philadelphia Inquirer) “beautiful, sensuous” (Philadelphia Weekly) and “genuinely magical” (The Boston Herald). Opera News noted his ability “to write dramatic music that soars into lyrical melodies, filled with allusive atmosphere and rich emotional textures.” His many prizes and honors include an ASCAP Foundation Grant and artist residencies at the MacDowell colony and at Yaddo. He has received commissions from many ensembles, including North/South Consonance, Orchestra 2001, ALEA III, Network for New Music, the Philadelphia Singers, the Delaware Chamber Music Festival, and the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival.
Whitman has composed five operas, four in collaboration with the poet Nathalie Anderson. Their first opera, The Black Swan, was produced in 1998 with stage direction by Sarah Caldwell. Sukey in the Dark has been mounted twice, including a 2017 production by Peabody Chamber Opera in Baltimore. Other stage works include dance pieces in collaboration with several choreographers; and a chamber opera for International Opera Theater based on Boccaccio’s Decameron, written in collaboration with six other Philadelphia-area composers and Karen Saillant. As the recipient of a 2010 Independence Foundation Fellowship for the Arts, Whitman composed the score for Beirut, Philadelphia, a film by independent filmmaker Eugene Martin. His most recent film score was for a 1922 version of Cinderella by the pioneering animation artist Lotte Reiniger.
Whitman has also composed many works for young people, including The Princess and the Man with a Pure Heart (commissioned and recorded by Auricolae); compositions for the Chester Children’s Chorus; a work for the Delaware County Youth Orchestra; and a children’s opera (The Royal Singer) in which kids participate as co-creators and performers.
Mr. Whitman has taught at Swarthmore College since 1990, where he is currently the Daniel Underhill Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Music and Dance. He is the founder and co-director of Gamelan Semara Santi, the Philadelphia area’s only Indonesian percussion orchestra, which performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra in October 2003 at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and at Carnegie Hall. He also directs the Chester Children’s Gamelan, a volunteer effort that introduces the rich traditions of classical Indonesian music and dance to schoolchildren in Chester, Pennsylvania.