Dylan Schneider is widely recognized as a leading voice among today’s generation of composers. His work, often praised for its innovative structure and dramatic flair, has drawn an international audience and has been performed by Grammy-winning ensembles such as Eighth Blackbird, the Pacifica String Quartet, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. His latest opera, STRIP-TEASE, a surreal critique of the modus operandi of totalitarianism, received its recent premiere at Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts. Schneider’s music pioneers a new frontier in performance, traversing the diversity of human experience with a sense of lyricism and play.
By the age of 21, Schneider had attended the premiere of his first opera, A VERY OLD MAN WITH ENORMOUS WINGS, his own adaptation of a story by Gabriel García Márquez. The opera invokes the dreamlike lyricism of Márquez’s hallmark genre of magical realism. A production by the Amherst College Department of Music was met with a boisterous standing ovation, sustained for several minutes, from a hall packed to capacity. Schneider’s opera earned him the Eric Edward Sundquist Prize in Music, for excellence in music composition. Schneider cites the opera as an important turning point in his career.
Schneider has been working actively as a composer ever since, and his music continues to receive performances around the world. Pianist Lisa Kaplan (of Eighth Blackbird) joined the Pacifica String Quartet for the premiere of DANCES IN INCENDIARY KEYS: PIANO QUINTET. Schneider’s RHAPSODIE ATOMIQUE and NOCTURNE AND WAKE-UP CALL were featured at the Thailand International Composition Festival. His orchestral work A TREE TELLING OF ORPHEUS: WIND’S VOICE was performed by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Schneider’s music is often heard under the baton of Cliff Colnot, principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW series.
In 2013, Schneider returned to the world of opera with STRIP-TEASE, which received its premiere as part of the inaugural season of the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts. The opera is the composer’s own adaptation of a play of the same title by renowned Polish dramatist Sławomir Mrożek (1930-2013), whose works written during the height of Soviet power offer a biting critique of life under an oppressive regime, often disguised in surreal circumstances. The opera’s soloists included Mathew Newlin, Chad Sloan, and Polish jazz sensation Grazyna Auguscik, who played the role of a man-sized hand that torments a pair of trapped bureaucrats. Under the baton of Cliff Colnot, the ensemble included members of Eighth Blackbird, the Pacifica Quartet, the Spektral Quartet, and bayan (Russian accordion) virtuoso Stas Venglevski.
Schneider's 2019 string quartet DANCER AT AN ECHIBITION draws its inspiration from the visual arts. Composed in response to specific artworks at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, the piece follows Degas’ iconic statue of a ballerina (Little Dancer of Fourteen Years) on a whirlwind tour of the museum’s collection and architecture. The work premiered as part of a commissioning project by the Clark for three new musical works connected to their permanent collection.
Recently, Schneider has been drawn to exploring the diversity of genres and styles that define the current musical landscape. For example, his 2020 string quartet entitled "GOES A-A-A-H…” takes its inspiration from a line from “The Girl from Ipanema.” Commissioned as part of a benefit-concert for areas affected by recent fires in the Amazon, the piece draws on the bossa nova tradition in tribute to the spirit of Brazil.
Currently, Schneider is composing a quintet for saxophonist Jonathan Hulting-Cohen and the Cassatt Quartet, entitled P-A-N-D-E-M-I-C, for the 2021-22 season. This five-movement work traces COVID-19 from its origins to its infection of our lives and minds. The five movements are: (1) Origins, (2) Breakout, (3) One World, (4) Empty Streets, and (5) Transcendence.
Also on Schneider's music desk at the moment is his third chamber opera, PKHENTZ, an adaptation of a story by renowned Russian dissident and author Andrei Sinyavsky (1925-1997), whose bold and irreverent works offer a vivid portrait of Soviet life, often in the context of absurd and lurid black comedy. PKHENTZ stands as the principal work for the inaugural season of subLIMINAL OPERA—a new collective of composers, performers, and theater designers, committed to the performance of new operas in the United States.
Schneider has a long standing interest in electronic music, especially in projects that blur the boundaries between composer, performer, audience, and even instrument-maker. His 2016 installation, entitled HEAR/ACT, allows viewers in a gallery to interact with a musical instrument he created using a nine-square MIDI pad connected to a laptop running a software patch I designed. Schneider's program transforms the participant’s simple inputs of velocity and duration into a rich soundscape—allowing an individual from any background to become a “virtuoso” for a day.
Schneider's research has been featured on National Public Radio, notably in a segment he hosted for Performance Today, "checking in" on the the performance of a 639-year-long composition by John Cage. The lengthy concert, entitled “Organ 2/As Slow As Possible,” began in 2001 and is still being performed in Halberstadt, Germany, to this day.
Schneider's work earned him the distinction of serving as a Century Award Fellow (2007-2012) and Mellon Doctoral Fellow (2021-13) while completing his Ph.D. in Music Composition at the University of Chicago. Schneider received his B.A. from Amherst College (Phi Beta Kappa) in 2006, a double-major in music and English. His teachers have included Shulamit Ran, Lewis Spratlan, Marta Ptaszynska, and Augusta Read Thomas.
A distinguished pianist, Schneider is often heard in performance of repertoire from across the centuries as well as his own work and the music of his contemporaries. In addition to his engagements in music, Schneider has nurtured a serious interest in literature throughout his life, and he is an avid reader.
Schneider has served on the faculties of Williams College, Smith College, Marlboro College, and the University of Chicago. He currently serves as the Joseph E. and Grace W. Valentine Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Amherst College.