music by

Stephen Andrew Taylor



Recent and upcoming performances


Professor of Composition and Theory,
School of Music

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Illinois Modern Ensemble

Only Yes (YouTube, score-following video)
for five-part chorus (2024)
Commissioned by the Northwestern University Chamber Singers; Andrew Megill, director. Text adapted from a letter by Rainer Maria Rilke:

Believe me, my dear Countess,
Death is our friend, our closest friend,
because it brings us into presence with all that is here,
that is natural, that is love
Life says Yes and No at once
Death stands before eternity and says only: Yes.

Catalog of Rare Diseases (YouTube)
for electric viola and fixed media (2023)
Data-driven music composition based on a catalog of 230 rare diseases curated by Dr. Aditi Kantipuly. 12 categories of disease correspond to the 12 Indian chakras, which provide a background harmony for each category; DNA promoter sequences for each disease are also played from its corresponding chakra.

Performed by Rudolf Haken, electric viola. Made with Max, Logic and Kyma.

Piranesi (SoundCloud)
for flute and piano; commissioned by the Fort Hays State University New Music Ensemble (2021)
Inspired by the 2020 novel of the same name by Susanna Clarke. From its description:
Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousand upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth iteslf. He lives to explore the house. There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other—who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.
In this piece I hope you can hear Piranesi playing his bone flute, and hear the ocean tides surging, and the endless statues. And I hope you read the book—it’s magnificent. Piranesi is dedicated to Kristin Pisano and flutist Hilary Shepard, who gave the first performance with pianist Gustavo do Carno.
Chaconne/Labyrinth (online premiere, April 2021)
for the Jupiter Quartet; commissioned by the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music (2020)
“Chaconne” is an old-fashioned word for a repeating chord progression, like the 12-bar blues. My chords are a little weirder, using just intonation to find notes that don’t exist on the piano keyboard. Here the wonderful Jupiter Quartet plays a chaconne, but at the same time they are lost in a labyrinth. The chords keep returning, only to point in new directions. This is how I’ve felt the past year: stuck in a loop, but at the same time lost in a maze, desperately seeking the way out. At the center of this maze, like the Minotaur of Greek myth, lies a depiction of the coronavirus that has so profoundly changed our world. After this encounter—marked by strange, percussive sounds—the quartet traces their way, like following Ariadne's thread, back through the labyrinth.
Data-Driven Music from the Coronavirus
A collection of data-driven music and visualizations of protein structures in SARS CoV-2, using data from the Coronavirus3D project and the Protein Data Bank, with sounds made by the Kyma sound design environment. I think of it kind of like an updated Bach cello suite.
Winged Helix (YouTube, score-following video)
for the Grossman Ensemble (2020)
A portrait in sound of the gene FOXP2, the so-called “language gene,” which plays an important role for other animals’ communication as well. When even a tiny mutation occurs, we can lose our ability to speak. “Winged helix” refers to the shape of the protein that FOXP2 encodes. It is a regulator: its job is to help unspool other strands of DNA to become activated, and it surrounds the DNA double helix like a pair of wings. The harmonies for the piece feature just intonation—naturally occurring, microtonal overtones that aren’t often heard. I don’t usually write harmonies this difficult, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s the Grossman Ensemble!

Commissioned by the Center for Contemporary Composition at the University of Chicago, and dedicated to Augusta Read Thomas.

Always Coming Home (SoundCloud)
for wind ensemble (2019)
A brief fanfare based on the spiritual “Steal Away,” one of the most beautiful melodies I know. It appears first in the trombones, and gradually grows to the full ensemble.
Steal away, steal away
Steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away home I ain’t got long to stay here.
Green trees are bending
Poor sinner stands a-trembling
The trumpet sounds within my soul I ain’t got long to stay here.
Sunset in All Directions (YouTube)
for cello and chamber orchestra (2018)
In August 2017 our family drove down to Carbondale, Illinois for the total eclipse. It was like nothing in the world I’ve ever seen, and we’re making plans for the next one on April 8, 2024. The moments just before totality, in the words of my friend Matthew Ando, look like “sunset in all directions.” In this work I’ve tried to represent the celestial bodies involved — the Sun, Moon, and Earth — to evoke what it feels like to experience totality, and to create the musical elements of a mini-concerto for cello and orchestra.
Classical Behind the Scenes: Stephen Taylor, composer (YouTube)
3-minute documentary, produced by Illinois Public Media (2018)
University of Illinois professor Stephen Taylor composes and arranges a wide variety of music for pop bands - Pink Martini is but one example – but also transforms data sets, such as DNA, into music. He says, "I think music is always about something...what I'm trying to do now is do pieces about data that we have out in the world."
Maumee River Index (YouTube)
sonification with video (2018)
The Maumee River Index is a 4-dimensional animation that overlays publicly available USGS and EPA water quality data into a continuous, 136-mile cinematic aerial overview of a river and its surrounding landscape. Graphics and animation by Nate Wooten.
Ocean of Air
for trombone & electronics (2017) (listen on YouTube)
Many times in an airplane descending to land, I have felt the effort of the plane cutting through the atmosphere — an ocean of air, surrounding our planet, with all of us living on its ocean floor. This feeling hit home when we went on a family road trip to the Grand Canyon for the first time in 2016.
Exoplanet sonification (2017)
A sonified chart of exoplanets, originally based on XKCD 1071: Exoplanets, using data from the Planetary Habitability Laboratory. The lower the pitch, the bigger the planet. Plucked strings signify a hot planet; metallic sounds signify cold; warm planets sound like flutes. Planets which may be habitable have a special sound!
Sonification of Trump's Lies (2017)
Based on David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson's article "Trump's Lies" from the New York Times, June 23, 2017.
Music and genetics: Compositions and sonifications (2016)
Series of works and web apps including Archaea for two carillons (with an interactive website); Indian Hedgehog (2015) for alto saxophone and electronics, premiered by Debra Richtmeyer in Strasbourg, France, July 12, 2015; and Variations Ascending (2015) for piano, premiered by Ian Hobson in New York City, October 13, 2015; "persuasive and evocative," the New York Times, October 14.
Paradises Lost (2012)
Opera based on the science-fiction novella by the late Ursula K. Le Guin; libretto by Marcia Johnson; commissioned by the University of Illinois. Chamber version premiere by Third Angle in Portland, Oregon, on January 20, 2012. Full premiere April 26-29, Urbana, Illinois. Featured at SummerWorks in Toronto, August 13, 2013; review.
The Machine Awakes (2010)
CD from Albany Records, featuring performances by three Grammy winners: pianist Gloria Cheng, violist Masumi Rostad (Pacifica Quartet), and hornist Oto Carrillo (Chicago Symphony). Includes The Machine Awakes, Seven Memorials, Quark Shadows, and Nebulae. Also available on Amazon and Apple Music. Fanfare magazine, July/August 2010: "...terse, pointillistic, abstract, precise... pretty and anything but shallow... With his refined and imaginative sound world, Stephen Andrew Taylor is a composer worth hearing."
Seven Memorials (with score-following video)
for piano, commissioned by Piano Spheres for Gloria Cheng (2003)
Performed at Tanglewood by Gloria Cheng July 29, 2006; "sparklingly tactile." Allan Kozinn, New York Times, 8/2/06. Premiered October 24, 2004 by Gloria Cheng in Los Angeles. "...Cheng unveiled something big and special: the first performance of Stephen Andrew Taylor's 'Seven Memorials,' a splendid sonic tour of natural phenomena all over the globe." Richard S. Ginell, LA Times, 9/28/04.