“Brainy, boisterous and quintessentially downtown.”
—Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times
For pioneering woman composer, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist Kitty Brazelton, music is personal, and the personal is universal. The irrepressible Brazelton has always championed music’s power to unite—across genre, across tradition, across language. As a teenager studying Tzotzil—a language spoken by the Maya in the remote mountains above the Yucatan, Brazelton began to believe in a kind of universal language that would transcend boundaries. This “totalist” spirit has propelled her dazzling work across decades and into the now, shapeshifting from fusionist 1970s chamber Musica Orbis and fuzzed-out ‘80s power-pop Hide the Babies to alt-avant 9-piece rockestra Dadadah, sharp-edged medieval all-women quartet Hildegurls, and operatic ‘90s cyber-chamber-punk trio What is it Like to Be a Bat?
Brazelton confronts the encroaching invisibility we all experience in a tech-driven world in The Planes of Your Location, a new chamber concert and recording project centered around her third string quartet, I am not my Photograph (2019). Against the current era’s erosion of identity and suppression of diversity stands the LA-based Isaura String Quartet: indomitable, virtuosic, and equally at home in the concert hall and the rock club—perfect collaborators for Brazelton.
With ongoing a cappella production Essential Prayers, Brazelton engages an enormous audience: anyone who has ever wished for the world to change. Essential Prayers redefines, defies, yet embraces the tradition of prayer, making powerful words of hurt and hope accessible to all. Brazelton’s songwriting-borne knack for writing from the voice lends these choral works a soulful, lived-in quality often absent from modern schools of composing. For musically untrained friends to sing at a friend’s funeral, Brazelton set the graceful, stately vocal lines of the well-known Serenity Prayer so notes could be remembered by pattern and sung by anyone.
In Brazelton’s most recent opera, Art of Memory, words also ripple across time and transcend doctrine. Art of Memory was awarded Opera Grants for Female Composers 2015 from Opera America. Set against the eerily familiar backdrop of the fall of the Roman empire and its storm of religious ferment and intolerance, St. Augustine’s early Christian, yet ever-prescient message: “now is all there is” rings out in anthem. Brazelton leads a punk rock-meets-plainchant, Max/MSP-sculpted 13-tet ensemble, and supports two women in the two male lead roles of Augustine and Ambrose.
The Art of Memory follows up a decade spent honing her craft writing vernacular opera with Fireworks—an American opera buffa (premiered in May 2017 with 17-piece chamber orchestra, Hunter College Opera Theater), Animal Tales (awarded Opera Grants for Female Composers 2016), and Cat!, as well as her ecclesiastes: a modern oratorio (released on Innova Recordings and Grammy-nomination-listed 2010) for male vocal quartet, cello, jazz drum kit, bells and electronic soundscapes (perpetually available in podcast on New York City’s WNYC).
Fierce Grace , a song cycle commissioned by Opera America and composed by Brazelton in illustrious collaboration with other woman composers American Opera Projects composer-in-residence Laura Kaminsky, Pulitzer Prize-winner Ellen Reid, and Laura Karpman (first woman composer elected to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors) honored the life of first woman congressman Jeannette Rankin, spanning her decades of service to peace, withlibretto by Kimberly Reed, transgender filmmaker. The cycle—one song by each composer—premiered at the Library of Congress on April 7, 2017. Ongoing Fierce Grace appearances include 2019 New York Opera Fest at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, July 2020 with Cincinnati Opera, and more.
Brazelton’s retranslation and setting of Psalm 104 was written after Hurricane Sandy ravaged her hometown New York City, as a prayer for human safety and awarded the 2012 Carl von Ossietzky Composition Prize by a University of Oldenburg jury which included Violeta Dinescu, Siegrid Ernst, Christoph Keller, Michael Searby and Johannes von Hoff among others.
O Joy! a composition for SATB and piano was commissioned by Minneapolis-based choir VocalEssence—directed by Philip Brunelle—for their 40th anniversary in 2009. The premiere broadcast on NPR Performance Today with Garrison Keillor as MC, O Joy! was published by Boosey & Hawkes in their Sing A New Song series.
Hildegurls, a band of four women composers, deconstructed the music and message of 12th-century mystic Hildegard von Bingen, and recast it with the aid of 21st century electronics, eventually performing at Lincoln Center Festival ‘98 and releasing Innova CD Electric Ordo Virtutum in 2011 funded by New York Foundation for the Arts. They studied the abbess’ words and fully-notated musical manuscripts—the oldest surviving versions of what we now term “musical theater”—to create “a continuum from the present back to Hildegard… artistic, spiritual, and political… entirely successful, gripping, and entertaining” (allmusicguide).
Genre-crossing album Love Not Love Lust Not Lust by Brazelton's nine-piece electro-acoustic rockestra Dadadah was called "brilliant" (New York Times) and "impressive" (Rolling Stone). Iconic John Zorn called What is it Like to Be a Bat?, Brazelton’s project with sound-artist and Max-MSP maven Dafna Naphtali, "twisted, powerful chamber rock blending a raucous punk aesthetic with vocal harmonies...complex, visionary..."
A Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition (Columbia University) Kitty Brazelton lives in New York City’s East Village with her daughter Rosie while teaching music at Bennington College.