April 7, 2017

Bienen Professor Hans Thomalla Named Guggenheim Fellow

Fellowship will support composer’s work on third opera 

  • Prestigious fellowship recognizes exceptional creativity in the arts
  • Thomalla one of 173 fellowship recipients from nearly 3,000 applicants
  • Grant will support Thomalla’s work on third opera
  • “Dark Spring” is reinterpretation of Frank Wedekind’s play “Spring Awakening”

Hans ThomallaHans Thomalla, associate professor of composition and music technology at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to support the development of his third opera, “Dark Spring.”

Guggenheim Fellowships are intended for individuals who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts. The program’s purpose is to help provide fellows with blocks of time in which they can work with as much creative freedom as possible. This year, the Guggenheim Foundation awarded 173 fellowships to a diverse group of scholars, artists, and scientists from a pool of approximately 3,000 applicants.

Thomalla’s opera “Dark Spring” aims for a radical reinterpretation of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play “Spring Awakening.” While the original plot focuses on the reactions of a group of young teenagers under extreme pressure from inhibitory sexual norms, inhumane school stress, and an authoritarian parent generation who chokes individual development, the opera will look at young adults today from an almost opposite point of view. These characters embody a “cool” generation in a cold society – young adults who seem to have learned not to show their feelings and to hide vulnerabilities in a world of extreme competition.

Commissioned by the National Theatre Mannheim for its 2018-19 season, “Dark Spring” features music, concept, and text arrangement by Thomalla and lyrics by acclaimed poet and UC-Davis Professor Joshua Clover. The Guggenheim Fellowship will allow Thomalla to continue working with Clover on the songs and workshop scenes with the cast in Mannheim.

Thomalla's first opera, "Fremd," based on the Greek myth of Medea, premiered in July 2011 at the Stuttgart Opera to critical acclaim. His second operatic work, "Kaspar Hauser," explores the titular character’s mysterious story and premiered at the Theater Freiburg in April 2016. The Stuttgarter Zeitung proclaimed, “Thomalla proves in this work again to be a vocal composer of utmost fantasy, power, and quality. The work operates on the highest level in regards to compositional technique as it does with respect to aesthetic reflection on music history.”

Two additional Bienen School of Music faculty members have previously received Guggenheim Fellowships for music composition: associate professor Jay Alan Yim, in 1994; and assistant professor Alex Mincek, in 2012. 

About Hans Thomalla

Born in Bonn, Germany, Thomalla is a Chicago-based composer and associate professor at the Bienen School of Music, where he also directs the Institute for New Music. His compositions explore the transitions between music as historically formed expression, often dissecting found "objects" from music tradition, and music as its own acoustic reality. He has written chamber music as well as orchestral works, and a particular focus of his activity lies in composing for the stage. He has been awarded numerous awards and fellowships, including the Composers' Prize of the Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung, the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis, and the Christoph-Delz-Prize. During the 2014-15 academic year, he was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. Thomalla studied at the Frankfurt Musikhochschule and received his doctoral degree in composition at Stanford University. For more information, see his website.