Keith Fitch, Composer

…this was gloriously luminous music, expressing itself in ways that made a connection between color and expression.
— Peter Dorbin, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Photo: Jim Graham

Keith Fitch currently heads the Composition Department and holds the Vincent K. and Edith H. Smith Chair in Composition at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he also directs the CIM New Music Ensemble. Called “gloriously luminous” by The Philadelphia Inquirer, his music has been consistently noted for its eloquence, expressivity, dramatic sense of musical narrative, and unique sense of color and sonority. Reviewing a performance of his work Totem by Wolfgang Sawallisch and The Philadelphia Orchestra (chosen by Maestro Sawallisch to celebrate the orchestra’s centennial), The Wall Street Journal praised “the sheer concentration of his writing, and its power to express a complex, unseen presence shaping the course of musical events.” The American Academy of Arts and Letters has said, “[his] music reveals an individual landscape that concentrates on unusual textures and sounds – all within a strong narrative that drives to towards a rich and powerful conclusion.”

His works have been performed throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia by such ensembles and soloists as The Philadelphia Orchestra, the American Composers Orchestra, the League of Composers Orchestra, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, the Colorado Quartet, the Da Capo Chamber Players, percussionist James Preiss, harpist Yolanda Kondonasiss and guitarist Jason Vieaux, and many others. His music has been heard at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, the June in Buffalo Festival, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and New York’s Carnegie and Merkin Halls, among others, as well as in university settings nationwide. Recent works include Knock on Woodfor the harp/guitar duo of Yolanda Kondonassis and Jason Vieaux; Cascade, a fanfare commissioned by Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art for the inauguration of their new building; In Memory, commissioned by the League of Composers Orchestra; a Piano Quartet, “Last Words,” The Range of Light, a setting of texts by John Muir, commissioned by the Rocky Ridge Music Center to celebrate its seventy-fifth anniversary; andThree English Sonnets, a solo flute work for Joshua Smith, principal flute of The Cleveland Orchestra.

A native of Indiana, Keith Fitch (b. 1966) began composing at age eight and began formal musical training on the double bass at age eleven. While still in high school (age sixteen), he received his first professional orchestral performance. He attended the Indiana University School of Music, where he studied composition with Frederick Fox, Eugene O’Brien, and Claude Baker, double bass with Bruce Bransby and Murray Grodner, and chamber music with Rostislav Dubinsky, founder of the Borodin Quartet. He also counts Donald Erb and Joan Tower among his compositional mentors. Among his many awards are three each from ASCAP and the National Society of Arts and Letters, an Individual Artist Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, a Fromm Music Foundation Commission, two Individual Excellence Awards from the Ohio Arts Council, a Copland House Residency Award, and the 2016 Walter Hinrichsen Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has enjoyed multiple residencies at The MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, as well as at Yaddo, The Charles Ives Center for American Music, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and he has twice served as Resident Composer and faculty at the Chamber Music Conference and Composers’ Forum of the East.

Highly regarded as a teacher, chamber music coach, and conductor of new music, he has taught at Indiana University, Bard College, and for eleven years served on the faculty of the Mannes College of Music in New York. He frequently appears as guest composer at colleges and universities nationwide, and his students regularly win awards from such prestigious organizations as ASCAP, BMI, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Fulbright Foundation, as well as attending leading summer festivals around the world.

A passionate advocate for new music, for five years, he curated a concert series at Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and he has mentored such ensembles as Cleveland’s FiveOne Experimental Orchestra and Ars Futura ensemble, as well as individual members of leading new music ensembles throughout the country. Not one to avoid controversy, in 2014, he organized and co-authored an open letter that took to task The Cleveland Orchestra for failing to program works by American composers. That letter went viral, gaining national attention and re-igniting a conversation about the place of American music on our nation’s orchestral programs. Equally adept working behind the scenes, he also guided pianist Daniil Trifonov, the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition gold medalist, in the composition and world premiere of Trifonov’s first piano concerto. From 2015-2017, he served as Composer-in-Residence and Director of the Young Artist Seminar in Composition at the Rocky Ridge Music Center.

His music is published by Non Sequitur Music and Edition Peters and appears on Azica Records and Naxos Digital. He joined the CIM faculty in 2008.