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May 19, 2009

Nicholas Maw, great British-born composer of 'Sophie's Choice' and valued Peabody faculty member, dies at 73

Nicholas MawJust heard the sad news that Nicholas Maw has died at 73.

The BBC reports that the British-born composer and valued faculty member of the Peabody Conservatory died of heart failure in Washington, D.C., where he had long made his home.

Mr. Maw's extensive list of compositions includes the enormous orchestral work Odyssey in 1987; the score, which runs continuously for more than an hour and a half, is a pinnacle of post-modernism, with a strong grounding in tonality and extraordinary freedom of expression. His ambitous opera, Sophie's Choice, did not satisfy all the critics, especially in England, where it was premiered at the Royal opera House in 2002, but it proved to be a powerful piece of music theater capable of deeply affecting the public and performers alike. (Marin Alsop conducted the US premiere of Sophie's Choice in the Washington National Opera's production in 2006.)

Mr. Maw was a brilliant thinker with a charming personality, a creative artist of remarkable integrity, insight and, I believe, courage.


Posted by Tim Smith at 12:54 PM | | Comments (1)


Though later than Nicholas Maw, I attended the same school as he. Valuing unconventionality and individualism and with a decided arts streak – the school was an ideal incubator for an artist like him who chose not to go with the flow.

Thanks for sharing your insight.TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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