David Lee Ott is rapidly becoming one of the most prominent American composers of the post-World War II generation. His works have been performed by orchestras in Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and New York and as part of major music festivals throughout the Western Hemisphere. Ott has been the recipient of many grants and awards, and he has been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize in Music.
Ott was born in Crystal Falls, Michigan, on July 5, 1947, to homemaker Marian Shivy Ott and George Lawrence Ott, a car carrier for General Motors. Both were self-taught recreational pianists, and inspired by his mother, Ott began piano lessons at age six. Later he learned to play the clarinet and trombone, and as a high school student he accompanied the school choir and used his musical talent in church activities as well. Ott aspired to a career in music education—to become a band director like the man who had sparked his interest in music.
The first person in his family to attend college, Ott studied at the University of Wisconsin—Platteville, from which he graduated with honors in 1969 with a bachelor of science in music education. While working toward his B.S., Ott’s teaching goals had shifted from high school to college teaching, and he continued his studies as a piano major at Indiana University under Alfonso Montecino. Upon earning his master of music degree in 1971, Ott taught piano and music theory at Houghton College in Houghton, New York. From 1975 to 1977 he completed doctoral course work in composition and theory, with a minor in art history at the University of Kentucky, where he then taught for a year before accepting a position at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina, where he taught piano, theory, and jazz-related studies. He earned his doctorate in musical arts in 1982.
Until Ott began his doctoral work, he had done only limited composing, mostly arranging popular works for jazz ensemble, but he gradually focussed on composing. Part-time work as music director of a local church brought Ott to the attention of an employee at Kentucky Public Broadcasting, and he was asked to score music for educational films, which he did from 1976 to 1981. While an assistant professor at Pfeiffer College in Misenheimer, North Carolina, from 1978 to 1982, Ott began to teach composition and hear his original works performed, including his first commissions—Welcome, All Wonders and Genesis II.
The eighties proved to be productive for Ott. Since
Full name, David Lee Ott; born July 5, 1947, in Crystal Falls, Mich.; son of George Lawrence (a car carrier for General Motors) and Marian (Shivy) Ott; married Susan Tonne (a music copyist), September 5, 1970; children: Andrea, Matthew, Marian. Education: University of Wisconsin—Platteville, B.S. in music education, 1969; Indiana University, M.M. in piano performance; University of Kentucky, D.M. A. in theory and composition, 1982. Religion: Lutheran.
Houghton College, Houghton, N.Y., assistant professor of piano, 1972–75; University of Kentucky, Lexington, lecturer in music, 1976–77; Catawba College, Salisbury, N.C., assistant professor of music, 1977–78; Pfeiffer College, Misenheimer, N.C., assistant professor of music, 1978–82; DePauw University, Greencastle, Ind., associate professor of music, 1982—, composer-in-residence. Active in numerous local and statewide musical organizations; church organist and choir director.
Awards: Named outstanding professor at Houghton College, 1975, and Depauw University, 1985; arts grants from North Carolina Arts Council, 1982, Wisconsin, 1983, and Indiana, 1984; nominated for Pulitzer Prize in music, 1983, 1986, and 1988; Fisher fellowship, 1987; named distinguished alumnus, University of Wisconsin—Platteville, 1987.
Addresses: Office —DePauw University School of Music, Greencastle, IN 46135.
1983 he has published over a dozen orchestral works, many of them for a solo instrument with orchestral accompaniment: piano, cello, viola, brass ensemble, alto flute. Stylistically Ott’s works reflect the trend of the late 1970s and 1980s loosely defined as “New Romanticism,” which emphasizes melody and expressiveness instead of the abstract and often strident sounds of serialism and other experimental genres. As a collegiate music student, Ott had been unmoved by much of the twentieth-century music studied in history classes. When he seriously began to compose, he realized that his work was not in sync with then current experimental trends, but he has never allowed this difference in styles to change his approach to composition. Ott frequently composes at the piano, using piano improvisations for inspiration. His training as a music educator has also served him well, for he had to learn the capabilities and difficulties of all instruments in the standard orchestra, and when working on a solo piece Ott will often consult the soloist for whom the work was commissioned concerning technical matters. Ott’s wife, Susan, frequently provides a sympathetic and critical ear for his work-in-progress and labors over copying scores and parts.
In 1988 Ott completed what he considers to be two pivotal works: Concerto for Two Cellos and DoofecaCelli. The doubie cello concerto was commissioned by the District of Columbia’s National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) and first performed by soloists David Teie and Steve Honigberg. Working with Teie reinforced what Ott had already been making an integral part of his compositions—engaging melodies. The double concerto was warmly approved by the NSO’s music director, the world renowned cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, who hailed it as “a finely crafted composition” and “an exciting work by a rising young American composer.” The enthusiasm generated by this piece led to the commissioning of DodecaCelli by the cello section of the NSO for the 1988 World Cello Congress at the University of Maryland. In this piece Ott again demonstrated his ability to compose enthralling melodies, and he thoroughly explored the textural possibilities of the instrument. At the conclusion of its world premier performance by the cello section of the NSO, the audience of mostly cellists responded with a standing ovation.
Ott has composed many different kinds of works, including orchestral and choral pieces and the score for the the ballet Visions; The Isle of Patmos for the Indianapolis Ballet Theatre. This work is based on Saint John’s visions while on the Isle of Patmos. While working with choreographer Daci Dindonis, Ott not only learned about the technical aspects of ballet production but the importance of melody to dance; without the rhythmic drive of melody, dancers would be left motionless on stage.
As a composer-in-residence at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, Ott has, like many composers today, the resources of academia to support him financially, giving him greater freedom to compose. Throughout his teaching career, Ott has received awards for excellence and is popular with his students, undoubtedly because of his dedication and enthusiasm. Ott believes that music schools today should make students more aware of post-1940s music and that of other cultures, as well as the cultural basis of the music currently in the curricula. Ott himself is fascinated by architecture, and his tone poem Water Garden is based on his impressions of Philip Johnson’s architectural work of the same name.
Ott is also active outside the academic sphere. Believing that in order to run successful arts programs business people and artists must work together, Ott is a member of a number of arts organizations: Board of Directors of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Advisory Committee for Arts Midwest, Advisory Panel of the Indiana Arts Commission. In addition, Ott generously shares his talents with his church as organist and choir director. Religion plays an important role in Ott’s life, and throughout his career he has composed choral pieces based on biblical texts.
David Ott’s future as a composer appears bright. With commissions for the 1990s rapidly accumulating, he will certainly have ample opportunities to express himself through his music and further define the stature of his talent.
Welcome, All Wonders, 1979.
Genesis II, 1980.
Commemoration & Celebration, 1983.
Piano Concerto in B Flat, 1983.
Essay for Tenor Saxophone, 1983.
Cornerstone of Loveliness, 1983.
Short Symphony, 1984.
Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra, 1984.
From Darkness Shines, 1984.
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, 1985.
Lucinda Hero: An Opera, 1985.
Judgement and Infernal Dance, 1985.
Fantasy for Cello and Piano, 1985.
Water Garden, 1986.
Lord of All Being, 1986.
Sonata for Trombone, 1986.
The Mystic Trumpeter, 1987.
Celebration at Vanderburqh, 1987.
Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, 1987.
He Hath Put All Things Under His Feet, 1987.
Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, 1988.
Viola Sonata, 1988.
Concerto for Two Cellos, 1988.
Visions; The Isle of Patmos, A Ballet, 1988.
Vertical Shrines, 1989.
Sonata for Trombone and Piano, Coronet Records, 1987.
Three Movements for Brass Quintet, Carolina Brass, 1985.
Washington Post, February 6, 1988.
Washington Times, February 8, 1988.
—Jeanne M. Lesinski
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