Conni Ellisor, Composer
“She can take materials out of diverse non-classical traditions and marry them with classical ideas and methods so that each tradition retains its distinctiveness within a whole greater than the sum of its parts.”
Marcel Smith, The Nashville Scene
It is this marrying of traditions and ostensibly dissimilar genres that is the hallmark of Conni Ellisor’s work. Her critically-acclaimed compositions are the beneficiaries of a brilliantly varied career. She has used her journey – formal training at Juilliard, early success in the classical world as a member of the Denver Symphony, concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic, first violin in the Athena Quartet (now the Colorado Quartet), and eventually as assistant concertmaster and soloist with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, along with extensive work in the commercial world as a top-call session violinist and arranger – to inform her current musical statements.
Ellisor’s contributions to orchestral repertoire include such uniquely American works as Blackberry Winter for mountain dulcimer and strings, Whiskey Before Breakfast – Partita for Bluegrass Band and Strings, and Nuages de la Nuit for jazz quartet and strings. Blackberry Winter has generated widespread NPR airplay and was featured on All Things Considered. Her long and productive association with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra (now known as Orchestra Nashville) resulted in the premieres of 11 of her works. Three were recorded for broadcast by NPR’s Performance Today, and her “Conversations In Silence” became the title track on the orchestra’s 1997 debut album on Warner Bros. NPR Senior Producer Benjamin Roe’s comment that “the NCO truly is what’s new in classical music” is a testament to Ellisor’s groundbreaking contributions to the group’s repertoire. Among the pieces commissioned during her 1999-2002 tenure as the NCO’s Composer-in-Residence was Sea Without A Shore, written for orchestra, marimba and percussion and premiered by the NCO, Christopher Norton and world-renowned percussion ensemble NEXUS. The acclaimed choreographer Ann Marie D’Angelo discovered Blackberry Winter and set it for a premiere by Ballet Pacifica in Irvine, California, and subsequently it has been performed by a number of ballet companies around the country, including ABT II in New York City. Conni and Ms. D’Angelo collaborated on two more ballets, one of which, The Bell Witch, was premiered by the Nashville Ballet in 2005. The uniquely American ballet, which tells the tale of the best documented ghost story in American history, was performed again during the Nashville Ballet’s 2008/2009 Season. Other of her works have been premiered and recorded by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, London Symphony, Denver Brass, Camelli Quartet, New York Treble Singers, Hamburg Radio Orchestra and the London Philharmonic.
Also of note is Ms. Ellisor’s career as a contemporary jazz recording artist. Her “Night at the Museum” album, one of four solo albums she’s released, climbed to #13 on Billboard’s Adult Alternative chart. Her studio albums and live performances have both garnered consistent critical praise. “While the pieces all have a contemporary, accessible feel, the consistent classical nuances help maintain the warmth and humanity that make this such a special collection of music,” wrote a critic for the Exclusive Adult Music Review, foreshadowing Conni’s path toward serious classical works such as Blackberry Winter that are favorites of audiences and NPR programmers alike. Venerable Nashville music critic Robert Oermann encouraged readers to attend an upcoming concert, commenting that “Conni and her all-star group combine classical training with contemporary melodies. Her performances are soundtracks for mental movies that transport the listener to parts unknown.”
As an educator, Conni brings this wealth of real-world experience and wisdom to bear on the challenges faced by today’s young musicians and composers. She presents, among others, a master class entitled “Mozart Was A Gigger Too” and has given lectures at the Congressional Caucus of the Arts, and at a number of schools including the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, the University of the South, and Middle Tennessee State University. She appeared as Composer-in-Residence for Northwestern Louisiana State University in April of 2008, and was named as Composer-in-Residence for the Stringendo Orchestra School in Wappingers Fall, NY, culminating in the premieres of seven new works and a gala performance in April 2018.
Ellisor’s recent commissions and premieres include “Diaspora” by the Nashville Symphony (2011), “Broad Band of Light” (her second concerto for mountain dulcimer and orchestra), by the Tucson Symphony (2012), “Tres Danzas De Vida”, “The Fort of Shadows”, and “The Bell Witch Dances” by the Arlington (NY) High School Philharmonia Orchestra (2013-2018), “Awake At Night” for string quartet by the Grammy-nominated ALIAS Chamber Ensemble (2015), and “The Bass Whisperer” concerto for electric bass (written with and for 5x Grammy Award-winning bassist, composer, and author Victor L. Wooten and commissioned by the Nashville Symphony, the Colorado Symphony, and the Chicago Sinfonietta, premiered 2014-16). Along with John Mock, she composed and performed the score for the film “All Saints” starring John Corbett (2017).