Greg Sandow

Head of Composition

Greg Sandow decided when he was 10 that he wanted to be an opera singer, and also wrote his first opera then, about his cat. He later studied singing and sang opera roles semiprofessionallly, including Alberich in Das Rheingold and Balstrode in Peter Grimes. He studied composition at the Yale School of Music, getting a master’s degree in 1974.

Then his career took many turns. He was successful as a composer, especially in opera. But he also became a nationally known music critic, writing first about minimalism and other forms of new music, then doing wider classical music coverage for the Wall Street Journal and many other publications. Later he defected to pop music, and surely is the only person ever to speak on panels at both the Cleveland Orchestra and a heavy metal convention. He was the first critic ever to write about N.W.A., the pathbreaking gangsta hiphop group.

And now he’s best known for his work on the future of classical music. He’s been called “the voice of the revolution” — someone who advocates and helps to instigate the many changes sweeping through the field today. He teaches about the future of classical music at Juilliard, has written an influential blog on the subject, and has done projects with major symphony orchestras. As a consultant he’s had clients ranging from individual artists to the DePauw University School of Music, where he worked intensively with students, faculty, and the dean, helping the school put in place its radical new curriculum.

He’s spoken internationally about the future of classical music, and has visited leading American conservatories both to speak, and to observe innovative teaching at DePauw, Peabody, NEC, and Lawrence University.

But he still composes, and three years ago reemerged with a concert of his work at the Strathmore Performing Arts Center near Washington, D.C. Last summer he had a happy success with a string quartet commissioned by Prague Summer Nights and premiered there. His music was once described by a friend as both “sentimental and cerebral” (a crazy combination!), and can be both triadic and noisy, with occasional pop music references.

Currently he has three composition projects: performances and a recording of his three string quartets, by Young Concert Artist winners the Omer Quartet; a piano piece for Tania Stavreva about the end of the world, with a heavy metal sound; and a work for the Go-Go Symphony, a DC group that combines classical instruments with go-go, the iconic funk beat that’s DC’s greatest contribution to pop. You can hear his work at http://www.gregsandow.com/my-music.

He lives in Washington with his wife, Anne Midgette, the classical music critic of the Washington Post. They have a seven year-old son, Rafael — Rafa for short — whose favorite music for a while was Michael Jackson and the Hamilton score, though now he’s moved on to current pop by Katy Perry and Kanye West. He once organized his parents into a band, and — though he’s never heard of Charles Ives — once set three musical toys playing at once, turned to his dad, and said, “That’s cool!”