Long Biography

Paul conducting The Marriage of Figaro at Baker Hall, Lehigh University

Composer Paul Salerni’s music “pulses with life, witty musical ideas and instrumental color” (The Philadelphia Inquirer), and has been described by the New York Times as “impressive” and “playful”.

Salerni’s works have been performed throughout the US, Canada, Europe and China. Recent orchestral commissions include Cape Cod Symphony, San Diego Chamber Orchestra, New Haven Symphony, the Allentown Symphony, and the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra. His chamber music and songs are also widely performed. Recent highlights included performances by the Da Capo Chamber Players of two song cycles, Speaking of Love and Bad Pets, at New York City’s Merkin Hall and the premiere of Many Happy Returns, a brass quintet commissioned by the Philadelphia Brass and the Candelight Chamber Music Series. Upcoming commissions include a string quartet for the Vega Quartet, a song setting for mezzo and mixed quartet for SATORI, and a new piece for the Branderson Duo (trombone and harp) commissioned by the Southwest Minnesota Council for the Arts. A CD of Salerni’s chamber music will be released on Albany Records in January 2015.

Paul discussing The Life and Love of Joe Coogan with Carl Reiner

Salerni’s one-act opera Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast, with a libretto by Dana Gioia, won the National Opera Association’s Chamber Opera competition. It premiered in Los Angeles in January 2008 in a co-production by the Los Angeles Opera, OperaWorks, CSU-Northridge, and the Southern California Opera Guild. A definitive recording was recently released on Naxos. His second one-act, The Life and Love of Joe Coogan, is adapted from a Dick Van Dyke TV Show episode. The original screenplay was written by Carl Reiner and adapted by librettist Kate Light. Joe Coogan had its premiere in September 2010.  Both one-acts are published by Theodore Presser.

Salerni is the NEH Distinguished Chair in the Humanities and Professor of Music at Lehigh University, where he teaches composition, theory, and directs the Lehigh University Very Modern Ensemble (LUVME). He is also founder and Artistic Director of the Monocacy Chamber Orchestra, a professional ensemble in the Lehigh Valley.

Salerni received his Ph.D. in composition from Harvard University, where he studied with Earl Kim. He has held composition fellowships from the Sheldon Foundation, the Charles Ives Festival, and the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts, and has been the recipient of grants from Meet the Composer and the NEA. He has also been guest composer at the Idyllwild School for Music and the Arts.

Rehearsal of Earl Kim’s “Dear Linda” at the Great Mountains Music Festival (Korea)

As the leading expert on the music of his mentor Earl Kim, Salerni has a long history of collaboration as guest pianist and lecturer with the internationally acclaimed string ensemble Sejong. He has performed Kim’s music with the ensemble in Korea, at the Kennedy Center, the 92nd St. Y, and the Aspen Music Festival. Sejong. recently commissioned Salerni’s arrangement of Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango and premiered it in Carnegie’s Zankel Hall. That arrangement is published in Italy by BERBEN. In the summer of 2008, Salerni performed as pianist and conductor for two of Kim’s works at the Great Mountains International Music Festival in Korea.

Salerni’s passion for involving young people in music is evident in his choice of subject, audience, and performers for many of his compositions. The Big Sword and the Little Broom, a suite for solo violin and orchestra, is based on an old Neapolitan fable.  Its chamber ensemble reduction, with narration by poet Dana Gioia, has been performed frequently in the United States and Canada in educational and family concerts; its full orchestra version has been performed at the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp, where Salerni served on the orchestral conducting faculty for six years. Salerni’s piece for young string orchestra and harp, Hugging the Shore, is published by Alfred. Salerni’s recent ballet, entitled FABLES, was commissioned and premiered by Pascal Rioult New York and is also family-friendly.

The Salerni/Johnson family

A dedicated educator, Salerni is recipient of the Stabler Award, Lehigh University’s most valued acknowledgement of excellence in teaching. His service to the larger community has also included participation on Fulbright Fellowship and NEA peer review panels and seven years’ service on the Board of Directors of the Suzuki Association of the Americas, including two years as Chair of the Board. Salerni was recently honored with a two-concert festival of his music at Murray State University, an event produced by his former student, composer Mike D’Ambrosio.

Salerni is married to opera and stage director Laura Johnson, and also often writes for and performs with their two sons, violinist Domenic and percussionist Miles.


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