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”. Henry Fogel (Fanfare) has said “It is…music that sings and dances.”
Salerni’s chamber music and songs are widely performed. Recent highlights included the premiere of Quartet 1.5 commissioned by the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta and the premiere of Family Letters, a song on a narrative poem by Dana Gioia commissioned by Eileen Wescoe and premiered by Patricia Risley and SATORI. In the last two years, Salerni has written a series of song cycles for the Bowers/Fader Duo (Ekphrastic Songs, Something Permanent, Finding One Self, Beyond Words) that they have performed widely. In October, the mezzo and guitar duo premiered Finding One Self and Beyond Words during their Second Annual American Art Song Recital at the Tenri Cultural Institute in Manhattan.
Salerni’s most recent projects is called “Paul’s Song of the Week.” Having written 52 art songs, he decided to post a YouTube video of one of those art songs each week for a year. One of the cycles featured on the project is For Love Or Money (poems by Dana Gioia). That cycle had its premiere at a concert of Salerni’s music on texts by Gioia given at Colorado College in 2016. Included in the cycle are two of Salerni’s most popular songs, Alley Cat Love Song and Money.
Other recently heard songs and chamber music include a performance by the Da Capo Chamber Players of two song cycles, Speaking of Love and Bad Pets, at New York City’s Merkin Hall, the premiere of Many Happy Returns, a brass quintet commissioned by the Philadelphia Brass and the Candelight Chamber Music Series, and two woodwind quintets (U-Turn and Sinfonietta Italiana) commissioned and premiered by East Winds.
Two highly acclaimed CDs of Salerni’s songs and chamber music have appeared on the Albany Records label: “Touched” in 2015 and “Speaking of Love” in 2017.
Recent orchestral commissions include Cape Cod Symphony, San Diego Chamber Orchestra, New Haven Symphony, the Allentown Symphony, and the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra. Salerni’s Hoops, a theme and variations for orchestra describing basketball plays, was originally commissioned to celebrate Lehigh’s Sesquicentennial and will have its wind ensemble version premiered in May.
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 released on Naxos in 2010. 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 and Gioia are in the midst of writing a new dance opera entitled Haunted. Based on a Gioia poem of the same name, it is scored for baritone, three dancers, string quartet, and percussion. It will have its premiere in March 2019.
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 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 recent piece for young string orchestra and harp, Hugging the Shore, is published by Alfred. Salerni’s ballet entitled FABLES was commissioned and premiered by Pascal Rioult New York and is also family-friendly. FABLES has been performed in all of the five boroughs of New York City as well as in numerous venues in France and Germany.
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). 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. 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 Soloists. 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.
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 includes 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. He served for two years as Chair of the SAA 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 often writes for and performs with their two sons, violinist Domenic and percussionist Miles.