"Like the best of today’s composers, from the late Lou Harrison to Osvaldo Golijov, Cuomo has developed a lingua franca that is international enough to allow the speakers of different musical languages to communicate... The music occupies a space that is not bound by geography or chronology." – John Schaefer, WNYC
Critics have described the music of Douglas J. Cuomo as “jolting, haunting, varied, infectious. . . frankly, it is ingenious” and “eighteen minutes of velocity and ecstasy. . . mesmerizing . . . fiercely American in the sense of Whitman, Hart Crane and Ives.” as well as “hugely effective musically, as well as awe-inspiring”, “irresistble” and “awesome”.
Douglas J. Cuomo has composed highly acclaimed and original music for concert and theatrical stages, television, and ﬁlm. His music, with inﬂuences from jazz, world music, classical, and popular sources, is as personal, distinctive, and recognizable as it is wide-ranging. His compositions range from well-known television themes — for Sex and the City and Now with Bill Moyers, among others — to evening-length works for theater, including the operas Doubt and Arjuna's Dilemma.
Cuomo's expressive musical language, with its arresting juxtapositions of sound and style, is a natural outgrowth of his eclectic background and training. Born in Tucson, Arizona, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and Amherst, Massachusetts, Cuomo began playing the trumpet in grade school and switched to guitar at the age of 12. While still in high school he studied with jazz greats Max Roach and Archie Shepp at the University of Massachusetts.
He began his professional musical career at the age of 18, touring the country with a Las Vegas show band. He alternated years of college with years on the road as a guitarist, studying jazz, world music and ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Miami (Coral Gables) with a degree in jazz performance. Upon graduating, he immediately moved to New York and began to tour with jazz singer Arthur Prysock and his brother Red, and to record with pop and jazz acts.
After two years on the road as a jazz guitarist, Cuomo decided to focus on composition, and returned to New York City. In search of outlets for his creative work, he composed for downtown theater productions, student ﬁlms, and television documentaries. In doing so, he developed a notable talent for integrating music, image, and narrative.
Cuomo's ﬁrst work to garner public notice was Atomic Opera, which was performed at the Ohio Theatre in downtown New York City. The New York Times wrote that Cuomo's "elegiac and eerie" score "blends electronically treated classical fragments and vintage kitsch, suggests the breaking down and reconstitution of matter into something ominous and uncontrollable." That breakthrough led to steady work composing music for Broadway productions at the Roundabout Theatre. He scored ﬁfteen productions for the Roundabout, including The Women, Design For Living, Hamlet, The Visit, and the Tony-Award winning Anna Christie.
In television, his ﬁrst major success came with the Peabody Award-winning NBC drama Homicide: Life On The Street, for which he scored 120 episodes over the course of seven seasons. His credits include numerous series, movies, and documentaries for CBS, NBC, ABC, HBO and VH1, among others. He has also scored a number of independent ﬁlms, including Revolution #9, The Terrorist, and most recently, Crazy Love, with a soundtrack featuring pianist Billy Childs and trumpeter Chris Botti.
Cuomo is known for creating some of the most distinctive theme music on television today. Examples include the theme to Sex & The City (HBO), praised by The New Yorker magazine for its "unusual, edgy salsa ﬂavor;" the saxophone quartet music that opens and closes Now with Bill Moyers (PBS), and the keening Middle Eastern vocals and frenetic Turkish drumming combined with a churning synthesizer bed for Wide Angle (PBS).
Cuomo has received numerous grants and awards including: OPERA America Opera Fund Grant; two National Endowment of the Arts awards for Artistic Excellence in the Creation and Development of New Work; two NYSCA commissioning grants; American Music Center's Composer Assistance grant; NYSCA recording grant; Argosy Foundation Grant; Mary Flagler Carey Charitable Trust for development, and others. Residencies include the MacDowell Colony, The Hermitage Foundation, and Blue Mountain Artist Colony;. He and has received three BMI Television Music Awards and his theme for Sex and The City was chosen by TV Guide as one of the top 50 television themes of all time.
He has lectured widely at institutions including New York University, Wesleyan University (CT), University of Miami (FL), University of California at San Diego, Hunter College, Hofstra University, The Asia Society (NY), and the Rubin Museum (NY), The Guggenheim Museum (NY), Opera America (NYC), The US Navy CNO Strategic Studies Group, and at the Carnegie Hall Choral Institute. Cuomo also performs as a guitarist with his band, playing jazz interpretations of his ﬁlm and television work at venues including Birdland, The Knitting Factory and others.
Douglas J. Cuomo's compositions are published by Schott Music.
Recent signiﬁcant works include:
Doubt, an opera based on the play and movie, with a libretto by John Patrick Shanley. Commissioned by the Minnesota Opera, premiering in January 2013. The cast includes Denyse Graves, Christine Brewer, Matthew Worth and Adriana Zabala, directed by Kevin Newbury.
A Winter's Journey, a setting of Wilhelm Müller's text for Schubert's Winterreise song cycle, scored for mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton, trumpeter Frank London and Cuomo on guitar and electronics, to be produced by Music-Theatre Group and directed by David Schwiezer, scheduled to premiere in 2013.
Black Diamond Express Train to Hell, a co-commission by the American Composers Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Swan. This double concerto for orchestra, cello and sampler was premiered by the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 2010, with Maya Beiser and the composer as soloists. Incorporating a sampled sermon from 1927 by the Chicago preacher A.W. Nix that preﬁgures the techniques and swagger of the blues, gospel, R&B and hiphop, this piece is a breath-taking fantasia reﬂecting on early role of religion, pop culture and the ecstatic in the 20th century African-American experience.
Arjuna's Dilemma, a 70-minute opera-oratorio incorporating an Indian vocalist, a classically trained tenor, a four-member female chorus, a tabla player, an improvising tenor saxophonist, and a ten-piece chamber ensemble. A work of both sweeping grandeur and piercing intimacy, Arjuna's Dilemma seamlessly melds classical, jazz and traditional Indian musical idioms as it explores ancient themes that remain startlingly topical: the claims of conscience and duty in a time of war; the search for self-knowledge in a changing world. Produced by Music-Theatre Group, the piece premiered in 2008 at The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave festival. The New York Times described Arjuna's Dilemma as "an opera with an appealing and unabashedly eclectic score." A recording of Arjuna's Dilemma, performed by an array of distinguished artists including Indian singer Amit Chatterjee, members of Anonymous 4 and the Philip Glass Ensemble, tenor Tony Boutté, Badal Roy, Ethel, pianist Kathleen Supove, and bassist Robert Black of the Bang on a Can All Stars, was released on the Innova Records label.
Only Breath, commissioned and performed by Maya Beiser, at The International Festival of Arts & Ideas, Ravinia, Carnegie Hall and others (2008). Based on a Rumi poem of the same name this piece for cello and electronics is part of Ms. Beiser's evening length theatrical program Provenance.
NYSCA Composer Commissioning Grant (2009, 2011)
OPERA America Opera Fund Grant (2008)
National Endowment of the Arts award for Artistic Excellence in the Creation and Development of New Work (2008)
New York State Council on the Arts recording grant (2007)
Argosy Foundation grant for Arjuna's Dilemma (2007)
Mary Flagler Carey Charitable Trust development grant (2007)
National Endowment of the Arts award for Artistic Excellence in the Creation and Development of New Work (2006)
BMI Television Music Awards (2001, 2000, 1999)
Resident Artist at Hermitage Artists Retreat (2008), Blue Mountain Center for the Arts (1994), and Mabou Mines (1992)
One of the Top 50 Television Themes of all time - chosen by TV Guide for theme to Sex and the City