“Composer Philip Koplow is on to something. If you want to excite people about contemporary music, make them a part of it.” Cincinnati Post music critic Mary Ellyn Hutton’s review of “Legacy: J. Ralph Corbett.”
Philip Koplow (b. 1943) arrived in Cincinnati area 1976 when he was appointed composer-in-residence at Northern Kentucky University (NKU). Koplow, a Cleveland native, received his musical education at Kent State University and a doctorate at the Cleveland Institute of Music under Donald Erb. He considers himself a survivor of both childhood learning disabilities and the school shootings at Kent State.
Learning disabilities being little understood at the time Koplow, was removed from public school and spent 8 years in a residential home for “emotionally disturbed” children. But there he met caring faculty and mentors who did impart a love for books, reading, and classical music. Some of these kind souls were holocaust survivors. While initially discouraging Koplow from continued education, this school eventually funded his doctoral studies in music.
At Kent State University from 1964 to 1970 the composer earned Bachelors and Master degrees in composition, with Fred Coulter and James Waters. This was a period of war overseas, protests, riots and assassinations at home. Koplows reaction was to turn his emotions into music.
On May 4, 1970, 13 students at Kent State were shot, four fatally, by Ohio National Guardsmen during Vietnam War protests. This event became a choral work. Other “event” inspired works are his 1969 viola Sonata In Memoriam: Martin Luther King Jr. (published by Liben Music) and his 1972 String Quartet, "In Time of Fire," which was a response to the war in Vietnam. His struggles to learn to read and his experiences during the turbulent Vietnam area left him with a driving need to communicate and a belief that music - new music - is an important way to affirm humane and "classical" values:
"With the arts we can keep faith with our ancestors and future generations, speak and sing for justice, and even address the most tragic and painful issues. If you are hurt and angry don't use violence - write a poem or a song, or draw pictures. Use your feelings to create something."
Koplow's work has been performed and commissioned by major ensembles – the principal orchestras of Cincinnati (CSO), Cleveland, Los Angles, Columbus, Washington D.C., and recorded by the Silesian Philharmonic in Poland. The CSO and Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra have each performed four of his works.
He has composed music for regional events like the Cincinnati bicentennial - the Pulitzer Prize nominated musical theater work On the Banks. Clear to the Final
￼Ocean was commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony for their centennial season and brought eleven community hand bell choirs to Music Hall to perform with the CSO - Ivan Fischer directing. Another CSO project was Legacy: J. Ralph Corbett, a work honoring Cincinnati's best loved arts patron. Here six high school and youth choirs, with the audience playing special chimes, joined the CSO under Jesus Lopez-Cobos and Keith Lockhart.
In 1983 Koplow conceived and produced a concert honoring Russian Jewish Poets executed in Moscow on August 12, 1952. His choral - orchestral work Day Grows Darker was given at that time. Paul Nadler led the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and the Cincinnati Choral Society. For the Peace of Cities - for two violin soloists - was composed for the 25th anniversary of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and reunited the CCO with it's founding concert master and music director (Jorja Fleezanis and Paul Nadler) plus James Braid the then concert master. The work celebrated the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the war in Bosnia and employed Bosnian music. The national Continental Harmony Project commissioned composers to create celebratory works to help communities mark the new millennium. For this program Koplow composed I Am A Song for the Etowah Youth Symphony (Gadsden, Alabama) – settings of poems by community people (four by children) to music fo