Joseph Summer

Joseph Summer


Composer Joseph Summer began playing French horn at the age of seven. While attending the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina at age fourteen he studied composition with the eminent Czech composer Karel Husa. At age 15 he was accepted at Oberlin Conservatory, where he studied composition with Richard Hoffmann, Schönberg’s amanuensis; and graduated with a BM in Music Composition in 1976. Recruited by Robert Page, Dean of the Music Department at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Joseph was hired as a full-time faculty member at CMU when he was twenty years old. At the prestigious school Summer devised the conservatory’s freshman music theory curriculum and taught the Theory 101 classes. Despite this early entry into academia, Summer chose to leave after just two years in order to pursue composition full time.

For the next twenty years Joseph Summer concentrated his efforts composing a series of comic operas based on the bawdy stories of Boccaccio’s The Decameron. These consist of four completed works: And The Dead Shall Walk The Earth; Courting Disaster; Their Fate In The Hands Of The Friar; and Gianetta. The fifth and sixth in a projected cycle of seven: Also Known As and The Ignoble, The Grotesque, The Heretical are in progress.

Summer is currently composing his ever expanding collection of settings of the bard’s ever living texts, which he titles The Oxford Songs, (titled thus due to Summer’s support of Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the likely identity of the author also known as William Shakespeare.) In addition to the individual scenes, sonnets, and songs from Shakespeare in The Oxford Songs, Summer completed the opera Hamlet, in 2006 and The Tempest in 2013. Summer’s operas Hippolytus and The Tenor’s Suite have been performed several times in piano reduction. In the recent past Summer has focused on string quartets, including The Garden of Forking Paths, the Sea Change Quartets (two quartets depicting littoral scenes), The Book of Invisible Women, and Zócalo.

Recent performances include “Sycorax” from The Book of Invisible Women with the Ulysses Quartet at Carnegie Hall (May 11, 2022) and the fully staged premiere of the opera Hamlet in Ruse, Bulgaria in May and June 2021, along with its recording by Navona Records, for release in 2022. Summer’s Tempest Sonata for Violin and Piano will be the featured work at the Carnegie Hall debut of Solo Violinist Christina Bouey ( October 3, 2022).  Other upcoming performances include Laudatores Temporis Acti for Piano Trio with the Neave Trio (September 24) in Boston; and Tantivy with hornist Radek Baborák, and pianist Miroslav Sekera in Prague (October 2022).

The Shakespeare Concerts

Begun in 2003 with concerts in Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands, The Shakespeare Concerts presents recitals of music inspired by the immortal bard: from original English text settings to settings in translation by composers from the classical period to the 21st century. The mainstay of the series is the music of Joseph Summer, with premieres of two dozen of his four score Oxford Songs; settings, primarily, of text by William Shakespeare. In addition to concert performances, The Shakespeare Concerts ( records Shakespearean music as well as the chamber music and operas of Joseph Summer. The composer has served as Executive Director of The Shakespeare Concerts since 2003.

Directorial Positions and Allied Skills

In 1981 Summer first helmed an opera company, producing his one act opera, The Tenor’s Suite, in Philadelphia. His makeshift company earned grants from the National Endowment of the Arts, Meet The Composer, and several private and commercial contributors (such as SUN Oil Company and Atlantic Richfield, to name the two largest contributors after the NEA.) The success he experienced on the organizational level (as well as the accolades received in the Philadelphia press) motivated Summer to create the Contemporary Opera Company of America (COCOA), a 501c3 entity with a solid board of directors and an annual budget of $250,000. In 1983 Summer produced concerts and events as well as his own two act grand opera, Hippolytus (performed in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia) to excellent reviews. Summer acted as Executive Director for COCOA and during his tenure garnered a grant from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council for a study and presentation about contemporary opera, (as well as the more typical performance grants from public and private sources.)

Summer served as the Executive Director for the Commonwealth Opera Company of Massachusetts, for one year, producing the operas “Cosi fan tutte” and “Lucia di Lammermoor,” while also producing other operas with Commonwealth personnel for other organizations. On August 1, 2020, he was elected chairman of the board of the INDICTUS PROJECT. For information on the INDICTUS PROJECT, see

Summer’s principal work in the music production field has been as the Executive director for The Shakespeare Concerts, a position he’s held since creating the 501c3 entity in 2003. The Shakespeare Concerts has produced numerous concerts from Korea to the Virgin Islands, with an annual presentation at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall; has recorded for commercial release in the Czech Republic, Mechanics Hall (the preeminent recording facility in New England, and arguably the United States), and the WGBH Boston studio. The Shakespeare Concerts has received numerous accolades, grants, one Grammy nomination, and has international renown. Reviews of The Shakespeare Concerts’ recordings and concerts have appeared throughout the world in languages from Catalan to Korean.

Summer was trained at Oberlin in the field of musical acoustics (and was Oberlin’s first double major in composition/acoustics.) He coauthored the book “Music: the New Age Elixir,” published by Prometheus Books, a critique of far-fetched ideas about music. Summer’s work for the book was in regard acoustics and music theory. Summer works as sound engineer and editor for recordings outside his own music and The Shakespeare Concerts.