After graduating from Harvard University in 1979 with a degree in music and a passion for theater, Kander spent the next 15 years working as a playwright for both theater and television before coming home to full time composition. Since then, she has been commissioned by a wide range of performers, ensembles, symphony orchestras and opera companies for works characterized by intense rhythmic vibrancy, dramatic vocal writing, and a vivid, expanded tonal presence. Her instrumental commissions, ranging from solo works to a “symphonic adventure” for the National Symphony Orchestra, have been performed across the United States and beyond including London, Birmingham, Paris, Provence, and St. Petersburg, Russia. Her operas have been produced by companies, conservatories, colleges and schools all over this country and as far away as Capetown and Guangzhou.
Commissioners include Minnesota Operas, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Theater of St. Louis, the Copland Fund/Boosey and Hawkes, Columbus Opera, the Grammy-award winning Kansas City Chorale, Bach Aria Soloists of Kansas City, the Columbia Foundation, Southampton Chamber Music Festival and an array of individual musicians. She has received multiple Meet the Composer grants, served on panels for both Opera America and the National Opera Association and is a fellow of the MacDowell Colony. Her chamber music has been recorded on the MSR, Navona and Loose Cans labels.
In her chamber music, Kander has pursued ways to bring instrumental composition and theater into the same experience. Two commissions feature text to be read by a performer before each movement. The Lunch Counter, for solo bassoon, is subtitled ‘A musical play in seven movements.’ Fanfare magazine wrote “Kander’s The Lunch Counter alone is so fascinating that it is worth the price of the recording.” Postcards from America, for oboe and piano, is “a poignant narration of the immigrant experience.” (BBC Music Magazine) Her interest in using classical forms for dramatic exploration has led to three extended cycles: two for voice and chamber ensemble; and one, Hermestänze (2014) for violin and piano, is apparently the first dramatic cycle ever written for that ensemble.
A deep commitment to music for young audiences and family programming has led to a variety of commissions including The Donkey, the Goat and the Little Dog, “an often hilarious introduction to the string quartet…hugely enjoyable.” (Washington Post.) Her most-produced work, the opera One False Move, an anatomization of girl bullying, has been done by opera companies, conservatories, schools, colleges and choruses all over this country and in South Africa and China. It has been found to be a highly effective tool in generating discussion among both teens and adults about bullying.
Her newest opera, The News from Poems, was given a concert reading at the National Opera Center in April 2016. Her most recently completed commission, Duo for Violin and Cello, will premier in Mexico City in Fall 2016. A new CD titled Hermestänze, containing three violin-centric works, will be released in January 2017 on the MSR label and feature musicians of the “crack ensemble” (The New Yorker) Cantata Profana. After over twenty years composing, Susan decided to blow things up a bit by studying with composers Huang Ruo and Du Yun at SUNY Purchase where she will receive her MM in 2017. Her publisher is Subito Music. Kander lives in New York with her husband, architect Warren Ashworth, and they have two sons.