The son of a klezmer band clarinetist, Michael Shapiro was born in Brooklyn, New York, and spent most of his high school years in Baldwin, a Long Island suburb. The winner of several piano competitions during his youth, he earned his B.A. at Columbia College, Columbia University, where he majored in English literature and concentrated in music, benefiting most—according to his own assessment—from some of the department’s stellar musicology faculty, which, at that time, included such international luminaries as Paul Henry Lang, Denis Stevens, Joel Newman, and others. He studied conducting independently with Carl Bamberger at the Mannes College of Music in New York. At The Juilliard School, where he earned his master’s degree, he studied solfège and score reading with the renowned Mme. Renée Longy—known to generations of Juilliard students as “the infamous madame of dictation” for her rigorous demands and classic pedagogic methods—and composition with Vincent Persichetti. His most influential composition teacher, however, was Elie Siegmeister, with whom he studied privately.
Since 2002 Shapiro has been the music director and conductor of the Chappaqua Orchestra in New York’s Westchester County, which he conducted for the world premiere of his score for the classic 1931 film Frankenstein (directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff) as well as for the world premiere of his own orchestral work, Roller Coaster, which received its West Coast premiere under the baton of Marin Alsop in 2010 at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music while Shapiro was composer in residence. He served for two years as the music consultant to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where he produced and performed music by a number of composers who were either murdered by the Germans and their collaborators or had survived as refugees from the Third Reich. He has also been the assistant conductor at the Zurich Opera Studio.
Shapiro’s works, which in the aggregate address nearly every medium, have been performed widely throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe—with broadcasts of premieres on National Public Radio, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Israel Broadcasting Authority, Sender Freies Berlin, WQXR, and WCBS-TV. His music has been characterized in a New York Times review as “possessing a rare melodic gift.” His oeuvre includes more than one hundred works for solo voice, piano, chamber ensembles, chorus, orchestra, as well as for opera, film, and television. In addition to his Eliyahu Hanavi: Variations for solo violoncello, which is included in the Milken Archive, his Jewish-related works include Yiddish Quartet for string quartet, Peace Variations for solo violin, Ani Ma’amin for chorus and chamber ensemble, Songs of the Jewish Ghetto for piano (with alternate versions with piano for voice, violin, cello, and flute), Kaddish-Berakhot-Nigun for solo flute, and an opera, The Slave, based on a novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Shapiro has received awards and grants from Martha Baird Rockefeller Composer’s Assistance, Meet the Composer, the Henry Evans Traveling Fellowship of Columbia University, and the Boris Koutzen Memorial Fund. He has also received the Columbian Award and the Sigma Alpha Iota Composers Competition prize. He is the author of Jewish Pride and of The Jewish 100, which has been published in British, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Polish, and Romanian editions—in addition to its original American release.
By: Neil W. Levin