Composer Dawn Sonntag translates the experience of being human into music that has been called “hauntingly lyrical” (Schaumburg-Lippe Landeszeitung), “visceral,” and “freshly relevant.” Her operas have been featured at the Cleveland Opera Theater’s New Opera Works festival, the Hartford Women’s Composers Festival, the Hartford Opera Theater’s New in November festival, and the Opera from Scratch festival in Halifax. Based on the true story of World War II refugees, her first opera, Verlorene Heimat, for which she wrote the libretto and music, won Honorable Mention in the 2021 American Prize for composition. Her settings of Sara Teasdale’s poetry are included in the new Modern Music for New Singers: 21st Century American Art Song.
Sonntag’s choral and instrumental ensemble music has been performed in venues from Eagle, Alaska to Vienna, Austria by recitalists, choruses and instrumental ensembles including Tucker Jolly, Michelle Murray Fiertek, Burning River Baroque, the Delgani String Quartet, the Portland Choral Arts Ensemble, the Cleveland Chamber Choir, and others. She has performed her art songs at new music festivals at Youngstown State University, Christopher Newport University, and Mississippi State University. Sonntag was selected as the Washington State Music Teachers Association 2021 Commissioned Composer of the Year and the 2010 MTNA-Ohio Composer of the Year. An avid Alpine hiker and amateur nature photographer, Sonntag has been a three-time participant in the Alaskan Composing in the Wilderness program. Her passionate activism for informed consent in mental health care inspired her opera For Life, which was commissioned for the Cleveland Opera Theater’s 2022 Operas in Place festival.
Self-taught as a pianist until age 18 and one of two Milwaukee-area trumpet players accepted into the Milwaukee Symphony Youth Orchestra as a high school student, Sonntag had a strong inclination to compose from an early age but was discouraged by mandates to compose atonal music as an undergraduate. Before turning primarily to composition during her doctoral studies with Alex Lubet at the University of Minnesota, Sonntag pursued a career as a pianist, singer, and choral conductor. She received the Inge Pitler Prize for lied performance in both piano and voice in Heidelberg, Germany and was winner of the Kenwood Symphony Masters Aria and Concerto competition, performing Grieg’s orchestrated songs in Norwegian. She has been the recipient of an American-Scandinavian Foundation creative fellowship and a Foreign Language Area Studies fellowship for advanced study of Norwegian language at Oslo University. As a resident of the Visby International Centre for Composers in Visby, Sweden she was awarded a Swedish government intercultural exchange fellowship in 2019.
Sonntag holds a D.M.A. in Voice Performance and composition from the University of Minnesota, with secondary areas in Vocal Pedagogy and Choral conducting; an M.M. in Choral Conducting from the Ohio State University; a graduate artist diploma in Collaborative Piano from the Hochschule für Kirchenmusik, Heidelberg, with secondary areas in Voice and Organ; and a B.M. in Vocal Performance from the University of Texas at El Paso. She also studied composition, counterpoint, and harmony in Paris, France through the European-American Musical Alliance. She is currently a lecturer in composition at Pacific Lutheran University.