A great artist can manifest answers to otherwise perplexing aspects of our world through their craft and help us find understanding. Composer, author, and long-time PARMA artist Michael G. Cunningham (1937-2022) was the embodiment of this truth, a prolific artist whose timeless body of work will resonate for years to come.
From symphonies and other orchestral works to piano pieces, art songs, opera, choral compositions, and works for jazz ensembles spanning 11 Navona Records releases, Cunningham showed an unwavering dedication to sharing his music with the world. Upon receiving his doctorate from Indiana University, Cunningham embarked on an artistic journey that would lead him to write over 250 musical compositions spanning multiple genres, pedagogical music books, and more.
Cunningham began his music career in earnest as an accompanist, music director, and instructor at Wayne State University. As a pianist early in his career he accompanied singers on stage, performed in Detroit area night clubs and country clubs, and for a while worked on a cruise ship. However, composition was his true labor of love, and he focused on creating a large catalog of music during his life that could be applied to numerous orchestrations.
After working as a professor of theory and composition at the University of Wisconsin — Eau Claire for over 30 years, Cunningham shifted his attention to composing full time, and would go on to have his works performed on a global scale by notable orchestras like the Moravian Philharmonic, Zagreb Festival Orchestra, Kiev Philharmonic, and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Cunningham made his Navona Records debut in 2009 with COLONNADE, a gripping first impression with symphonic arias and other characteristics that immediately made the composer stand out from the crowd.
In addition to his orchestral voice, Cunningham had a knack for expressing his artistic visions through choral ensembles. His 2016 release WISDOM-LOVE-ETERNITY explores the spiritual element of the human condition, addressing the uncertainty of death, the inexpressible emotion of love, and humans’ search for an understanding of God with the Kühn Choir of Prague.
Prolific in his expressive use of narrative when writing, Cunningham told stories that intertwine darkness and beauty with breathtaking melody and harmony in MEZZANINE SEAT. An inherent understanding of the various orchestral sections is exhibited in this album, filling out every bit of space and fostering the feeling of having the best seat in the house for listeners.
Cunningham’s repertoire, while technically demanding for its performers, remained easily accessible for listeners’ enjoyment, a delicate balance requiring finesse to achieve. Nestled in style between early Prokofiev and late Shostakovich, his 2020 release, PROSCENIUM MOMENTS, provides a bird’s eye view of his dynamic catalog.