Henry Dehlinger is an American composer hailed by Gramophone as “a master of myriad styles.” His vocal, choral and symphonic works have garnered critical praise in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Barron’s, NPR, Gramophone, Agence France-Presse, Yahoo News, and Journal of Singing, standing out for their rich, tonal melodies and modal harmonic language. "Dehlinger's music does wonders,” says The Washington Post, which praises his lush, orchestral soundscapes as “an unexpected emotional punch.” His vocal works, Gramophone adds, “are diverse in atmosphere and harmonic language, as befits the narratives, and the writing is rich, often rapturous.”
Dehlinger was born in San Francisco’s Mission District, where his mother, an immigrant from Nicaragua, and his father, a local union leader, first made their home before moving to Millbrae, just outside the City. During his formative years, he studied piano and sang in the San Francisco Boys Chorus. His mentors were piano virtuoso Thomas LaRatta, choral conductor William "Doc" Ballard, and voice teacher Edith Doe Ballard. All helped shape him as an artist and provided him with an aesthetic focus for his creative energies.
He earned an early reputation as a prodigious talent, performing in productions with the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony under conductors including Kurt Herbert Adler, Riccardo Chailly, and Edo de Waart. He graduated from Santa Clara University where he studied piano with Hans Boepple. After meeting his wife Lauren, a native of Los Angeles, he moved to the East Coast in 2007 where they have since lived in the Washington, DC area.
Dehlinger’s extraordinary command of orchestral color and texture is on full display in his latest work, Cosmic Cycles, A Space Symphony (2023), an epic suite of seven symphonic poems commissioned by the National Philharmonic and composed in close collaboration with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Cosmic Cycles is paired with a stunning visual canvas of science imagery and data visualizations of the Sun, Earth, Moon, Planets, and Cosmos, many of them from the James Webb Space Telescope, projected in HD on a giant screen above the orchestra.
“You can have majesty, wistfulness, and ethereality coexist,” Dehlinger comments in “Looking for Art in the James Webb Telescope,” a September 2023 piece in The New Yorker that puts a spotlight on Dehlinger and Cosmic Cycles. “You know you’re dealing with wonderful material when it can elicit more than one emotion.”
Cosmic Cycles drew a sellout crowd. “A grand seven-movement narrative arc emerges from the sequence of images and music,” said The Washington Post, which described it as “a harmonically rewarding wander through the stars.” Agence France-Presse called it “the ultimate blend of art and science.” Before Cosmic Cycles, Dehlinger penned Return to the Moon, A Fanfare to Artemis (2022), a work The Washington Post calls a “triumphant-sounding skyward salute,” to mark the Kennedy Space Center's March 2022 rollout of the main launch vehicle of NASA’s Artemis lunar program.
Henry on “Scoring the Cosmos,” an episode of NASA Goddard’s StoryLab series.
Dehlinger also writes deftly for the voice. His Kohelet (2019), a cantata in five movements that premiered in March 2022, demonstrates his keen sense of pacing, drama and architecture within the context of large-scale musical form. Commissioned by the Washington Master Chorale, Santa Clara Chorale, and Santa Clara University Concert Choir, it is beautifully theatrical and an important new addition to the canon of extended choral works with Hebrew texts.
Likewise with Requiem (2021), Dehlinger’s seven movement setting of the Requiem Mass commissioned by Choralis for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra, which was inspired by the example of Duruflé. With an emphasis on divine aesthetic beauty, it is at once contemplative and jubilant.
Emerging from the pandemic, the National Philharmonic’s 2021-22 season opened with the premiere of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (2017), a rhapsody for voice and orchestra with text by T.S. Eliot. Written for Metropolitan Opera soprano Danielle Talamantes, the composer’s friend and artistic collaborator, Prufrock has drawn comparisons to Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 for its lyricism and mix of classical and vernacular styles.
In the second half of the Prufrock concert, violinist Gil Shaham took the stage for Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major. In a backstage meeting, Shaham encouraged Dehlinger to compose a work for solo violin. Dehlinger responded with the Rhapsody for Solo Violin and Orchestra (2022). Replete with intricate figurations, scalar runs, octave leaps, and double stop trills, its cadenzas showcase Shaham’s improvisational skill and compelling balance of precision and emotion.
In spring 2021, Amore e’l cor gentil sono una cosa (2019) (“Love and the gentle heart are one and the same”) premiered during a concert broadcast on WETA-TV, Washington’s PBS station. A pièce d’occasion written for the Florence, Italy nuptials of two of the composer’s closest friends, Amore is a setting of the beautiful love sonnet from Dante’s La vita nuova. Opera News calls it, “a loving and clever duet, and a true gem of a song.”
Other important works include: Earth as Art (2023), a chamber arrangement of the third movement of Cosmic Cycles; Nocturno (2023), a setting of text by Rubén Darío for soprano and tenor, which draws on Dehlinger’s Nicaraguan heritage; City Dusk (2022), a chamber setting of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beautifully noir poem for baritone and string quartet; Images (2021), a choral setting of Richard Aldington’s modernist love poem; and Preludes of T.S. Eliot (2020), a setting of Eliot’s four-part poem for soprano, cello and piano that explores themes of isolation in modern urban life and which Dehlinger wrote in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dehlinger has also contributed a body of accessible Christmas songs to the choral canon. These include: Ring Out, Ye Bells (2021), a setting of African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar’s reverent Christmas hymn; I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (2021), a new setting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous Christmas poem that combines a memorable melody with splashes of color and an energetic tempo; Mistletoe (2021), a four-part round based on Walter de la Mare’s much loved Christmas poem; and Hodie! (2020) for mixed choir, percussion, harp and organ.
Henry with conductors Scot Hanna-Weir and Thomas Colohan, soprano Danielle Talamantes and bass-baritone Kerry Wilkerson at Kohelet's west coast premiere in Santa Clara, CA
Dehlinger’s sonatas for cello and piano are among his most significant works of chamber music. Inspired by familiar Los Angeles cityscapes, Fantasia in Groove: Three Impressions of L.A. (2021) is a concert suite of urban impressions for cello and piano that recalls the sound of classic noir films, while evoking the fast-paced, stop-and-go groove of big-city life. His Cello Sonata in C Minor (2020) loosely follows the traditional sonata form with contrasting themes developed in each movement. But there is also a cross-thematic unity that encompasses the entire work.
Dehlinger’s latest album is At That Hour: Art Songs by Henry Dehlinger (2020), released by AVIE Records in October 2020. “On Dehlinger’s newest disc, ‘At That Hour’,” Gramophone notes in its review, “he [Dehlinger] collaborates with [soprano Danielle] Talamantes and another dynamic singer, bass-baritone Kerry Wilkerson, in his recorded debut as a composer of art songs, whose verses he has transformed through disarming music.”
Equally celebrated are Dehlinger’s stylish jazz-classical arrangements featured in Heaven and Earth: A Duke Ellington Songbook (2016), which he wrote for Talamantes and released on the MSR Jazz label. “Just as impressive,” says Journal of Singing in its review, “is how Dehlinger weaves together those fragile pastel shades with the bold brassiness of stride piano. In lesser hands, the result would be musical chaos; Dehlinger makes it work perfectly.” His other recordings are Canciones españolas (2014), also with Talamantes, and Evocations of Spain (2011).
“Dehlinger's music does wonders...an unexpected emotional punch.”
“It could be the ultimate blend of art and science -- a new seven-suite "space symphony" inspired and illustrated by NASA's latest mind-boggling images.”
“Throughout the work [Cosmic Cycles], Dehlinger effectively builds atop the foundation of a searching four-note motif that echoes other monolithic melodies we’ve come to connect with the cosmos...But this theme becomes the basis for a harmonically rewarding wander through the stars”
“Dehlinger shapes music to illuminate the meaning of the text. The songs are diverse in atmosphere and harmonic language... and the writing is rich, often rapturous”
“It’s not easy to wick drama from data or sentiment from space, but Dehlinger’s orchestrations for potentially stale stills and inscrutable-but-pretty mathematics packed an unexpected emotional punch. ”
“Cosmic Cycles: A Space Symphony is a groundbreaking collaboration among acclaimed composer Henry Dehlinger, NASA, and the National Philharmonic, featuring a unique fusion of music and video in seven multimedia works on the Sun, Earth, Moon, planets, and cosmos. This transformative project takes the audience on a captivating voyage through the universe, showcasing the beauty and power of the marriage between music and science.”
“Dehlinger crafted his symphony by drawing inspiration from images captured by NASA’s Hubble and James Webb Space telescopes, along with other images from NASA Goddard”
“Henry Dehlinger is premiering musical magic”
“Henry Dehlinger has been one of the most successful practitioners of polystylism, a distinctly 21st-century musical style that draws from multiple influences, genres, traditions, and techniques.”
“In this magnificently written setting of Prufrock, Dehlinger’s orchestration (yes, he did that, too!) calls on the full range that a modern orchestra can deliver and that music, even without the vocal line, is lovely! I want to hear this piece again and again to get familiar with its complexities.”
“stands out from the crowd for Henry Dehlinger's exquisite piano playing... and vibrantly colorful palette”
“disarming music...a master of myriad styles”
“In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Dehlinger approaches the voice as another instrument capable ofthe most varied and nuanced delivery.”
“Just as impressive is how Dehlinger weaves together those fragile pastel shades with the bold brassiness of stride piano...Dehlinger makes it work perfectly.”
“Henry Dehlinger is a gifted and versatile musician... a pianist of exceptional fluency,”
“Formidably essential listening!”
“Beyond his flawless playing, Dehlinger reveals himself to be an exceptionally skilled arranger”
“Dehlinger's own arrangement expands the envelope of the original to a more intense experience”
“The skill and splendour of his music belies the relatively brief number of years he has committed pen to paper to create a considerable oeuvre of orchestral, chamber and choral music.”
“Dehlinger’s compositional voice is tonal and extremely effective. He demonstrates a genuine lyrical impulse along with the ability to compose music that amplifies the words he has chosen to set.”
“Dehlinger rises to the challenge . . . especially effective in the driving harmony underscoring the voice”
— Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold, Fanfare Magazine
“a stunning performance capturing the brilliance of these Duke Ellington songs”
— Kim McCormick, Pan Pipes
“I am stunned. This is easily one of the best recordings of the year.”
— Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition
— Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition
“It’s a loving and clever duet, and a true gem of a song [Amore].”
— Arlo McKinnon, Opera News
“Henry's modern yet tonal compositional voice shines through as he renders a diverse palette of musical styles to amplify the words he sets to music.”
— Russell Trunk, Exclusive Magazine
“Empoweringly sung, emotively ornate”
— Russell Trunk, Exclusive Magazine
A Space Symphony
Cosmic Cycles: A Space Symphony is a groundbreaking collaboration between Henry Dehlinger, NASA, and the National Philharmonic. In this video, conductor Piotr Gajewski, NASA Goddard Executive Producer Wade Sisler, NatPhil Director of Artistic Operations Kyle Schick, and the composer discuss the genesis of this critically acclaimed new work.
Scoring the Cosmos
Composer Henry Dehlinger talks about “Scoring the Cosmos” at a NASA Goddard StoryLab series talk, his compositional process, and his unique collaboration with NASA and NatPhil, which culminated in the widely acclaimed premiere of Cosmic Cycles, A Space Symphony in May 2023.