Six symphonies, five string quartets, three operas, five song cycles, and numerous solo and ensemble instrumental pieces anchor the concert music side of John Harbison's catalogue. Four large church cantatas and ten a cappella motets are part of his ongoing involvement with sacred music, as both conductor and composer. Closely allied to these are Four Psalms, for the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel; Abraham, for the Vatican conference on the Reconciliation of Three Faiths; and Requiem, a Boston Symphony commission.
Harbison is Institute Professor at M.I.T. where he is a player-coach-arranger for the Vocal Jazz Ensemble which he founded in 2010, and pianist with the faculty jazz group Strength in Numbers (SIN). In these roles he is adding to his large catalogue of pop-songs and jazz arrangements.
He has often taught composition at Tanglewood, beginning in 1984. Since 2005, with Michael Gandolfi, he has been consistently engaged there, frequently directing the Festival of Contemporary Music. He continues his forty-five year role as Principal Guest Conductor of Boston's Emmanuel Music (from 2007 to 2010 as Acting Music Director.)
For twenty five years, he and Rose Mary Harbison have been Co-Directors of the Token Creek Festival in rural Wisconsin. She is the inspiration for many of his pieces, including the Violin Concerto, Four Songs of Solitude, Crane Sightings, and Violin Sonata II.
Recent performances of Harbison’s music include a concert version of his opera The Great Gatsby by Emmanuel Music, both in Boston and Tanglewood; a survey of his vocal music at the National Opera Institute by Songfusion; a performance of Closer to My Own Life (texts by Alice Munro) with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, mezzo-soprano Reilly Nelson, and conductor Stilian Kirov; and an evening of his pop songs at Smalls/ NYC with singer Mary McKenzie and an all-star jazz ensemble headed by John Chin.
Newly completed pieces include a String Trio for Camerata Pacifica; For Violin Alone, for Jennifer Koh's series at the 92nd St. Y, and The Supper at Emmaus, in memory of Emmanuel's longtime Music Director and Harbison's close friend of forty years, Craig Smith.
Harbison has been composer-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome, Marlboro Festival, the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Aspen, Tanglewood, and Sante Fe festivals. He has conducted the Boston Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the RAI chamber ensemble, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, serving there as creative chair in 1992-94.
He has received a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship, a Kennedy Center Friedheim Award, a Heinz Award, the Harvard Arts Medal, and the Horblit Award from the Boston Symphony and Harvard University, coincident with the stream release of his Six Symphonies by the Boston Symphony. The performances derive from a survey of his symphonies conducted by James Levine, who has commissioned and performed Harbison's music extensively over the last two decades.
Harbison was President of the Copland Fund for fifteen years, and a Trustee of the American Academy in Rome. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is a Trustee of the Bogliasco Foundation.