The San Francisco Symphony on Tuesday announced Jens Ibsen, composer and trained vocalist, as the winner of the second annual Emerging Black Composers Project prize. His piece will premiere at Davies Symphony Hall, performed by the San Francisco Symphony during the 2023-’24 season.
In addition to a $15,000 commission, Ibsen will also receive mentorship from the project’s committee members and resources to workshop his piece with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
“Jens’ music made me feel things with immediacy,” said Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, chair of the Emerging Black Composer Project. “He grasped me and had me in tears at moments; at others, I laughed out loud at the ingenuity.”
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Ibsen’s roots in Accra, Ghana, have influenced his works through his early exposure to Ghanaian drumming and classical Arabic and Indian music. A self-declared opera lover and metalhead, he also draws inspiration from progressive metal and distortion-heavy genres. His career as a vocalist has seen him perform across the globe, encompassing Germany, Shanghai and even a BART train platform. He made history as the first African-born member of the acclaimed Vienna Boys Choir, where he was a principal soloist.
As a composer, Ibsen explores electroacoustic styles within his works. “Eclecticism is quite literally in my veins,” he said. “I strive to make work reflective of this as I explore diverse musical languages and weave them into a tapestry entirely unique, yet familiar. I especially enjoy replicating the timbres of this music through extended techniques — whether it’s scratchy string overpressure or having a singer wail like a metal front man.”
Ibsen received his B.A. in music composition from Pepperdine University, and his M.M. in music composition at the Mannes School of Music. He is currently based in San Francisco and New York.
The Emerging Black Composer Project was launched in 2020 by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in partnership with the San Francisco Symphony and SFCM President’s Advisory Council on Equity and Inclusion. It is a 10-year commitment that intends to spotlight early career Black American composers and their music. Ibsen joins Trevor Weston, Sumi Tonooka, Jonathan Bingham and Shawn Okpebholo as winners.