With a "keen ear for musical color and a deft ability to adapt structural
elements from popular music into the symphonic idiom" (Houston Chronicle),
Michael Abels has gained widespread recognition for his orchestral pieces
Global Warming and Frederick’s Fables. Global Warming has been given nearly 100
performances by orchestras including Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, Houston,
Baltimore, Louisville, Columbus, Indianapolis, Dallas, Detroit, Nashville,
Phoenix, West Virginia, New Mexico, Tucson, Savannah, Dayton, and Toledo as well as the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.
Dance for Martin’s Dream, a piece expressing both sorrowful and joyous moments
in the composer’s experience with Martin Luther King’s legacy, was commissioned
by the Nashville Symphony and performed in Nashville in January 1998. Dance for
Martin’s Dream has also been performed by the Cleveland Orchestra and several
His most recent orchestral work, Tribute, was commissioned by the National
Symphony Orchestra, and was premiered November 8th, 2001 under the direction of
Marin Alsop. Inspired by the heroes of the September 11th attacks, Tribute was
the first piece performed by the NSO written after those tragic events.
Other works include American Variations on "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" for
trumpet and orchestra premiered by Doc Severinsen and the Phoenix Symphony, and
More Seasons, performed by the St Paul Chamber Orchestra and others. Abels has
also arranged gospel music for Reverend James Cleveland. Some of his
arrangements for gospel choir and orchestra are heard annually on the PBS
special Atlanta Symphony Gospel Christmas. The Abels gospel arrangements are
regularly performed by orchestras throughout the United States.
Frederick’s Fables -- four pieces, based on the collection by Leo Lionni,
entitled "Frederick," "The Greentail Mouse," "Theodore and the Talking
Mushroom," and "Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse" -- was commissioned by Philip
Brunelle’s Plymouth Music Series of Minnesota. Parts I and II were premiered
with James Earl Jones as narrator in October 1994. Parts III and IV were also
premiered by the Plymouth Music Series with Garrison Keillor narrating.
Frederick’s Fables has since been performed by the Philadelphi
a Orchestra with Martin Bookspan, and by other ensembles. Abels himself has
narrated the piece at Kennedy Center for the National Symphony (DC), and also
for the Springfield (MA) Symphony.
His 40-minute opera Homies & Popz, was commissioned by Los Angeles Opera, and
premiered in May 2000 at high schools throughout Los Angeles County. It tells
the true story of the Compton Homies & the Popz, a cricket team organized by
noted activist Ted Hayes to provide an alternative to gangs for inner-city
youth and homeless adults.
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Michael Abels grew up in rural South Dakota where he
began piano lessons at an early age. He attended the University of Southern
California, studying with James Hopkins and Robert Linn. In 1984, he was named
Outstanding Senior among student composers for his composition Queries, scored
for two pianos and prepared piano. In 1985-86, he studied West African music
with Alfred Ladzekpo at the California Institute for the Arts. Aside from his
activities as a composer and arranger, Abels is an amateur triathlete.