Jennifer Margaret Barker’s compositions have been hailed by critics in North America, Europe and Asia as “extraordinarily moving”, “soul-stirring”, “at once gripping and timeless”, “blazingly alive, with lovely, aching melodies”, “show-stopping”, “anything but passive”, “beautiful…warm”, “haunting”, “illuminated by dreamy images”, and her compositional output has been noted for its “amazing array”.
Barker has received commissions and performances from most notably The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra with the St. Louis Children’s Choirs, The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra with the New Jersey Youth Chorus, The Virginia Symphony with The Virginia Children’s Chorus, The Fort Collins Symphony, The Bearsden Choir with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Brass and Percussion Ensembles, The Scottish Chamber Orchestra String Quartet, The Scottish Chamber Orchestra String Trio, Orchestra 2001, Relâche, Network for New Music, The Society for New Music, Trio Arundel, The Taggart-Grycky Duo, Del’Arte, Musica Nova, Mélomanie, The Holywell Ensemble, Marimolin, The Hardwick Ensemble, The Children’s Chorus of Maryland, and The Bay Youth Symphony, as well as an extensive list of international concert artists. She was invited to compose a work for The 2002 American Liszt Society National Conference, and her compositional work is featured on the Distant Voices Touring Theatre ‘September Echoes’ production. Her compositions have also been featured on documentary and art films, including “No Denying”. Two of her works have also been featured as music video art form on a Crane Arts exhibit in Philadelphia. To date, her works have been performed in China (mainland and Hong Kong), Australia, Sweden, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, The Czech Republic and Slovenia, as well as in the United Kingdom (Scotland, England and Wales) and the United States.
In addition to ASCAP awards and varying international awards, Barker has received grants from organizations such as The National Endowment for the Arts, the Pew Charitable Trust, the American Composers Forum, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, the Norfolk (USA) Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Grant, the Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, the Philadelphia Music Project and The Scottish Arts Council. In 2007 she received an Established Artist Fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts for her contributions to the State of Delaware.
Published by Theodore Presser, Vanderbeek & Imrie Ltd. and Southern Percussion, Barker has received numerous broadcasts of her compositions on American public radio, Hong Kong radio and the BBC. In reviewing her ‘Geenyoch’ CD, freelance critic Jon Conrad noted that Barker’s music “sounds familiar and yet always new. While speaking in her own distinctive compositional voice, it answers the emotional and visceral needs that music has always met”. Conrad also notes Barker’s ability to “incorporate thrilling new sounds”, and that “there is always a gratifying curve and arch to her vocal and instrumental phrases, as well as in the shaping and pacing of whole movements”. Her first CD of chamber compositions, titled ‘Nyvaigs’, was recorded by Andreas Meyer of Meyer Media and released on the CRI label in April 2000. This CD is now distributed by New World Records. The chamber arrangement of her composition Nollaig (for children’s chorus and symphony orchestra) was recorded and released by the Virginia Children’s Chorus on their 2005 ‘Golden Thread’ CD. This arrangement has been accepted by Boosey & Hawkes for publication.
Barker is a Full Professor of Music Theory/Composition at the University of Delaware. She is Co-Chair of New Music Delaware and Co-Artistic Director/Founder of Still Breathing: The University of Delaware Contemporary Music Ensemble. As a William Penn Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, she received the Ph.D. and Masters degrees in music composition. She received two Masters degrees in piano performance and music composition respectively from Syracuse University, and an Honors Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Born and raised in Scotland, Barker has lived in America since 1987. In addition to composing, Barker remains active as a pianist.
Jennifer Barker’s Naibh Beags (Nyvaigs) belongs to a “battle music” genre that dates back to the Renaissance. Most battle pieces try to evoke the “thrill” of warfare. Barker approaches her subject with a modern sensibility that’s more conscious of the horror of battle alluded to in her text: two verses from The Highlander, an 18th Century poem that the composer read in her native Scots accent.
Naibh Beags depicts the 11th- and 12th-Century battles between the Celts and the Norse that culminated with a battle in which the Norse withdrew for the last time and burned their dead on islands still called the Burnt Isles. Barker opens with subdued ominous drumming on snares and timpani, and builds toward the clash as she reads the first half of the text. In the middle section, she switches to pure music and captures the frenzy of battle with devices that include some striking writing for saxophone and ocarina.
A soprano part combines syllables from Gaelic and Norwegian and evokes the fury and desperation of the combatants. The final section follows the madness with a beautiful floating melody for soprano, flute, and saxophone and a verse from the poem that describes the Norse retreat and the burning of the dead.
Broad Street Review, article by Tom Purdom, November 9th 2010 – review of Naibh Beags (Nyvaigs) performed by Orchestra 2001.
“…was extraordinarily moving. So was Jennifer Barker’s Blue Waters, a work for vibraphone commissioned by Corbett, and illuminated by dreamy images.”
The Scotsman, article by Kenneth Walton, July 31st 2009 – review of Blue Waters performed by Heather Corbett
“The ensemble concluded the evening with a performance of Jennifer Barker’s ‘sair wrocht wi lilt’…that was anything but passive…Combining contemporary classical structure with material in the Scottish folk tradition, ‘sair wrocht wi lilt’ came blazingly alive, with lovely, aching melodies that evoked not only Barker’s homeland but Americana as well…Heavily percussive (…including the performers’ bodies as instruments), the piece turned literally into a dance when Bob Butryn set his clarinet down for a show-stopping, superbly executed tap dance. I was reminded of film director John Ford’s wonderful, country dance set pieces, and also of the fact that the “avant garde” need not be unapproachable…”.
‘Signal to Noise’ Journal, issue #48, winter 2008, - review of sair wrocht wi lilt performed by Relâche
“Orr then went on to play a much more modern work by Jennifer Margaret Barker. It…took full advantage of the basically percussive nature of the modern piano. There were echoes of Carl Orff, Shostakovich, Copland, and even Mahler, to be heard throughout the piece. But in the end, it was clearly Barker’s own.”
Youngstown Vindicator, article by Jerry Stephens, February 23rd 2007 - review of Geenyoch Ballant performed by Kevin Robert Orr