Born in 1957 in Los Angeles, he played the trombone as a young man. He studied at Stanford, then Iowa and Yale universities. His teachers included Donald Martin Jenni, Lou Harrison, Martin Bresnick, Leland Smith, Jacob Druckman, Roger Reynolds, and Morton Subotnick, as well as Hans Werner Henze in Tanglewood. As a student at Yale he was involved in a concert marathon titled Sheep’s Clothing, started by Bresnick, which influenced the outside-of-the-box concept of New York’s Bang on a Can Festival held by Lang and of the eponymous artistic collective which he coformed with Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon from 1987 onwards.
David Lang is one of the most frequently performed US composers, whose works are in the repertoires of such ensembles and institutions as BBC Symphony Orchestra, the International Contemporary Ensemble, eighth blackbird, Santa Fe Opera, New York Philharmonic, Netherlands Chamber Choir, Boston Symphony, Münchener Kammerorchester, and Kronos Quartet. They have been presented at such famous concert venues and festivals as Lincoln Center, Southbank Centre, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Barbican Centre, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Tanglewood, BBC Proms, MusicNOW, Münchener Biennale, Settembre Musica, Sydney 2000 Olympic Arts Festival, Almeida, the Holland Festival, Berliner Festspiele, as well as festivals in Adelaide and Strasbourg.
Lang’s numerous accolades include the Pulitzer Prize for the little match girl passion, Musical America’s Composer of the Year, Carnegie Hall’s Debs Composer’s Chair, Rome Prize, as well as Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. He has received commissions and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1999 he won the Bessie Award for his music to choreographer Susan Marshall’s spectacle The Most Dangerous Room in the House.
His works are regularly used in ballet and modern dance performances by choreographers such as Twyla Tharp, Benjamin Millepied, Susan Marshall, Édouard Lock, and companies such as Paris Opera Ballet, New York City Ballet, La La La Human Steps, and the Nederlands Dans eater. Lang has composed music to films notably by Paolo Sorrentino (Youth, 2015), Jonathan Parker ((Untitled), 2009), Scott Willis (The Woodmans, 2010), and Paul Dano (Wildlife, 2018). His string arrangements were also used in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000), and his original works, on the soundtrack for Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning La Grande Bellezza (2013). His music has been released under such well-known labels as Sony Classical, Harmonia Mundi, Teldec, BMG, Point, Chandos, Argo/Decca, Cantaloupe, and others.
Selected works: illumination rounds for violin and piano (1981), spud for ensemble (1986), are you experienced? for narrator and ensemble (1987), orpheus over and under for piano duo (1989), the anvil chorus for percussion (1991), face so pale for six pianos (1992), press release for bass clarinet (1992), memory pieces for piano (1992), slow movement for ensemble (1993), modern painters, opera to a libretto by Manuela Hoelterho (1995), child for chamber ensemble (1999–2001), men for trombone and ensemble (2001), Lost Objects, opera to a libretto by Deborah Artman (with Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe, 2001), the so-called laws of nature for percussion quartet (2002), world to come for solo cello and prerecorded cellos (2003), Shelter, opera to a libretto by Deborah Artman (with Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe, 2005), again (after ecclesiastes) for mixed choir (2005), pierced for cello, piano, percussion and strings (2007), the little match girl passion for choir (2008), death speaks for amplified performers: soprano, violin, electric guitar and piano (2012), love fail for four singers (two sopranos and two altos) playing simple percussion instruments (2012; arr. for female choir, 2016), the whisper opera for soprano, flute, clarinet, percussion and cello (2013), mountain for orchestra (2014), just (after song of songs) for three singers, percussion, viola and cello (2014; version with string quartet 2018), anatomy theater, opera (libretto written with Mark Dion; 2016), simple song #3 (from the film Youth) for soprano, violin and orchestra (2015), the public domain for a thousand singers (2016), man made, concerto for percussion quartet (2013–17), symphony without a hero for orchestra (2017), the mile-long opera for a thousand singers to texts by Anne Carson and Claudia Rankine (with Elizabeth Diller, 2018), the writings for choir (2005–19), prisoner of the state, opera (2019), composition as explanation for chamber ensemble (2020), sun-centered for chamber choir (2022); ballet and film music.