Deborah Kavasch, composer, soprano, and specialist in extended vocal techniques, became fascinated with music at an early age, sang in choirs as soon as she was allowed, and formally began studying piano and violin at the ages of eight and nine. Her violin studies led to a music scholarship to Bowling Green State University, Ohio, and her junior year studies at the University of Salzburg and the Mozarteum convinced her that her true love was music. Although she first earned a B.A. in German with a music minor in 1971, she completed a B.M. and M.M in music composition/theory in the next two years. By now she had discovered that composition was an art and discipline that could be learned rather than just intuited, and her desire for further study led her to the University of California, San Diego, where she worked primarily with Robert Erickson as well as with Roger Reynolds, Kenneth Gaburo, Pauline Oliveros, and Bernard Rands, completing her Ph.D in 1978. She was awarded a doctoral research assistantship at the newly established Center for Music Experiment, where she became a founding member of the Extended Vocal Techniques Ensemble, a group of musicians interested in exploring the musically expressive capacities of the human voice through study of other musical cultures and improvisation. Her first work for the ensemble, a humorous rendition of the Edward Lear poem, The Owl and the Pussycat (1974), was greatly contrasted by her dissertation composition, Requiem (1978), a 12-voice setting of the traditional Latin requiem mass described as “effectively stretching historic approaches to the mass…a strong emotional impact” (Cleveland Plain Dealer) and “a work of deep mystery and, yes, beauty” (New West).
Voice studies in La Jolla with Francis Kelly developed an extensive range and unique vocal capabilities which allow her to assay the traditional repertoire as well as the highly demanding vocal acrobatics of much of the contemporary scene. Shortly after joining the faculty of California State University, Stanislaus, in 1979, Kavasch wrote her first solo vocal work with extended techniques, Soliloquy (1981), on a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her compositional output has continued to feature much solo and solo vocal chamber music as well as choral works and instrumental solo, chamber and large ensemble compositions. First premiered in 1987 in San Francisco, her Double, Double , a “wonderfully sassy setting of the three witches’ scene from Macbeth… splendidly diabolical,” (International League of Women Composers JOURNAL) for three unaccompanied sopranos, continues to delight audiences. In 2003 she premiered The Fox and the Grapes (soprano and English horn) with Julie Ann Giacobassi, marking the fifth in an ongoing series of Aesop’s fables written for voice(s) and a variety of accompanying instruments. In April 2005 her Trio for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano was performed as winner of the chamber music composition award in the Athena Festival at Murray State University, Kentucky. In May 2005 she received performances of The Fox and the Grapes and Feather on God’s Breath, an a cappella choral work, at “Women in Music: A Festival of Accomplishments” at Otterbein College, Ohio. In the 2005-06 season she premiered with Giacobassi and Douglass Rioth Songs of the Swan Maiden, a song cycle for soprano, English horn and harp, her latest collaboration with poet Linda Bunney-Sarhad. Kavasch was one of several US composer/performers invited to present on the 2008 Beijing International Congress on Women in Music, was featured composer-in-residence for the 9th International Festival of Women in Music at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in March 2010, and will be the composer-in-residence for the NOW Music Festival in Columbus, Ohio, in late October 2010. In January 2011 she will be appearing in concert with the original Extended Vocal Techniques Ensemble at UC San Diego.
Kavasch has received grants and residencies in composition and performance from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Djerassi Foundation, The Barlow Endowment Lecture Series, the California Arts Council, the Ernest Bloch Music Festival and Composers Symposium, and the International Congress on Women in Music, and was a 1987 Fulbright Senior Scholar to Stockholm. She has had works commissioned and performed in North America, Europe, and the United Kingdom and has appeared in concert in major international music centers and festivals. She frequently presents on new music and women in music conferences and festivals, has premiered many new works, and has been described as a “multifaceted, multi-timbral vocalist” with “articulate radiance” (Los Angeles Times) and “astonishing range and agility” (Cleveland Plain Dealer). Her most recent CDs of original works, The Dark Side of the Muse, and Fables & Fantasies, have been released under the TNC Classical label. She is Professor of Music Theory/Composition and Voice at California State University, Stanislaus, and is married to composer John Marvin.