LJ White's music serves ideals of direct, focused and socially relevant expression, assimilating an unrestricted array of influences through unpredictable-yet-contagious rhythms, strange and evocative sonorities, self-evident gestures, and apposite forms.
White has worked with some of the most exciting players in contemporary music, including Alarm Will Sound, Ensemble SIGNAL, Ensemble Dal Niente, the JACK Quartet, the Spektral Quartet, Third Coast Percussion, Volti, and members of the International Contemporary Ensemble, Roomful of Teeth, the Talea Ensemble, and the Bang on a Can All-Stars. His upcoming projects include a commission from Ensemble Dal Niente, which will be premiered in Des Moines this April and reprised at the ensemble’s famed annual PARTY in Chicago in June; a commission from Third Angle Ensemble to create new works based on Elliot Smith’s songs in collaboration with the Sleeping Giant Composers Collective and Hand2Mouth Theatre Company; and a commission from the Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, funded by Chamber Music America, for an extended, multi-voice song cycle using poetry by various contemporary poets and live electronic vocal processing.
White’s chamber work Wilder Shores, commissioned by Third Angle Ensemble and premiered in June 2015 at the Bang on a Can Marathon in New York, is a setting of poetry by poets Matthew and Michael Dickman for violin, cello, and two narrators. The piece, following a structure divergent from but inspired by the poem it sets, features a rich succession and interplay of images, which are introduced and brought back, creating an inscrutable sense of familiarity, and chopped up and blended into a progressively finer mix. The work’s musical ideas, as they are stated, recalled, fused, and fragmented, create a collectively fraught, shape-shifting texture. The piece has been praised as “intriguingly swoopy and spiky” by New York Music Daily and "a highly colorful score that seemed to incorporate about every way of getting sound out of a violin and cello anyone has ever imagined” by Oregon Artswatch, whose review stated, "White made the most distinctive musical statement of the night.”
White’s recent choral work, Digression on Number 1, 1948, was developed over a yearlong residency with Volti, the renowned new music choir based in San Francisco, and premiered by the group in May 2015. The piece sets Frank O'Hara's poetry inspired by the titular Jackson Pollock painting, assembling a variegated fabric of sung vocals, speech, whispers, laughter, sighs, and speech-song shapes that derive from Pollock's methods and the painting's contours. The poem chronicles O’Hara’s experience as a viewer of the painting as a MoMA employee in New York, and White’s setting creates a broader depiction of a struggling O’Hara finding solace in the work of his recently deceased close friend, in addition to encapsulating the transcendent expenditure of energy and material found in the painting itself. The San Francisco Classical Voice called Digression on Number 1, 1948 “an evocative form of sonic architecture”, the San Francisco Examiner hailed it as “a fascinating approach to ‘art about art’”, and the music blog A Beast In A Jungle stated, “White’s imaginative vocal score features laughter, whispers, asides, and moments that sound like outtakes of hymns, creating a polyphony resembling bubbles rising within water which burst and then disappear once they reach the surface… White’s music is delightful and inventive.”
White's string quartet Zin zin zin zin was recorded by the Spektral Quartet on their album Chambers, released by Chicago's up-and-coming new record label Parlour Tapes+ in October 2013 to wide critical acclaim. Zin zin zin zin, which elaborates a fragment from a song by the Roots and considers aural characteristics of group speech and rap, has been called "a tour-de-force of quartet writing" by New Music Box and “a terrific satire on the inflections that give language meaning” by the Washington Post. The New York Times and Chicago Tribune, respectively, praised the entire album as "a vital primer to a bumper crop of talented young Chicago composers" and "a mind-blowing array of new sonic explorations by Chicago composers, and the Chicago Reader included the album in its column "Our Favorite Music of 2013", commenting, "I'm especially fond of LJ White's Zin zin zin zin." The Spektral Quartet has performed the piece extensively in concerts across the world, including on the 2015 Ecstatic Music Festival at Merkin Concert Hall, where it was hailed by the New York Times as a "confident miniature, rich in implications.” They will reprise the piece on next month’s Ear Taxi Festival in Chicago.
White has won the Craig and Janet Swan Prize, the Margaret Blackburn Composition Competition, an Emil and Ruth Beyer Award from the National Federation of Music Clubs, the Dolce Suono Ensemble Young Composer Competition, the North American Saxophone Alliance Composition Competition, and the American Prize. He has been in residence at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, among other colonies, and his work has been featured at a long list of high-profile festivals, including the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, CULTIVATE at Copland House, and the Composers Conference at Wellesley College. White has taught composition, music theory, music appreciation, and aural skills at Northwestern University and is Department Chair of Music Theory and Composition at the Merit School of Music. He has studied at Northwestern University, the University of California at Berkeley, the New England Conservatory of Music, and Boston University.