× Past Concerts
Jessie Montgomery
Starburst for String Orchestra
At a Glance
  • Composer: born December 8, 1981, New York City
  •  Work composed: 2012 for the Sphinx Virtuosi
  •  World premiere: September 2012 by the Sphinx Virtuosi at the New World Center in Miami, FL
  • Instrumentation: string orchestra (originally for string quartet)
  • Estimated duration: 3 minutes


Jessie Montgomery’s music combines classical language with elements of vernacular music, improvisation, language, and social justice. The result has earned Montgomery rave reviews for her “vibrantly inventive original works for strings” (ClassicsToday.com) and numerous awards, including the ASCAP Foundation’s Leonard Bernstein Award. In May 2021, Montgomery began her three-year appointment as the Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Since 1999, Montgomery has been affiliated with The Sphinx Organization, which supports young African-American and Latinx string players, and has served as composer-in-residence for the Sphinx Virtuosi, the Organization’s flagship professional touring ensemble. She was awarded a generous MPower grant to assist in the development of her 2016 debut album, Strum: Music for Strings (Azica). In 2019, the New York Philharmonic selected Montgomery as one of the featured composers for its Project 19, which marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting American women the right to vote.

“This brief one-movement work for string orchestra is a play on imagery of rapidly changing musical colors,” Montgomery writes of Starburst. “Exploding gestures are juxtaposed with gentle fleeting melodies in an attempt to create a multidimensional soundscape. A common definition of a starburst – ‘the rapid formation of large numbers of new stars in a galaxy at a rate high enough to alter the structure of the galaxy significantly’ – lends itself almost literally to the nature of the performing ensemble who premiered the work, the Sphinx Virtuosi, and I wrote the piece with their dynamic in mind.”


© Elizabeth Schwartz