Over the month of March 2003, classical composer David Ludwig worked on a new quartet for oboe and strings dedicated to oboist Katherine Needleman and titled The Catherine Wheel that premiered at the Gardner Museum later that year. On Saturday, October 18, Ludwig introduced the piece, illustrating his ideas with examples played live by Ms. Needleman and friends. The piece was presented in full the next day as part of the Gardner’s Sunday Concert Series and was followed by a Q&A.
Ludwig also worked with a class of fifth graders from the Tobin School and fourth graders from the Farragut School in October 2003. Students began in the classroom painting and drawing in response to four pieces of music Ludwig had selected. Though not initially revealed to the students, in the composer’s mind each musical piece was connected to artwork in the collection. The following day, when students visited the Museum, they made unprompted connections between what they were looking at and what they had heard the previous day.
Ludwig also visited the groups’ classrooms, accompanied by a violinist and a bassoonist. Using a simple graphical system Ludwig had devised, every student had the opportunity to compose music for the musicians to play and to conduct their music. By linking explorations of art, discussions of the musical selections, and systems for composing and conducting music through visual systems, Ludwig crafted frameworks for meaningful multi-sensory experiences for each student. By the end of the session with the musicians, students were asking for autographs.
In April 2005, Three Portraits of Isabella, a composition written by Ludwig for pianist Jeremy Denk was premiered at the Museum. The first and third movements are based on portraits by John Singer Sargent in the Gothic and MacKnight rooms and the second movement evokes a painting by Anders Zorn in the Short Gallery.
A CD of Denk’s performance of Three Portraits of Isabella together with a descriptive booklet about the work were included in the Museum’s 2003-2004 Centennial Report.
David Ludwig is a classical composer whose work has been widely performed at venues that include Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Library of Congress; his music has been heard on PBS and NPR's Weekend Edition. Ludwig has written for many prominent soloists, including Jonathan Biss and Jaime Laredo; ensembles such as Eighth Blackbird and Network for New Music; and orchestras. He has held residencies at the MacDowell and Yaddo artists colonies. He was selected by NPR music as one of the top 100 Composers under Forty in 2012. In 2013, his choral work The New Colossus was selected to open the private prayer service for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. In 2018, he was awarded the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage Fellowship in the Arts.