Born in Connecticut, Barbara Kolb attended the Hartt College of Music of the University of Hartford, where she received her B.M. (cum laude) and M.M. degrees. She has been the recipient of many awards, including three Tanglewood Fellowships, four MacDowell Fellowships, and two Guggenheim Fellowships. Kolb became the first woman to receive the American Prix de Rome (1969-71) in music composition. She was also awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for a year of study in Vienna.
Kolb's music is characterized by interwoven, impressionistic textures and a freely atonal yet deeply expressive harmonic language. Many of her works have drawn upon ideas and images having their sources in literature or the visual arts.
Among the many commissions received by Barbara Kolb during the 1970s were those from the Koussevitzky Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Washington Performing Arts Society, the Music Teacher's National Association, and the Fromm Foundation (1970, 1980). She has been awarded grants from the Institute of Arts and Letters (1973) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1972, 1974, 1979, 1981, 1984, 1989 [recording grant], 1992).
The numerous major performances of Kolb's works include those by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Pierre Boulez (December 1975), and by the Boston Symphony under the direction of Seiji Ozawa, the latter both in Boston and on the BSO's Japanese tour in March 1978.
From 1979 to 1982 Kolb was Artistic Director of Contemporary Music at the Third Street Music School Settlement, presenting the Music New to New York concert series. In 1983-84 she spent nine months in residence at IRCAM, where she received a commission for Millefoglie, for chamber ensemble and computer tape. Subsequent to its premiere in Paris, Millefoglie has been performed in Amsterdam, Brussels, Cologne, Dallas, Washington DC, Gelsenkirche (Germany), Helsinki, Liège, Montreal, San Francisco, Vienna, and Tokyo, where it was played by the Tokyo Sinfonietta under Kunitaka Kokaji as part of the 1996 Tokyo Summer Festival. In 1984-85 Kolb held the post of visiting professor of composition at the Eastman School of Music; in 1986 she created, under the auspices of the Library of Congress, a music theory instruction program for the blind and physically impaired.
Umbrian Colors, for violin and guitar, was premiered in 1986 by Pina Carmirelli and David Starobin (for whom it was composed) at the Marlboro Music Festival. The world premiere of Yet That Things Go Round, commissioned by the Fromm Foundation and the New York Chamber Symphony, was given at the 92nd Street Y in New York, with Gerard Schwarz conducting, on May 2, 1987. In the same year, she received a prestigious Kennedy Center Friedheim Award for Millefoglie. The Enchanted Loom, a commission from the Atlanta Symphony, was premiered by that orchestra under the direction of Robert Shaw on February 15, 1990.
One of the composer's most widely-performed works is Voyants, for solo piano and chamber orchestra, a Radio France commission given its first performance in Paris in February 1991. Its U.S. premiere took place in February 1992 on an all-Kolb program by the Theater Chamber Players at Kennedy Center. In October of the same year, Voyants appeared on another all-Kolb concert, this one performed on Austrian radio by the Ensemble of the 20th Century. In addition, the American Symphony Orchestra, I Solisti di Villa Abrizzi (Venice), the Seattle Symphony, and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra have all programmed the piece, the latter on the 1996 "Imagine" festival in Memphis. Voyants was also performed in Rome in February 1997, with Andrea Morricone leading the Ensemble Terzo Suono.
That work was followed by All in Good Time, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for the orchestra's 150th anniversary season; it was given its premiere in February 1994 under the baton of Leonard Slatkin. Subsequently, Slatkin conducted All in Good Time with the St. Louis Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony. The Spring of 1997 brought performances of All in Good Time by two additional orchestras: the Long Beach Symphony, conducted by JoAnn Falletta, and the Hartford Symphony, led by Michael Lankester. Kolb's most recent orchestral piece is The Web Spinner (2004), a ten-minute essay commissioned by the Rhode Island Philharmonic and premiered by the ensemble under Larry Rachleff.
Kolb's newest chamber works include New York Moonglow, commissioned by Elisa Monte Dance and scored for a mixed sextet of saxophones, trumpet, strings and percussion; and Sidebars, a duet for bassoon and piano composed for Italian bassoonist Stefano Canuti. Virgin Mother Creatrix, an a cappella choral work inspired by the mysticism of Hildegard of Bingen, had its premiere in March 1998 at the International Festival of Women Composers at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where Kolb was the featured composer. Currently, she is working with regional performing arts groups in Providence, Rhode Island as part of a Meet the Composer residency.
Barbara Kolb is published by Boosey & Hawkes