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SFCM Announces Acclaimed Composer Jake Heggie as 2023 Commencement Speaker

Called the “world's most popular 21st-century opera and art song composer,” Heggie will be awarded an honorary doctorate while celebrating the graduating class.

March 30, 2023 by Mark Taylor

Hailed by the Associated Press as "one of the pre-eminent contemporary opera composers," Jake Heggie will speak and headline as part of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s (SFCM) 2023 commencement exercises on May 19 at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco. He will also be awarded an honorary doctor of musical arts degree.

Heggie is the artist behind nine full-length operas, including Dead Man Walking, Moby Dick, and Great Scott, and has also composed nearly 300 art songs, as well as chamber, choral, and orchestral works. Recently, it was announced that a bold new Ivo van Hove production of Heggie’s Dead Man Walking will open the '23/'24 season of The Metropolitan Opera.

“SFCM is all about possibility and the future! The magnificent facilities, faculty, and staff are devoted to providing young musicians the opportunities, technique, preparation and skills they will need to build meaningful careers in the challenging and highly competitive field of music. What a joy and privilege it has been throughout my career to work with gifted SFCM students and alums. I’m grateful, touched and thrilled beyond words by this incredible honor,” Heggie said.

This will be Heggie’s second formal visit to SFCM this semester. In January, singers and musicians performed a run-through of his new work, Intelligence, in front of an audience of SFCM students ahead of its premiere with the Houston Grand Opera. In addition, Heggie workshopped his major opera Great Scott at SFCM back in 2014.

“Jake Heggie is an artist of singular distinction and exceptional quality who has transformed the canon of great opera and inspired audiences across the world. While his genius as a composer is widely known, he is also an individual of exceptional character and an endlessly generous supporter of education,” said SFCM President David Stull.

“We are honored to recognize Jake for his transformative contributions to music and look forward to his remarks to this wonderful graduating class,” Stull added. 

Heggie’s operas and art songs have been performed extensively on five continents, championed by some of the world’s most beloved artists. Specifically Dead Man Walking—called “the most celebrated American opera of the 21st century” by the Chicago Tribune—has received 75 international productions since its premiere in October of 2000.

The winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Heggie has served as a composer mentor for Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative, Chicago Opera Theater’s Vanguard Initiative and CU Boulder’s New Opera Workshop. He has been awarded the Eddie Medora King Prize from UT Austin’s Butler School of Music and the Champion Award from the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

This will not be Heggie’s first time participating in an SFCM graduation. Heggie also attended SFCM’s 2022 commencement as a special guest, playing piano alongside honoree Joyce DiDonato, who performed his work for graduating students and their guests.

At this year’s commencement, SFCM expects to award 189 credentials across its undergraduate, graduate, postgraduate and artist diploma programs.

Additional details for SFCM’s commencement activities are available online.