A photo of composition professor, David Conte, from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music

“To recommend as highly as I do the really gifted David Conte is an endless pleasure, for he works with such passion, such conviction, that every gesture coming from him is showing the rare quality of his personality.” —Nadia Boulanger


  • DMA, Cornell University
  • MFA, Cornell University
  • BM, Bowling Green State University


  • Private Lessons
  • Music for Film
  • Composition Seminar
  • 19th- and 20th-Century Orchestral Masterworks
  • Classical and Popular Song Cycles


  • Fulbright Scholarship, 1976
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams Fellowship, 1989
  • Aspen Music Festival Conducting Fellowship, 1984
  • National Association of Teachers of Singing Composition Award, 2016
  • Composition Faculty, European American Musical Alliance/Nadia Boulanger Institute, Paris
  • Over 100 published compositions with E. C. Schirmer Music Company

What is your hometown?

Lakewood, OH

What is your favorite recording?

Beethoven: Nine Symphonies; Cleveland Orchestra; George Szell, conductor

What are you passionate about outside of music?

Film, history, politics, religion, and reading.

Who were your major teachers?

Nadia Boulanger, Karel Husa, and Steven Stucky.

What is a favorite quote that you repeatedly tell students?

“Advice to young composers: make a list of the music you love; learn it by heart; then, when composing, never avoid the obvious.”
—Nadia Boulanger

What was the defining moment when you decided to pursue music as a career?

After finishing my first serious composition at the age of 14.

What was a turning point in your career?

Going to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger when I was 19 years old.

If you weren't a musician or teacher, what do you think you would be doing now?

Writing screenplays.

What is your daily routine?

Best composing time is in the mornings; when a piece is well underway, I work all day, and into the night.

If you could play only three composers for the rest of your life, who would they be?

Bach, Chopin, and Ravel.

From a music history perspective, what year and city are most important to you?

Paris, 1894 — the year of Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

What are your most important collaborations?

The Gift of the Magi (opera); Nicholas Giardini, librettist; Ballets Russes (film score); Todd Boekelheide, composer; September Sun (chorus/orchestra); John Stirlng Walker, poet

Who have you had the privilege of teaching?

I've had over 100 composition students since beginning teaching at SFCM in 1985. I was privileged to feature piano pieces by 32 of my former students on my 60th birthday concert in 2015.

What are your academic publications?

Toward a Choral Pedagogy for Composers, The Choral Journal, 2014
A Copland Portrait: Memories of a Friendship and Thoughts About His Influence on American Choral Music, The Choral Journal, 2012
Vaughan Williams’ Three Shakespeare Songs: A Guide for Conductors and Composers, The Choral Journal, 2002

What recordings can we hear you on?

Chamber Music of David Conte, Albany Records
Choral Music of Conrad Susa and David Conte, Delos
The Gift of the Magi; Firebird Motel, Arsis Audio

What is your unrealized project?

A full-length grand opera.


David Conte is the composer of over one hundred and fifty works published by E. C. Schirmer Music Company, including six operas, a musical, works for chorus, solo voice, orchestra, and chamber music. He has received commissions from Chanticleer,  the San Francisco, Oakland, Dayton, and Stockton Symphonies, the Atlantic Classical Orchestra, the American Guild of Organists, Sonoma City Opera and the Gerbode Foundation. In 2007 he received ACDA’s Raymond Brock Award. His opera “The Gift of the Magi”  has received over 30 productions in the U. S., Canada, and Europe. He co-wrote the score for the acclaimed documentary Ballets Russes, shown at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals , and composed the music for the PBS documentary, Orozco: Man of Fire. In 1982, Conte lived and worked with Aaron Copland while preparing a study of the composer’s sketches, having received a Fulbright Fellowship for study with Copland's teacher Nadia Boulanger in Paris, where he was one of her last students.  He was also recipient of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Fellowship and an Aspen Music Festival Conducting Fellowship. David Conte earned his Bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State University, where he studied with Wallace DePue, and his Master’s and Doctoral degrees from Cornell University, where he studied with Karel Husa and Steven Stucky. He taught at Cornell University, Keuka College, Colgate University, and Interlochen. In 2010 he joined the composition faculty of the European American Musical Alliance in Paris. In 2014 he was named Composer in Residence with Cappella SF, a professional chorus in San Francisco.