Skip to main content
David Conte headshot


Office 614


DMA, Cornell University

MFA, Cornell University

BM, Bowling Green State University

Courses Taught

Applied Lessons

Composition Seminar

Composer at the Piano

Music For Film

Awards and Distinctions

Fulbright Scholarship, 1976

Ralph Vaughan Williams Fellowship, 1989

Aspen Music Festival Conducting Fellowship, 1984

National Association of Teachers of Singing Composition Award, 2016

Over 30 productions of one-act opera “The Gift of the Magi” in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Russia.

Over 150 published compositions with E. C. Schirmer Music Company

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


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 seven operas, works for chorus, solo voice, orchestra, band, and chamber music.  He has received commissions from Chanticleer, the San Francisco, Oakland, Stockton, and Dayton Symphonies, the Atlantic Classical Orchestra; and from the American Guild of Organists.  In 2007 he received the Raymond Brock commission from the American Choral Directors Association, one of the nation’s highest honors in choral music.  His work is represented on many commercial CD recordings, including in 2015 Chamber Music of David Conte, on the Albany label;  in 2016 Choral Music of Conrad Susa and David Conte, on the Delos label; and in 2018 Everyone Sang: Vocal Music of David Conte on the Arsis label.   His opera The Gift of the Magi has received over 30 productions in the U. S., Canada, Europe, and Russia. He co-wrote the film score for the acclaimed documentary Ballets Russes, shown at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals in 2005, and composed the music for the PBS documentary, Orozco: Man of Fire, shown on the American Masters Series in the fall of 2007.   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 earned his Bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State University and his Master’s and Doctoral degrees from Cornell University, where he studied with Karel Husa.  He is Professor of Composition and Chair of the Composition Department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he has taught since 1985.  From 2011-2022 he served on the composition faculty of the European American Musical Alliance in Paris. In 2014 he was named Composer in Residence for Cappella SF, a professional chamber choir in San Francisco.  In 2016 his song cycle American Death Ballads won First Prize in the NATS Composition Competition, and was premiered by tenor Brian Thorsett and pianist Warren Jones at the NATS Conference in Chicago.