Laura Kaminksy: Women’s Opera Network Spotlight

Full Name
Laura Kaminsky

Current Title
Composer-in-residence/Professor

Company/Organization
American Opera Projects/Conservatory of Music at Purchase College, State University of New York

Time in Current Position
1.5 years/11 years

Years Working Professionally in the Field
Many!

What was your career path to your current position?
I’ve been a composer since I first imagined an “opera for marionettes” for my little sisters and friends to perform when I was about 10 years old. But being a composer isn’t about holding a position, although I’ve had many different roles as a presenter/producer and educator. From producing the lecture and film programs at the 92nd Street Y in New York shortly after leaving school, through heading the European Mozart Academy in Poland in the late 90s, to my current positions at American Opera Projects and Purchase College/SUNY, I’ve been an artistic director at several institutions, a professor, music chair and dean, the founder of a new music collective, and a producer of CDs. But I am always a composer first, balancing a rewarding mix of commissions and performances of opera, chamber, solo and orchestral music.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome on that path?
The biggest obstacle for me has been, over many years, to be able to prioritize the need for solitude and quiet — reflective time that composing requires — with the demands of my work as a presenter/producer or educator. It has only been in the past few years that I have allowed myself to put composing first. I am grateful to American Opera Projects and Purchase College for working with me to craft positions at both institutions that support this commitment.

Who was your greatest advocate or mentor?
I am not sure who to acknowledge first for being a great mentor or advocate, but many have inspired and encouraged me, and for different reasons: Meredith Monk, Joan Tower, Ursula Oppens, Miriam Gideon, Louise Talma, Sheila Silver, Tania Leon, John Corigliano, Charles Jarden, Betty Allen, Jenny Bilfield, Susan Feder, Leon Botstein, John Duffy, Margaret Kampmeier, Matt Sullivan, Idith Meshulam, Judy Rubin, Ralph Jackson, my parents, and above all, my wife, Rebecca Allan. (If I have neglected anyone, I am sure I will remember in the middle of the night in a state of anxiety, awaken and then ask for your forgiveness.)

What is the best piece of advice you would offer someone at the start of her/his career?
Always make the best work you can. Always effort honestly and tirelessly. Never compromise yourself artistically. Be a respectful colleague. Be generous to and supportive of those with whom you engage professionally, and honor their work, celebrating their triumphs and lamenting their failures. Take risks. Pay attention to the broader world in which you live. Being an artist requires being an engaged citizen.

What is the one thing you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
I wish I had been braver and had allowed myself to truly prioritize the composing over the administrative work. And I wish I had better acknowledged that it’s really hard to do anything solo and accepted that it takes a support network, a village, maybe even a continent.