Born in Coulee Dam, Washington, in 1951, Philip Carlsen has degrees from the University of Washington, Brooklyn College, and the CUNY Graduate Center. His principal composition teachers were Robert Suderburg and Jacob Druckman; he also studied with William Bergsma, Stuart Dempster, Mario Davidovsky, and Charles Dodge. Carlsen has received fellowships from the Maine Arts Commission, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and a residency at the MacDowell Colony. In 1989, he was awarded the American Composers Alliance/Town Hall Commission, which resulted in a piece for the Manhattan Marimba Quartet, Evenings Sabres. He was the winner of a commission from the National Symphony Orchestra and the Kennedy Center in connection with the orchestra's residency in Maine, writing a septet entitled Maine Traveler's Advisory that was premiered at the Kennedy Center in November 2000. In the summer of 2003 he was a composition fellow at the Ernest Bloch Music Festival Composers Symposium in Newport, Oregon, for which he wrote the quartet Far Psalteries of Summer.
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Works commissioned by Maine ensembles include Suite Mawar Mekar (2003) for Javanese gamelan and Western orchestra, written for Bates College, A Dark Pine’s Hand (1997) and Rowing in Eden (1992) for Toshi Shimada and the Portland Symphony Orchestra; The Garden (2000), Night Thoughts (1996), and Four Journeys in Maine (1989) for the chorus and orchestra at UMF; Songs of Herself (1993) for the Occasional Chorale; and Penumbra (1987) for the violin, clarinet, and piano trio of the same name. His Landscape with Ladyslipper (1997) was commissioned and premiered by the Sebago/Long Lake Region Chamber Music Festival in celebration of its 25th anniversary season. The Bossov Ballet Theatre of Pittsfield, ME, commissioned him in 1998 to write a two-act ballet, Holly and Ivy, which was produced for two Christmas seasons at several venues in Maine. A member of the University of Maine at Farmington faculty since 1982, Carlsen conducts the UMF Community Orchestra and teaches a wide range of courses. He received UMF's Distinguished Faculty Award in 1993, and, for the 1996-97 academic year, the Libra Professorship, an endowed chair which allowed him to devote half his time to composition. Currently, he teaches half-time at UMF, and half-time at Bates College, where he conducts the Bates Orchestra.