composer and pianist

"Robert Chumbley’s [composition] is a good example of eclectic modern American writing; colorful, clear-textured, balancing rhythmic excitement and introspection. If his Self Studies are accurate, Chumbley is an interesting and complicated man"

--American Record Guide


Photo credit: Stephen Geiger


One of the most versatile musicians of our day, Robert Chumbley has dedicated his life to composing and conducting for the musical theatre, opera, ballet, chamber music, and the symphony. His compositions have been praised by numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Reviewing the world premiere of Three More Self Studies for violin, horn, cello, piano, and percussion, The Chicago Tribune praised: “Robert Chumbley evoked a much larger ensemble than the five players in Three More Self Studies might have suggested. His quintet fairly dripped with theatrical imagery and rhetoric. Chumbley used his material and instruments wisely, gradually expanding melodic fragments into full-size tunes, and reforming subgroups as the dramatic focus shifted.”

Mr. Chumbley has served as Music Director for Atlanta Ballet and Cleveland Opera. He has appeared as guest conductor for American Repertory Ballet, Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, the Royal Ballet Orchestra (London), the Carolina Chamber Symphony,Winston-Salem Symphony, and the Prague Chamber Orchestra. He has served as Principal Guest Conductor of the renowned Piedmont Wind Symphony and as Artistic Advisor for the Chicago Chamber Musicians.

His compositions have been commissioned throughout Europe and the United States and have been performed by such organizations as the Atlanta Ballet, North Carolina Symphony, Omaha Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Warsaw Philharmonic, Piedmont Wind Symphony, Chicago Chamber Musicians, Broyhill Chamber Ensemble, Boston Conservatory Chamber Players, the Da Vinci Trio, WGBH Radio (Boston, on a commission from Very Special Arts Massachusetts,) and major international music festivals including An Appalachian Summer, North American New Music Festival, MANCA New Music Festival (Nice, France,) Nestle/Musical Encounters Festival (Lisbon, Portugal,) and ArtsIgnite! He has written incidental theatrical music and three large-scale ballets. His works are recorded on Centaur, Navona and Parma Records.

In 1989, Mr. Chumbley won the Composer Fellowship Prize presented by the North Carolina Arts Council and followed that award with the Composer Fellow Prize from the Nebraska Arts Council in 1993. In 1989 he was honored by a major grant from Opera America for the initial commission and development of his opera Ordinary People for the Piedmont Opera and the Des Moines Metro Opera. In 1992, Opera America awarded him another grant for a second workshop production. The opera received a full semi-staged production from the Maryland Opera Studio in 2008. Mr. Chumbley has also been the recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation grant, the Irwin Friendlich Prize at the William Kapell International Piano Competition and First Prize at the International Musical Showcase Competition.

Recent performances of Mr. Chumbley's works include the world premiere and New York City premiere of his Particle I for solo cello (Millikin University, March 2017; Lincoln Center, June, 2017). The Letter for baritone voice and orchestra was premiered by Sinfonia da Camera, Ian Hobson conductor, at the Krannert Center for the Arts at the University of Illinois in October, 2015. Mr. Hobson also premiered his Three Etudes for solo piano at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City in January, 2016. Reviewing the Three Etudes, George Grella of New York Classical Review, wrote:

Chumbley’s piece is modeled after Chopin, but strays in subtle ways, as if honoring the master while quietly asserting its own path. While the sound of cascading, arpeggiated chords is familiar from Chopin, the formal design is more settled. These are etudes, not preludes, answers rather than questions. Chumbley’s reaction to the technical demands of Chopin’s composing was to dig in deeper. Rushing sequences of parallel chords spiraled toward a crunchy harmonic and emotional complexity. The music sounded as if it found Chopin both compelling and maddening, a wonderful response to the Polish composer’s unique complexities.

Mr. Hobson also premiered Brahmsiana II (three intermezzi) for piano at his Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall recital in March, 2019.

On a commission from the Dranoff Two Piano Foundation and the Chicago Duo Piano Festival, Chumbley's work Cries and Whispers was premiered in Miami in 2018 and in Chicago in 2021. Millikin University and pianist Silvan Negrutiu commissioned and premiered Five Bagatelles in 2019. Millikin University also commissioned his work for cello and wind symphony, Particle II, and presented the premiere in 2018. A third commission from the university resulted in Songs of the Siren for cello and piano, premiered by cellist Amy Catron and pianist Silvan Negrutiu in 2020.

On the heels of the success of Mr. Chumbley's first opera, Ordinary People, Abilene Christian University Opera Theater commissioned his second opera, Hidden Jewel. The opera, which story centers on the love affair between a German army officer and a Jewish girl during World War II, was premiered in a fully staged production in 2018. In 2019 the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians awarded Mr. Chumbley the operatic rights to McCullers' masterpiece novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. In collaboration with librettist and McCullers scholar, Carey Scott Wilkerson, portions of the work were presented in workshop at Millikin University in 2021.

Mr. Chumbley’s appearances as solo pianist have included invitations from Carnegie Hall, the 92nd Street in New York, and the U.S. Congress and the Ford Foundation for President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. He has appeared as soloist with the North Carolina Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, Lincoln Symphony, Symphony of the Americas, and the Orchestre Provence in Nice, France, among others. He has given the world and North American premieres of works by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Michael Colgrass—Tales of Power for solo piano at the 92nd St. Y and Memento for 2 Pianos with the Minnesota Orchestra and conductor Leonard Slatkin, and Alfred Schnittke with the Buffalo Philharmonic with conductor Gerhardt Zimmermann.

Mr. Chumbley has served on the faculties of Appalachian State University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts and the Juilliard School.