The Chicago Tribune has praised the music of David “Clay” Mettens (b.1990) as “a thing of remarkable beauty,” displaying a “sensitive ear for instrumental color.” His recent work seeks to distill the strange and sublime from the familiar. He reflects upon the experience of wonder in music that ranges from rich and sonorous to bright and crystalline, seeking expressive immediacy in lucid forms and dramatic shapes.
His work has been recognized with a 2020 Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, Ithaca College’s 2018 Heckscher Foundation Composition Prize, first prize in the 2018 Salvatore Martirano Composition Competition, a 2016 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, and the 2015 SCI/ASCAP graduate student commission. He received a commission from the American Opera Initiative for a one-act opera, which was premiered in December 2015 by the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center. His orchestra piece “Sleeping I am carried…” was selected for the 24th Annual Underwood New Music Readings with the American Composers Orchestra and the 2015 [‘tactus] Young Composers Forum with the Brussels Philharmonic. Subsequently, the Brussels Philharmonic, led by Stéphane Denève, performed the piece in December 2016. The piece was also the winner of Eastman’s 2014 Wayne Brewster Barlow Composition Prize, and received a premiere with the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra in October 2014. Other orchestral performances include Chicago Civic Orchestra, L’orchestre philharmonique de Radio France at ManiFeste 2018, and with the Austrian Tonkünstler Orchestra as part of the Grafenegg Festival’s Ink Still Wet workshop in 2017 and 2018.
Additionally, his works have been performed by Grossman Ensemble, Spektral Quartet, Yarn/Wire, the New York Vituoso Singers, soprano Tony Arnold and the soundSCAPE Festival Sinfonietta, on the Contempo Series at the University of Chicago, by Ensemble Dal Niente at the 2017 SCI National Conference, and the Civitas Ensemble on Chicago’s inaugural Ear Taxi Festival. Saxophonists Chien-Kwan Lin, Timothy McAllister, and Otis Murphy performed his trio Everything that rises at the American Saxophone Academy Faculty Recital in July 2016. At Eastman, his works were featured on OSSIA, Composers’ Forum, Graduate Composers’ Sinfonietta, and Computer Music Center concerts.
His music appears on recordings by the Grossman Ensemble (Fountain of Time, 2020), Fuego Quartet (Migration, 2019), Lotus (Rogue Lotus, 2018), and the American Wild Ensemble (Duos and Trios, 2022; Music in the American Wild, 2018).
He is currently Interim Director of Composition at Roosevelt University and a Humanities Teaching Fellow at the University of Chicago, where he completed a PhD in music composition in 2021. As a PhD candidate, he studied composition with Anthony Cheung, Sam Pluta, and Augusta Read Thomas. He earned his masters degree at the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with David Liptak, Robert Morris, Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, and Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, and computer music with Allan Schindler. A native of Covington, KY, he attended the University of South Carolina, earning an undergraduate degree in music composition and a clarinet performance certificate. He was a recipient of the McNair Scholarship, the top award USC gives to out-of-state students, and the 2013 Arthur M. Fraser Award from the School of Music. There, his composition teachers were John Fitz Rogers and Fang Man.
He has presented his research on the music of Thomas Adès at the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition 30th Anniversary Conference hosted by the University of Louisville and the first annual THEMUS graduate-student music theory and musicology conference at Temple University. In 2012, he was awarded a USC Magellan Scholar Grant for a research project involving pipe organs, spectral music, and computer music under the guidance of faculty mentor Reginald Bain.