Joseph C. Phillips Jr.

Joseph C. Phillips Jr.

Photo credit: Jenny Wohrle

NACOGDOCHES, Texas – Joseph C. Phillips Jr., a music composition graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University, has been named one of Princeton University’s Mary Mackall Gwinn Hodder Fellows for the 2023-2024 academic year.

Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts recently announced the five newest recipients, which includes artist Kayla E., choreographer Moriah Evans, theater artist Modesto ‘Flako’ Jimenez, conceptual artist Charisse Pearlina Weston and composer Phillips, who studied with composition professor Dr. Stephen Lias while attending SFA.

“Joe was obviously a talented and fully formed composer when he enrolled at SFA through our online master’s program,” Lias said. “His music exuded a confidence and clarity of vision that has only expanded in the years since his graduation in 2011. Shortly after he finished, we organized a special studio trip to New York City so that some of our other composition students could hear a performance of Joe’s music at the Kaufman Center. Joe’s continued rise in stature has been exceptionally gratifying and is well-earned. He is an inspiring artist and a good friend.”

The Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University is an academic unit made up of the programs in creative writing, dance, theater, visual arts and the Princeton Atelier, a unique program that brings together professional artists from different disciplines to collaborate on new work, with guest artists and fellows.

Hodder Fellows may be writers, composers, choreographers, visual artists, performance artists, or other kinds of artists or humanists who demonstrate, as the program outlines, “much more than ordinary intellectual and literary gifts.”

“I am deeply honored to join the esteemed past Hodder Fellows, such as MacArthur writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Pulitzer writer Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer and MacArthur poet Natalie Diaz, and trumpeter/composer Amir ElSaffar,” Phillips said. “The fellowship will give me time and resources to continue the development of my opera cycle in order to realize one of the goals for the project, which is, as Indigenous writer Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz expressed, ‘how might acknowledging the reality of U.S. history work to transform society’ and how with truth and reconciliation in America ‘…we start to reimagine our…institutions as more – more just, more fair, more equal.’”

In making the announcement, Lewis Center Chair Judith Hamera said, “Our 2023-2024 Hodder fellows are a rigorously visionary group, probing the limits and potentials of their chosen media and exploring our most urgent issues in their work, including trauma, interiority, community, resistance and hope. Mrs. Hodder understood that making complex and compelling art requires time and support. We are ever grateful for her gift and very excited to welcome these five emerging artists to the Princeton University and Lewis Center community.”

Phillips’ music has been performed by the San Francisco Symphony, pianist Simone Dinnerstein, and at the Steve Reich Festival in The Hague, Netherlands, with compositions commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), the Ecstatic Music Festival, Maryland Opera Studio, the Crossing choir, and pianist Lara Downes. He has been featured in The New York Times, NPR “Weekend Edition,” BBC Music Magazine, Gramophone, and WNYC’s “New Sounds.” He conducts his large orchestra Numinous, which has released four critically well-received recordings of his music: “ The Music of Joseph C. Phillips, Jr.” (2003), “Vipassana” (2009), “Changing Same” (2015), and the latest “The Grey Land” (2020), a mono-opera that The New Yorker magazine notes is “rich with allusions to tragedy, hope and resistance” and a “...stirring meditation on racial injustice.”

During his fellowship year, Phillips will begin to develop three of the six operas in his forthcoming 1619 opera cycle partly inspired by the 2019 New York Times series The 1619 Project and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay for The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations.”

“My Fellowship year will be spent doing more research on the 1619 opera cycle through meeting and talking with various historians and faculty, both at Princeton University and beyond, and beginning to compose the next two operas in the six-opera cycle,” Phillips stated on his website

A self-proclaimed “late bloomer” in the composing scene, Phillips earned his undergraduate music degree from the University of Maryland-College Park and a master’s in composition from SFA.

His ensemble, Numinous, is a flexible group of up to 30 musicians he founded in 2000 to perform his works. Part chamber orchestra, part contemporary alternative group, Numinous transmutes inspiration from contemporary classical, jazz, world and popular music as well as cinema, literature and science.

In addition to his many composer pursuits, Phillips is a full-time teacher. He formerly taught high school band and International Baccalaureate music at Interlake High School in Washington state where in 1996 he was Educator of the Year for the city of Bellevue and again nominated in 1998. He is a long-time teacher at PS 321 in the Park Slope section of "brownstone" Brooklyn.