Thomas Whitman, Composer

A Scandal in Bohemia

Selected Compositions

The Black Swan



Gamelan Semara Santi

Chester Children's Gamelan Project

photo: Laurie Beck

            Thomas Whitman (b. 1960) began his musical studies with cellist Harry Wimmer.  His first composition teachers were Gerald Levinson, Thomas Oboe Lee, and Joan Panetti at Swarthmore College and Max Lifchitz.  He earned a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, where his teachers included George Crumb, Jay Reise, and Richard Wernick.  As a Luce Scholar, he studied traditional music in Bali, Indonesia in 1986-7 where his principal teachers were the late I Madé Gerindem and I Wayan Rai.  He is also an accomplished viola da gambist.

Critics have praised Whitman’s music as “lyrical” (The Philadelphia Inquirer) “beautiful, sensuous” (Philadelphia Weekly) and “genuinely magical” ( The Boston Herald). Opera News noted his ability “to write dramatic music that soars into lyrical melodies, filled with allusive atmosphere and rich emotional textures."  His many prizes and honors include an ASCAP Foundation Grant and artist residencies at the MacDowell colony and at Yaddo.  He has received commissions from New York's North/South Consonance, Philadelphia's Orchestra 2001, Boston's ALEA III, Network for New Music, and The Philadelphia Singers, among others. 

Whitman has worked collaboratively with several choreographers as well as with the poet Nathalie Anderson, with whom he has written several works for the stage.  One of their chamber operas, The Black Swan, was produced in 1998 with stage direction by Sarah Caldwell. Their third opera, A Scandal in Bohemia, based on the Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle, was presented in a concert version in February 2009 by Orchestra 2001.

The 2010-11 season included scenes from a new chamber opera based on Boccaccio's Decameron, written in collaboration with six other Philadelphia-area composers and International Opera Theater; a composition for children commissioned by Auricolae, funded in part by a Community Partners grant from the American Composers Forum, Philadelphia Chapter; and a sonata for violin and piano, commissioned by Marcantonio Barone and Barbara Govatos, premiered at the Delaware Chamber Music Festival. As the recipient of a 2010 Independence Foundation Fellowship for the Arts, Whitman composed the score for Beirut, Philadelphia, a new film by independent filmmaker Eugene Martin. Other recent projects include the choral work At War's End (commissioned by Network for New Music and performed in collaboration with members of the Mendelssohn Club) and Inside/Outside for Balinese gamelan and western instruments, commissioned by Orchestra 2001.


Mr. Whitman has taught at Swarthmore College since 1990. He is the founder and co-director of Gamelan Semara Santi, the Philadelphia area’s only Balinese percussion orchestra,  which performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra in October 2003 at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and at Carnegie Hall. He also directs the Chester Children’s Gamelan, a volunteer effort that introduces the rich traditions of classical Indonesian music and dance to schoolchildren in Chester, Pennsylvania.


Selected compositions are available on North/South Recordings and Albany Records.

Mr. Whitman lives in Philadelphia with his wife and three children.

 Contact Information

Swarthmore College Department of Music and Dance

updated 5/15/12