"Des couleurs, il y en a partout dans les créations de Mary Bichner[.]"
- La Nouvelle République
Mary Bichner (b. 1982) is an American orchestral composer with synesthesia (a neurological condition that allows Mary to “see” splashes of specific colors when she hears their corresponding pitches sounded). Her work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, BBC Music Magazine [UK], La Nouvelle Republique [France], and more.
In late May 2024, Mary will serve as composer-in-residence at The Vasilicos of Santorini, Greece; where she will compose a new string quartet work inspired by the rainbow colors of the world-famous Santorini sunset using her sound-to-color synesthesia. In previous years, Mary has served as composer in residence at The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of Taos, NM, USA (September-December 2018); Mount Auburn Cemetery of Cambridge, MA, USA (May 2016-November 2017); and Marble House Project of Dorset, VT, USA (May 2016).
Currently, Mary is in the process of composing “The Memoirs of Antonina”, a three-act orchestral opera inspired by Marie Antoinette of France. Taking its name from a slanderous 18th-century tract about the queen’s rumored exploits and indiscretions, “The Memoirs of Antonina” focuses on the final years of Marie Antoinette’s life, and pits two versions of the queen (performed by two different singers) against one another: the imagined breezy libertine derided by revolutionary pamphleteers, and the distraught historical figure determined to reclaim her kingdom and reputation. A first musical draft of the opera was completed in 2017-2019, with a second musical draft begun in June 2022 and nearly complete in early 2024. (More information on the opera can be found on the “Memoirs of Antonina” mini-site right HERE.)
In 2023, Mary released “Oh, the OF It All!”, a nine-minute miniature ballet for 19th-century-style orchestra. Based on a libretto by playwright John J King, “Oh, the OF It All!” tells the tale of American illustrator/author Edward Gorey and his fondness for choreographer George Balanchine’s Days at the New York City Ballet. The work was recorded by the Budapest Scoring Orchestra at Rottenbiller Studios in Budapest, Hungary in October 2022; and released in January 2023 alongside a music video featuring footage from the recording session paired with the libretto’s text, so that viewers can follow along with the story. (More information on this ballet, including the libretto music video, can be found on the “Oh, the OF It All!” mini-site right HERE.)
Since 2022, Mary has collaborated with French composer, poet, and blues vocalist Christina Goh on “Rencontres Poétiques”, a poetry-focused international chamber concert series. Each concert in the series features musical settings composed by Bichner and Goh for classic poems in both French and English; inspired by the works of Yves Bonnefoy, Phillis Wheatley, Honoré de Balzac, Edgar Allan Poe, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, Emily Dickinson, and more. The first edition of the concert took place in Boston, MA, USA on April 13th 2022 at the Museum of Science Boston’s Mugar Omni Theatre; featuring a world premiere from each composer, as well as gorgeous visuals custom-made by the Museum’s award-winning artistic teams accompanying each song via the theatre’s five-story screen. The second edition of the concert took place in Tours, France on October 20th 2022 at Le Centre Musical Jean de Ockeghem, an authentic 12th century abbey turned performance venue; complete with a multi-sensory/synesthetic pre-show experience that included color-changing lights, images, and immersive sound. The next edition of ”Rencontres Poétiques” will take place during France’s National Poetry Month (known as “Le Printemps des Poètes”) on Thursday, March 28th 2024 at Salons Ronsard in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, France. (More information on this project, including photos and videos from the live events as well as collaborators for each, can be found HERE.)
From 2017-2020, Mary collaborated annually with the prestigious Museum of Science, Boston on the groundbreaking “Synesthesia Suite: Live” concert series: an immersive musical event in which live performances of Mary’s compositions (performed by Mary Bichner and Planetary Quartet) were paired with customized 360° full-dome visuals created by the museum’s award-winning planetarium team. The visuals for each piece were directly inspired by Mary’s synesthesia, allowing audience members the unique opportunity to “hear” color and “see” sound just as Mary does when she listens to music. (More information on this project, including photos and videos from the live events as well as collaborators for each, can be found HERE.)
From April 2016 to November 2017, Mary served as composer-in-residence at the historic Mount Auburn Cemetery of Cambridge and Watertown, MA, USA. In the first year of her residency, Mary composed twelve new works inspired by the cemetery’s breathtaking landscape and landmarks, using her sound-to-color synesthesia to select the musical components that best “match” the natural color palette of each location at different times of year. In January of 2017, the works were recorded by a 19-piece chamber orchestra at WGBH Studios of Boston MA, and were released online as a digital album on June 3rd 2017. The tracks are also featured in Mount Auburn Cemetery’s new mobile app, allowing visitors to the cemetery to experience the music in the setting that inspired it. (View a brief documentary of this project HERE.)
Mary has performed frequently in the United States and France, with past venues including: The Charles Hayden Planetarium in Boston, MA, USA; Le Centre Musical Jean de Ockeghem in Tours, France; The Visual Arts Center of New Jersey in Summit, NJ, USA; The Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA, USA; l’Université de Tours in Tours, France; The Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, PA, USA; and Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA, USA; among others.
Past awards include receiving a 2017 Iguana Music Fund Grant, receiving a 2014 Somerville Arts Council Music Fellowship Grant, being named the SAC Somerville Artist of the Month for March 2014, and receiving a 2014 San Diego Film Award for her musical score of the short film, “Just Desserts”.
Mary resides in Boston, MA, USA with her beloved husband, and an excessive collection of rainbow-colored writing utensils.
Mary Bichner is an American orchestral composer with synesthesia (a neurological condition that allows Mary to “see” splashes of specific colors when she hears their corresponding pitches sounded) whose work has recently appeared in National Geographic, BBC Music Magazine, La Nouvelle République, and more. Noted commissions and collaborations include serving as composer-in-residence at The Vasilicos of Santorini, Greece, where Mary will compose a new string quartet work inspired by the colors of the world-famous Santorini sunset (forthcoming); serving a two-year composer residency at the historic Mount Auburn Cemetery of Massachusetts; serving as composer-in-residence at The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico and Marble House Project of Vermont; a multi-year partnership with the Museum of Science Boston for the “Synesthesia Suite: Live” concert series; and an ongoing partnership with French composer Christina Goh for the "Rencontres Poétiques" international poetry chamber concert series; among others. She is currently writing a full-length opera inspired by Marie Antoinette, entitled "The Memoirs of Antonina".