updated 13 November 2023
© Alex Welsh

Gabriella Smith

American composer born 26 December 1991 in Berkeley.

Born in the San Francisco Bay Area, Gabriella Smith was set on a career path in climate science or marine biology. However, encouragement from her piano teacher and a chance encounter with John Adams at the Crowden School, a private music school in Berkeley, sparked the possibility of a future in composition. At fifteen years old, she shared her scores with Adams for his analysis, and he agreed to meet once a month for a lesson. During the same period, she volunteered on a research and surveillance project on songbirds in Point Reyes, California.

Finally settling on music, she studied at the Curtis Institute of Music before beginning a PhD in composition at Princeton University. Troubled by what she perceived as the insignificance of music in the face of a challenge such as climate change, she pushed for an alliance between the art and scientific research. Her thought was that “we need everyone to make climate solutions an integral part of all of our lives,” with music playing a role.1 Smith’s hope is not only that her work connects listeners to the natural world, but also that it incites them to find joy in climate action.

Many of her pieces express the mourning, loss, and fear that climate change might evoke, such as in Requiem (2018), which lists the Latin names of all of the species that have become extinct over the past century. Others express the elation and marvel aroused when one is confronted by wild spaces. Lost Coast, for example, is inspired by the many hikes Smith has taken, often alone, in American national parks. During one of these excursions, she noticed that she could “apply a lot of the same ways you listen to music to natural soundscapes: rhythm, shape, form, texture, color, phrasing, even accidental counterpoint between different sounds.”2 This intuition is the origin of Tumblebird Contrails (2014), a piece that will be performed at the concert for the Nobel Prize in December 2023.

Several of her pieces use field recordings, capturing dawn choruses, trees, cactuses, and coral reefs, such as in Panitao (2016) and Desert Ecology (2023). Smith is interested in subaquatic soundscapes. Equipped with a hydrophone, she takes underwater recordings, debunking the idea that the ocean is a place of silence, capturing the fishes’ groaning and chewing sounds, along with the squeaks of shrimp on barrier reefs.

Recognized for her convictions, Smith is supported by notable musicians who share her outlook, including Esa-Pekka Salonen, director of the San Francisco Symphony, who programmed Breathing Forests (2021) at the inaugural edition of the California Festival in 2023. Adams, her mentor, had already scheduled Carrot Revolution (2015) for the New York Philharmonic’s “Nightcap” concert in 2019. In 2023, she participated in the “Treelogy” concert with Desert Ecology, following a commission from the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts in response to the forest fires that ravaged California.

In 2021, she recorded her first monographic album Lost Coast with cellist Gabriel Cabezas, a regular collaborator on Smith’s work.

Awards and honors

  • BMI Student Composer Award, 2018
  • Winner of the American Modern Ensemble Ninth Annual Composition Competition, 2015
  • ASCAP Foundation Leo Kaplan Award, 2014

1. Steve HOLT, “California Soundscapes: Composer Gabriella Smith,” 1 March 2023, San Francisco Symphony website. 
2. Ibid. 


Site de la compositrice ; France Musique ; I Care if you Listen ; San Francisco Classical Voice ; Musical America


Liens Internet

(liens vérifiés en novembre 2023).


  • Gabriella SMITH, Bard of a Wasteland ; Lost Coast ; Swept ; Tarn ; Rise, dans « Lost Coast », 1 CD Bedroom Community, 2021, HVALUR40.
  • Gabriella SMITH, Panitao, dans « More Field Recordings », 2 CD Cantaloupe Music, 2017, CA21136.