Julia Bullock, classical singer

Julia Bullock

Julia Bullock is an American classical singer who “communicates intense, authentic feeling, as if she were singing right from her soul” (Opera News). Combining versatile artistry with a probing intellect and commanding stage presence, she has headlined productions and concerts at preeminent arts institutions around the world. An innovative curator in high demand from a diverse group of arts presenters, museums and schools, her notable positions have included collaborative partner of Esa-Pekka Salonen at the San Francisco Symphony, 2020–22 Artist-in-Residence of London’s Guildhall School, 2019-20 Artist-in-Residence of the San Francisco Symphony, and 2018-19 Artist-in-Residence at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bullock is also a prominent voice of social consciousness and activism. As Vanity Fair notes, she is “young, highly successful, [and] politically engaged,” with the “ability to inject each note she sings with a sense of grace and urgency, lending her performances the feel of being both of the moment and incredibly timeless.” Honored as a 2021 Artist of the Year and “agent of change” by Musical America, Bullock gave a Tiny Desk (Home) Concert in NPR Music’s special quarantine edition of the series in December 2020; NPR’s Tom Huizenga characterized it as “among the most transcendent musical moments I’ve experienced this year.”

Bullock has held several important positions as a curator, including opera-programming host of the broadcast channel All Arts, and founding core member of the American Modern Opera Company (AMOC). As Artist-in-Residence of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she curated five thought-provoking programs in some of the museum’s most iconic spaces: “History’s Persistent Voice,” which combined songs developed by enslaved people in the United States alongside new music by Black American women, including the world premieres of Met commissions from Tania León, Courtney Bryan, Jessie Montgomery and Allison Loggins-Hull; a program of Langston Hughes poetry and settings, featuring New York Philharmonic principal clarinetist Anthony McGill, the Young People’s Chorus of New York, and American composers and vocalists; a new chamber arrangement of John Adams’s Christmas oratorio, El Niño, at the Cloisters; AMOC’s account of Hans Werner Henze’s El Cimarrón (“The Runaway Slave”); and, marking the first full-length performance on the museum’s grand staircase, Perle Noire: Meditations for Joséphine, the musical portrait of Josephine Baker that was conceived by Bullock in collaboration with Peter Sellars and written for her by MacArthur “Genius” Fellows Tyshawn Sorey and Claudia Rankine. The residency crowned a banner 2018-19 season for Bullock. She took part in the world premiere of Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and reprised Dame Shirley, the leading role she created in Adams’s Girls of the Golden West, for the opera’s European premiere at Dutch National Opera. She also gave the Boston premiere of Perle Noire at Harvard’s OBERON, made her Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra debut in Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, and gave a North American recital tour with her frequent piano partner, John Arida.

Bullock co-stars in Michel van der Aa’s opera Upload, which premiered in a film iteration at Dutch National Opera this spring and has its upcoming staged premieres at Austria’s Bregenzer Festspiele and Dutch National Opera. She also recently made several key operatic debuts: at San Francisco Opera in the world premiere of Girls of the Golden West, at Santa Fe Opera as Kitty Oppenheimer in Adams’s Doctor Atomic, at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and Dutch National Opera as Anne Truelove in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, and at the English National Opera, Spain’s Teatro Real, and Russia’s Perm Opera House and Bolshoi Theatre in the title role of Purcell’s The Indian Queen. Her wide-ranging repertoire also encompasses the title roles of Massenet’s Cendrillon, Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges and Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen; Monica in Menotti’s The Medium; Susanna in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro; and Pamina in his The Magic Flute, which she sang on tour in South America in a staged production directed by Peter Brook and in concert with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Bullock reunited with Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2019, for season-opening performances of Barber’s Knoxville. The collaboration was just one of her important recent orchestral engagements. In 2020, she performed Knoxville with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin with Roderick Cox and sang Britten’s Les Illuminations in her debut with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen in his last season as Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor. As part of her 2019-20 residency with the San Francisco Symphony, she joined the orchestra and then-Music Director Designate Salonen for a pairing of Britten’s song cycle with Ravel’s Trois poèmes de Stéphane MallarméLes Illuminations was also the vehicle for debuts with the symphonies of Milwaukee and Indianapolis, where she performed alongside Marc Albrecht. With Andris Nelsons, she headlined the Bernstein centennial gala that launched the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2017-18 season, and she performed Bernstein’s music for debuts with the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas; at the Hollywood Bowl, with Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic; with Japan’s NHK Symphony and Paavo Järvi; and with the New York Philharmonic, in open-air concerts alongside Alan Gilbert in Vail, Santa Barbara and multiple New York City parks. At the invitation of Sir Simon Rattle, she made debuts with both the Berlin Philharmonic’s Karajan Academy, in Kaija Saariaho’s La passion de Simone, and the London Symphony Orchestra, in Maurice Délage’s song cycle Quatre poèmes hindous. Other concert highlights include performances of Adams’s El Niño with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

In 2014, Bullock gave her first U.S. recital tour, capped by her debut at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Since then, she has maintained a thriving solo career. In 2019, she joined pianist Cédric Tiberghien under Katie Mitchell’s direction for the American, British, Belgian and Russian premieres of Zauberland (“Magic Land”), a new work juxtaposing Schumann’s Dichterliebe with original songs by Bernard Foccroulle and Martin Crimp. This followed the high-profile North American recital tour Bullock gave in 2018, which featured masterclasses and local school performances in each city, with dates at New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Cal Performances at UC Berkeley and Boston’s Celebrity Series. Other solo performance highlights include her 2017 Disney Hall debut and appearances at the 2016 Mostly Mozart and Ojai Music festivals, where she collaborated with Roomful of Teeth and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) on Peter Sellars’s new staging of La passion de Simone and on the world premiere of Josephine Baker: A Portrait, the original prototype for Perle Noire.

Bullock’s growing discography already comprises a number of distinguished recordings. She appears on the soundtrack of Amazon Prime Video’s 2021 The Underground Railroad composed by Nicholas Britell. Her account of Quatre poèmes hindous with Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra was captured live on DVD, as was her title role appearance in Sellars’s production of The Indian Queen for Sony Classical. Selected as one of the New York Times’s “25 Best Musical Tracks of 2018,” her starring role in Adams’s Doctor Atomic, recorded with the composer conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, was a nominee for the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. This marked Bullock’s second appearance on a Grammy-nominated recording, following her live account of West Side Story with Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, a Grammy nominee for Best Musical Theater Album in 2014.

Her other honors include the 2016 Sphinx Medal of Excellence, a 2015 Leonore Annenberg Arts Fellowship, the 2015 Richard F. Gold Grant from the Shoshana Foundation, Lincoln Center’s 2015 Martin E. Segal Award, First Prize at the 2014 Naumburg International Vocal Competition and First Prize at the 2012 Young Concert Artists International Auditions. She was chosen as one of WQXR’s “19 for 19” artists to watch in 2019” and Opera News’s “18 to Watch in 2018-19”; the New York Times honored her on its “Best Classical Music” list in 2016, 2018 and 2020; and in 2018 she appeared on comparable lists in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Philadelphia Inquirer.

Bullock is in high demand as a speaker in panels equity, inclusion, and restorative justice in the arts. She has taken part in livestreamed conversations presented by Long Beach Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Music Academy of the West, Sphinx Organization, and others. As well as trying to engage with local communities in each city she visits, she serves on the Advisory Board of Turn The Spotlight, a foundation designed to empower women and people of color, both on stage and behind the scenes, to make a more equitable future in the arts.

Julia Bullock was born in St. Louis, Missouri, where she joined the artist-in-training program at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis while in high school. She went on to earn her Bachelor’s degree at the Eastman School of Music, her Master’s degree in Bard College’s Graduate Vocal Arts Program, and her Artist Diploma at New York’s Juilliard School. It was there that she first met her husband, conductor Christian Reif, with whom she now lives in Munich.