David Kornfeld composes “engaging and original” (Chicago Theatre Beat) music that is lyrical, accessible, and above all emotionally moving, with an underlying structure driven by a narrative. His background in jazz and rock improvisation informs his eclectic compositions, infusing them with syncopated rhythms and an organic naturalism that makes his melodies instantly memorable. As Stephen Sondheim would emphasize, the form of a song should naturally follow the content of the lyrics. But at the same time, the music will affect the way those lyrics are perceived by the listener. So it is sometimes the gap between seemingly disparate lyrics and music that carries the greatest emotional weight. David’s deceptively complex music constantly sets up expectations and then playfully turns them on their heads, challenging audiences to listen actively and engage with the narrative.
Growing up in rural California, David spent his sunny days exploring the woods around his house, inventing complex and dramatic stories taking place in far-off worlds, to which he composed cinematic soundtracks, which he would sing at the top of his lungs. One of the first pieces he ever composed (at the age of 10) was meant to accompany a space-adventure video game he intended to make. Though he never learned to program computers, the theme song did become a reality. Storytelling has forever influenced his work, and when he discovered musical theatre at Carleton College, naturally he found his calling. In college, his studies with Alex Freeman and Mary Ellen Childs introduced him to contemporary classical music, the infinite expressive possibilities of extended tonality, and the all-importance of melody. Always interested in non-western rhythms and harmonies, his studies abroad in Mali of West African music and storytelling traditions cemented that predisposition toward polyrhythms and modality, most notably influencing the composition of his chamber work, Gilgamesh.
Recently delving into the world of children’s music, David strives to create unique, age-appropriate songs that are engaging for listeners of all ages (so that it doesn’t drive parents too crazy), with subjects that engage young imaginations and lyrics that expand burgeoning vocabularies. There is no reason music for children should be any less complex, meaningful, and articulate than any other kind of music, so David attempts to bring just as much melodic, harmonic, and stylistic variety into his children’s music as he would any other style. Writing music and lyrics for an audience that is completely nonjudgmental can be incredibly refreshing, affording a freedom that in turn impacts the way he approaches his other compositions.
As a music director, David takes a textual approach to song interpretation, helping singers to fully convey both the surface and underlying meaning of lyrics, from which a more musically nuanced interpretation will naturally grow. He works with singers individually to craft their unique performance of a song, allowing them to express their personal creativity and showcase their strengths, within stylistic boundaries. With choral direction, his priority is purity and clarity of harmonies, crisp, bright delivery, and lyrical, dynamic phrasing.
David performs regularly as a pianist with numerous ensembles, including Jazzsquatch and the Hip Young Gunslingers Big Band, and has shared the stage with prestigious musical acts such as Blue Scholar, RJD2, Blue Cranes, and Brother Ali. His musicals have been performed in theatre festivals throughout the Midwest, and his incidental music, song settings and arrangements have been commissioned by theatres nationwide. His love of musical theatre and passion for discovering and promoting new work led him to co-found Underscore Theatre Company in Chicago. He serves on its board and on staff as Producing Artistic Director and Resident Music Director. With Underscore he co-produced the first ever Chicago Musical Theatre Festival in 2014.
Currently based in Chicago, David’s collaborations range from large theatres to sketch comedy groups, and everything in between, including Loyola University Chicago, Playhouse on the Square (Memphis, TN), Open Door Repertory Theatre, Stone Soup Theatre Project, Theatre-Hikes, Hey Ladies, Ex-Pats Theatre Company, Whiskey Wry Productions, Summer Place Theatre, The Cabaret Project, CPA Theatricals, Public House Theatre, and Li’l Buds Theatre Company. He is a licensed street performer and can occasionally be seen busking on keytar in downtown Chicago.
David is the recipient of such awards as the Sigrid and Erling Larsen Award in Creative and Performing Arts, finalist in the 2011 ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Awards competition, a Kennedy Center commendation for Achievement in Music Composition in the 2012 American College Theatre Festival, and a nomination for the 2015 Ostrander Award for music direction.
Among other things, David is currently producing the original cast recording of his musical Pr0ne, composing a new show about the Chicago Haymarket Riots, beginning work on a new musical commissioned by CPA Theatricals, and music directing Maul Santa at Public House Theatre.
Apart from music, David loves the outdoors, cookery, and rearranging his furniture.