An artistic force in the broadest and most creative sense of the word; Darin Atwater’s career has encompassed the roles of composer, conductor, pianist, record producer, artist, arranger, film composer, vocalist, entrepreneur, educator, and arts advocate. As a master inventor of musical hybrids, he has blended American pop, soul, hip-hop, jazz, classical, gospel music into many dazzling fusions, traversing virtually every medium, including records, live performance, radio, and television – literally reinventing the symphony orchestra in America.
Born in Washington DC, Atwater made his orchestral debut as both composer and pianist in May 1995 with the National Symphony Orchestra performing his Piano Concerto. The following year the National Symphony and the National Cathedral Choral Arts Society premiered his Proclamations. 1997 he accompanied Kathleen Battle and the NSO for the re-opening of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall along with a performance that summer with Jennifer Holiday and the NSO for the PBS national broadcast of “A Capitol Fourth.” Engagements with major orchestras, In Performance at The White House, European tour, and world premieres of his numerous compositions followed. As a Guest Conductor he has appeared with the Baltimore Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, Memphis Brass, and the Columbus Symphony. Atwater appears regularly with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis as both Guest Conductor and Composer. From 2004 – 2007 Atwater served as Composer-in-Residence with the Baltimore Symphony. This collaboration produced many evening-length works that have become staples in the repertoire. Among them are, Song in a Strange Land, Evolution of a People, Paint Factory, Southern Folk Sketches, God’s Trombones, and a ballet – Ghetto Safari.
As solo artist, Atwater presented annually for the Steinway Series presented by the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. He was vocalist, pianist, and arranger with the U.S. Air Force Band for America’s Veterans; A Musical Salute on PBS. Most recently, Atwater performed a solo piano recital for the grand opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the first artist to perform in the Oprah Winfrey Theatre. 2017 marked his return to the Kennedy Center where he led the NSO in an Evening with Ledisi along with a conducting debut with the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra for the Centennial Celebration of Ballet Across America in a featured work by The Black Iris Project. As accompanist, he performed alongside Metropolitan Opera Bass Solomon Howard for Washington National Opera’s prestigious “Marian Anderson Award Recital.”
In 2000, Atwater founded Soulful Symphony, an 85-member orchestra with vocals – innovative and reimagined. After 10 wildly successful seasons of sell-out performances in a joint venture with the Baltimore Symphony, Soulful Symphony entered a historic partnership with Broadway Across America. Soulful Symphony delivered another 3 seasons of sold-out performances at the Hippodrome Theatre before a triumphant return to the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to celebrate 15 years – taking an entire culture and setting it to music. The 2009 Emmy Award winning “Soulful Symphony with Darin Atwater” is one of the longest running pledge specials, airing currently nationwide on PBS/APT.
In April 2019, Soulful Symphony became Merriweather Post Pavilion’s first resident symphony. Soulful performed several times throughout the year at venues around the area, including four performances at the world-renowned amphitheater during the first season. As part of the residency, new pieces by Atwater were commissioned and premiered. In addition, Atwater served as Artistic Director of the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission where he developed an artistic vision and strategic plan that aligned with DCACC’s long-term goals and guided efforts to fulfill its artistic mission.
2020 amidst the pandemic, Atwater partnered with the Stronach Group and 1st/Live the global leader in Thoroughbred Horse Racing, provided entertainment packages throughout their portfolio of racetracks and venues. The first in this venture was, Soulful Symphony with legendary Hip Hop artist Wyclef Jean at the Preakness Stakes – televised live on NBC. January 2022 showcased Soulful Symphony with DJ D-Nice for the Pegasus World Cup with a first of its kind performance fusing DJ with Orchestra.
Atwater remains a strong advocate for Arts, Culture, and Music Education. He served on the board of Maryland Citizens for the Arts, testifying before the House and Senate for state and national funding. Through his work with Soulful Symphony, Atwater has lectured and spoken to countless schools along with hosting open rehearsals that has accompanied every concert since the inception of the organization. He is a two time Grammy Award Citation recipient, as orchestrator and arranger with various artists across genres.
The critics’ praise has been unanimous: The New York Times described him as composer with a “muscular imagination.” The Baltimore Sun wrote, “Atwater has an uncommon ear for instrumental coloring and the urban beat.” The Philadelphia Inquirer writes, “Atwater has created a musical antidote for the malaise gripping classical music and is a unifying vessel for a dozen or so genres of music in the commercial and art realms.”
Among his many honors and recognitions, NBC named him in “The Grio 100: History Makers the Making.” Ebony magazine dubbed him one of the “30 Leaders of the Future,” and the Baltimore Business Journal placed him on their exclusive “40 under 40” list. Atwater received The Prestige Award by the State of Maryland for individuals who bring prominence to the region along with Legends and Pioneers Award by The Afro American Newspaper and The Vision Award from Maryland Public Television. He was profiled on an ABC special for Entertainment Studios “We are the Dream” following President Obama, Oprah Winfrey and the late Ted Kennedy. In July 2022, he was awarded the “Icon Award” by Philantropik and The City of Baltimore.
Atwater was commissioned by the Mann Center and the Philadelphia Orchestra to compose “South Side, Symphonic Dances” – an adaptation of “West Side Story” for the Leonard Bernstein Centennial, Taking American Roots Music to unseen levels with his unique ability to fuse modern culture with high art. Music Critic Peter Dobrin of the Philadelphia Inquirer praised this as “A gorgeous new work were Atwater is able to light emotion with great specificity and power, his work manages to straddle a nuanced realm occupied by beauty, seriousness, and dignity while delivering the sense of some important message, the orchestrations are astute.” The success of this collaboration will produce a newly commissioned work “Black Metropolis” with the Philadelphia Orchestra to be premiered July, 2023 in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop.