University of Rochester

Advancement Awards

Gene Alex Scheer

’81E, ’82E (MM)

Gene Alex Scheer

Gene Scheer is a highly acclaimed composer, librettist, and songwriter whose work is renowned for its scope and versatility. From the stages of concert halls and grand opera houses to televised documentaries, his extensive musical efforts have touched audiences across the United States and around the world. A composer in his own right, Scheer has written songs for a number of marquis soloists, including Eastman’s own Renée Fleming ’83E (MM), ’11E (HNR).

Born and raised in New York City, Scheer attended the Eastman School of Music, receiving his bachelor’s and master’s in music degrees in 1981 and 1982, respectively. He went onto pursue further postgraduate studies, earning a scholarship to the University of Cologne and an International Rotary Fellowship at the Hochschule Für Musik. During his time in Europe, Scheer held leading roles as an actor and singer at the Theater an der Wien andthe Deutsches Theater in Munich. He also served as Director George Tabori's assistant at the Schauspielhaus, Cologne’s official theatre.

Over the course of his distinguished career, Scheer’s accomplishments include working as librettist with Tobias Picker on An American Tragedy and Thérèse Raquin. Other collaborations include the lyrics for Wynton Marsalis’s It Never Goes Away and the opera Everest with Joby Talbot.Together with American composer Jake Heggie, Scheer collaborated on the critically acclaimed 2010 Dallas Opera world premiere of Moby-Dick, the opera Three Decembers, and the lyric drama To Hell and Back. The duo also worked on an operatic adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life, premiered by the Houston Grand Opera in 2016. 

Scheer has earned numerous industry accolades in recent years, including a Grammy nomination for his work with composer Steven Stucky on the oratorio August 4th, 1964. Collaborating with Jennifer Higdon, Scheer wrote an operatic adaptation of Cold Mountain, which premiered at the Santa Fe Opera and went on to win the International Opera Award for best world premiere in 2015. Scheer’s rendition of Cold Mountain also received a Grammy nomination for best classical contemporary composition. Most recently, the distinguished documentary filmmaker Ken Burns prominently featured Scheer’s song “American Anthem” in the Emmy Award-winning World War II documentary on PBS, The War.

In January 2017, Scheer returned to Rochester for one week in residence at his alma mater. Together with celebrated creative partner Jake Heggie, Scheer worked with the Eastman Opera Theatre’s artistic team, singers, and orchestra musicians on the production of Out of Darkness and Into the Fire, two works of loss and survival that were presented at Eastman in February 2017.