Kirke Mechem is a prolific composer with a catalogue of over 250 titles. Born and raised in Kansas and educated at Stanford and Harvard Universities, he conducted and taught at Stanford, and served as composer-in-residence for several years at the University of San Francisco. He lived three years in Vienna where he came to the attention of Josef Krips, who later championed the composer's symphonies as conductor of the San Francisco Symphony. Mechem was guest of honor at the 1990 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and was invited back for an all-Mechem symphonic concert by the USSR Radio-Television Orchestra in 1991.
He has been honored and recognized for his contributions from the United Nations; the National Endowment for the Arts; the American Choral Directors Association; the Music Educators National Conference, and was presented with a lifetime achievement award from the National Opera Association. In 2012 the University of Kansas awarded him its first honorary degree of Doctor of Arts. His memoir, Believe Your Ears: Life of a Lyric Composer, was winner of the ASCAP 48th annual award in 2016 for "outstanding musical biography". In 2022 he wrote a supplement to books on musical theory, Classic Chord Progression: A New Look at the Circle of Fifths.
Mechem's compositions cover almost every genre, but vocal music is the core of his work. His three-act opera, Tartuffe, has been performed over 450 times in seven countries. His extensive choral works have garnered him the title of "dean of American choral composers." The premiere of Mechem’s dramatic opera based on American abolitionist John Brown was commissioned to celebrate Lyric Opera Kansas City's 50th anniversary. Songs of the Slave — a suite for bass-baritone, soprano, chorus and orchestra from John Brown — has been performed over 100 times. His comic opera, The Rivals (an American update of Sheridan’s classic play), was premiered in 2011 by Skylight Opera in Milwaukee. Mechem has recently completed an opera based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
— G. Schirmer, 2022
Grove Dictionary of Music: “His musical style is characterized by melodiousness,
lyricism, tonal clarity, wit and humour, free from any specific compositional school.”
Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (Nicolas Slonimsky):
“His music gives unadulterated aural satisfaction to unprejudiced ears.”