David Kornfeld is a Jeff Award winning composer who writes "soaring" (Chicago Sun-Times) music that seeks to be lyrical and accessible, while bringing new soundscapes into the realm of musical theatre. His background in rock bands, jazz improvisation, and West African drumming infuses his eclectic compositions with syncopated rhythms, instantly memorable melodies, and infectious grooves, which has earned him the popular nickname “the Groove Master.” By playfully turning audiences' expectations on their heads, his music challenges them to listen actively and engage with the underlying narrative.

Photographer:  Michael Lynch

Photographer: Michael Lynch

I suspect I’ll be writing his name again.
— Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

Growing up in rural California, David spent his 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. His studies there with Alex Freeman and Mary Ellen Childs introduced him to contemporary concert music, opening up new harmonic and melodic avenues to explore. Long interested in non-western rhythms and harmonies, his studies abroad in Mali of West African music and storytelling traditions cemented that predisposition, most notably influencing the composition of his chamber work, Gilgamesh.

After 5 years working as a freelance composer, music director, accompanist, teaching artist and children's entertainer in Chicago while serving as Producing Artistic Director for his own company, Underscore Theatre, he moved to New York to pursue his master's degree in the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. There he studied under Michael John Lachiusa, Stephen Lutvak, Kirsten Childs, Mel Marvin, Fred Carl, Julianne Wick-Davis, Randall Eng, and many other fabulous teachers who further shaped his artistic identity and his skills as a musical dramatist.

Sketch: Kailyn Kent

Sketch: Kailyn Kent

David has performed as a pianist, keyboardist and organist with numerous ensembles, including Remember Jones, Rebecca HartJazzsquatch, and the Hip Young Gunslingers Big Band, and has shared the stage with such prestigious musical acts 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 sharing new work led him to co-found Underscore Theatre Company in Chicago, with whom he co-produced the first ever Chicago Musical Theatre Festival in 2014.

David's past collaborations range from prominent regional theatres to sketch comedy groups, and everything in between, including Loyola University Chicago, Playhouse on the SquareEnsemble Theatre CincinnatiCape Rep Theatre, Stone Soup Theatre ProjectTheatre-HikesHey LadiesEx-Pats Theatre CompanyWhiskey Wry ProductionsSummer Place TheatreThe Cabaret ProjectCPA TheatricalsPublic House Theatre, and Li’l Buds Theatre Company.

Photographer: Hanna Morrill

Photographer: Hanna Morrill

David’s show 57th National Mathlete Sum-It was produced by CPA Theatricals at the 2017 New York Musical Festival, and is now licensed by Theatrical Rights Worldwide. Grounds: A Fresh-Brewed Musical (formerly titled Grind), was workshopped at Actors Training Center in 2016, and songs from Haymarket have been featured in LA’s A Little New Music, You Can Always Come Home, a cabaret by Common Man Musicals, and the Fall 2018 Playlight Theatre Songwrighters Night. Haymarket was nominated for the 2017 Joseph Jefferson Awards for New Musical and Lighting. A revised Haymarket was remounted by Underscore Theatre in association with the Den Theatre in June 2018 under the direction of Nicholas Thornton. It was transferred to Theatre Wit in July for a 6-week extension for a total of 50 performances. That production was nominated for six 2019 Jeff awards in the categories of New Musical, Production of a Musical, Lead Actor, Director, Music Director, and Ensemble, and won the Jeff for New Musical. It premiered in London in September 2018 under the direction of Sally Beck Wippman. The Chicago 2018 Cast Recording is available on iTunes, Spotify, and other streaming services.

A strong believer in staying creatively stimulated by working in a variety of contexts and media, David was the assistant to composer Fred Carl on Becoming Ailey for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. He recently completed a residency with the Civilians R&D Group, where he began developing a new experimental investigative musical with Rebecca Hart entitled Microcosmos. Currently, he is the Musical Director for Cape Rep Theatre’s Indecent.

Apart from music, David loves the outdoors, cookery, and rearranging his furniture (to his wife's chagrin).


Awards & Nominations

Joseph Jefferson Award–New Musical: Haymarket: a NEW FOLK MUSICAL, composer, 2019

Tisch School of the Arts Scholarship (2016)

Joseph Jefferson Award–new musical (Nominated): Haymarket: the Anarchist's Songbook, composer, 2017

Ostrander Award (Nominated): Assassins, Music Director, 2015

Kennedy Center Commendation: The Tempest, composer, 2012

ASCAP Young Jazz Composer's Showcase (finalist): "¡Levántate!", composer, 2011)

Sigrid and Erling Larsen Award in Creative and Performing Arts (2010, 2011)

Carleton College Independent research fellowship (2010)