John Austin’s music has been performed widely in Chicago and elsewhere, including the Tanglewood, Aspen and Door County festivals. Recent works include At Yellow Crane Tower (2006) for soprano and cello, performed by Amanda Forsythe and Martha Babcock; Elegies (2002) for violin and string orchestra, performed by Shmuel Ashkenasi and Maria Bachmann; Translations: Three Chinese Poems, for violin and piano (2008-9), performed in the U.S. and Canada by Minghuan Xu and Winston Choi; and Amazing Grace: A Meditation (2005), performed by Chicago a Cappella. Earlier works include Requiem (1983) for four solo singers and fourteen instruments, performed by the University of Chicago's Contemporary Chamber Players, Austin conducting; Farewell Music Mixing with Wind and Light over the Waves (1983) for alto saxophone and timpani, performed by Frederick Hemke and Terry Applebaum; Orpheus and the Maenads (1977), performed by the Orpheus Trio (Paula Robison, flute; Scott Nickrenz, viola; Heidi Lehwalder, harp); Designs and Refrains (1975), performed by Terry Applebaum, which won the Percussive Arts Society’s National Award; Toward Morning (2002) and other orchestral works conducted by Victor Yampolsky with the Omaha Symphony, the Peninsula Music Festival, the Southern Illinois University Orchestra, and the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra; and many other works performed in a wide array of venues. A founding member of the Chicago Society of Composers, Austin has received grants and fellowships from the McDowell Colony, the Illinois Arts Council, the American Music Center, the Composers Conference, and the Harris Foundation. As a Chicago artist-in-residence, Austin composed Fantasy on Themes from Troubled Times based on American music for the Grant Park Symphony and The Moon Wears a Wax Moustache (1978) for the Chicago Symphony, solo soprano, and chorus. Opera News reviewed his one-act opera Orpheus (1966) as the first rock and roll opera.
Austin studied composition with Roy Harris during his college years (Harvard 1956); in Vienna; with Robert Lombardo at Roosevelt University (M.M. 1973); and with Ralph Shapey at the University of Chicago (Ph. D. 1981). He has been a member of the Boston Chorus Pro Musica, which performed his See, They Return: Six Madrigals (1968) at Tanglewood, conducted by Alfred Nash Patterson; the Vienna Singverein chorus under von Karajan, Karl Richter, and Zubin Mehta; and the Grant Park and Chicago Symphony Choruses under Giuseppe Patanè, Georg Solti, William Steinberg, Aaron Copland, Jean Martinon, Carlo Maria Giulini and Margaret Hillis. Austin has taught music at the Latin School of Chicago, Roosevelt University, Columbia College, and the University of Illinois in Chicago.