PENKA KOUNEVA | MUSIC SUPERVISOR
Film & game composer of “exquisite talent” (Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands game co-composed with Steve Jablonsky), Penka has worked for 15 years in Los Angeles on titles grossing $15 billion world-wide. Her own music is a blend of her Eastern-European upbringing, classical training, modern film & game music, and influences ranging from rock, electronica, medieval chant to non-Western music. She has made Hollywood history (first woman Lead Orchestrator on films with budget over $100M – Ender’s Game and Elysium). And just like the great Shirley Walker, Penka is a mentor who has nurtured the careers of many.
Notable collaborations: with the celebrity composers Hans Zimmer (orchestrator: Pirates 3, Angels and Demons), Steve Jablonsky (Transformers franchise, Gears of War 2, 3), with Neal Acree for Blizzard Entertainment (orchestrator: World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III franchises), and for SCEA (Lead orchestrator on Bloodborne). A Sundance Institute Composer Fellow, Penka has scored dozens of independent features (Midnight Movie, Primrose Lane), television shows (Forensic Files, Modern Marvels) and video games (H-Hour: World’s Elite, Hades, IronKill, additional music on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen game). Penka has composed two concept albums in cinematic orchestral-electronica style, A Warrior’s Odyssey (2012, available from Howlin’ Wolf) and The Woman Astronaut (on Varése Sarabande in 2015). Like a great musical storyteller, her music carries the listener forth on an emotional wave, with soaring themes, innovative orchestral and digital textures, and primal percussion.
Penka was born and raised in Sofia, Bulgaria, received classical training in piano and theory, and began composing incidental music for kids’ theater at the age of 12. In 1990 she ventured out of Bulgaria with a Duke University composition fellowship and $130 in her pocket. In 1997, she made history at Duke by receiving the first-ever PhD in Composition from this distinguished institution. At Duke, she studied with the celebrated orchestral composers Stephen Jaffe and Scott Lindroth. In 1999, she began her career in Los Angeles as the orchestrator for Emmy-winning composer Patrick Williams. Later that year, Cliff Eidelman gave Kouneva her first scoring break, the AFI thesis short Shadows directed by Mitch Levine.
Penka has since been honored with the Aaron Copland Award, SUNDANCE Composer Fellowship; Hollywood Music In Media Awards, Square Enix Music Online nomination, Independent Music Award; two Ovation Awards, The Visionary Award from Women’s International Film & TV Showcase, GRAND PRIX at the Tokyo Young Composers Competition, Meet the Composer Award, and numerous Artist Fellowships.
Penka is on the Advisory Boards for Game Developers Conference (GDC), Sundance Institute, and Mentor for NARAS (Grammy®). As an industry leader and groundbreaking artist, she is a frequent speaker at GDC, Game Sound Con, CalArts, Berklee, Musicians Institute, Duke, Columbia College, Society of Composers and Lyricists and numerous schools, game conferences and events. As a role model and passionate advocate for artists’ growth and advancement of women composers, Penka is featured on MPR, film and video game press.