Penka – Bio 2015


Penka Kouneva is a celebrated Hollywood composer whose music has been called "fantastic" (Billboard) and “breath-taking” (NPR). Her credits include notable studio and independent projects in four realms of entertainment: film, television, video games/VR and the concert stage. Penka has scored Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands and League of Legends video games, the primetime SciFi-action TV series Pandora on The CW (with composer Joe Kraemer), and a $30M multimedia exhibit Heroes and Legends at the Kennedy Space Center celebrating the American astronauts. Penka's film scores include the genre features Devil’s Whisper, Encounter (Sony Pictures), and the family drama Aga (2020 Oscar contender in Foreign Language). In 2019 Penka was commissioned by Los Angeles Philharmonic for the concert "America In Space" at the Hollywood Bowl for an audience of 18,000. In September 2019, 35 minutes of her orchestral music was performed in Women Warriors: The Voices of Change concert at the Lincoln Center, created by Maestra Amy Andersson. In February 2020 Penka scored the Super Bowl TV ad campaign for Olay titled “Make Space for Women” watched by over 100 million viewers.

Penka’s 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. Like a great storyteller, her music carries the listener forth on an emotional wave, with soaring themes, innovative orchestral and digital textures, and primal percussion.

Penka's composer awards include: a Sundance Fellowship, two Ovation awards, The Copland Award, Game Audio Network Guild’s Recognition Award, Hollywood Music in Media Award, and Duke University Distinguished Alumna. Penka’s artist albums include The Woman Astronaut (2015, on Varese Sarabande/Universal Music), which received worldwide acclaim as a "21st-century masterpiece" (NPR) and “fantastic” (Billboard), and Rebirth of Id (2017, on Varese Sarabande/Universal Music). 

During the decade of raising her family Penka also worked as an orchestrator and Lead orchestrator on films and games grossing $20 billion worldwide. (Films: Transformers franchise, Matrix, Ninja Turtles, Elysium, Ender’s Game, Need for Speed, Skyscraper; and games: Overwatch, World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Gears of War 2, 3; 2015 Game of the Year Bloodborne, Sims 3, Dragon Age 2, Enter the Matrix). She made Hollywood history as the first woman Lead Orchestrator on blockbusters after Shirley Walker (in the 1980’s). As an extraordinary mentor & industry leader, Penka has nurtured and opened life-changing doors for over 60 young composers, 25% of them being female composers.

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 Doctorate in Composition from this distinguished institution. At Duke, she studied with the celebrated orchestral composers Stephen Jaffe, Scott Lindroth and with the Dutch postmodern minimalist Louis Andriessen. 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.

In 2000 while eking out a meager living as a freelancer, Penka brought her family to Los Angeles, put her two sisters through school (including a Pepperdine MBA program for her younger sister) and gave them a chance at the American Dream. Currently she lives with her husband music editor and daughter in Los Angeles and enjoys hiking, swimming and time with her family and friends.