The shakuhachi in Taiwan, June 2009

Robert Carl  (b.1954) received his musical training at Yale, Penn, and the University of Chicago. He also studied in Paris during 1980-1 as a Lurcy Fellow at the Conservatoire Nationale Supérieure and the Sorbonne. His teachers include Iannis Xenakis, Betsy Jolas, Ralph Shapey, George Rochberg, Jonathan Kramer, George Crumb, Richard Wernick, and Robert Morris. Mr. Carl has received prizes and fellowships from such organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America, American Chamber Symphony, NACUSA, and Tanglewood. He is the recipient of a 2005 Chamber Music America commission for a string quintet premiered by the Miami String Quartet and Robert Black, contrabass. An excerpt from his opera-in-progress Harmony (libretto by Russell Banks) was premiered in May 2006 at the New York City Opera’s VOX showcase series.

Recent premieres include his Simic Songs, a set of 15 4-voice madrigals on poems of U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Simic (who read the texts at its first performance); Shake the Tree for piano 4-hands, featuring Donald Berman and John McDonald; and Symphony No. 4, “The Ladder”.

As a writer on new music, Mr. Carl has been commissioned by Oxford University Press to write a book on Terry Riley’s In C, which was published in summer 2009. In Spring 2007 he was awarded a 3-month fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council for a residency in Japan that involved the interviewing of 25 contemporary Japanese composers. A New World CD of music written during and related to his Japanese sojourn was released in July 2012. He writes extensively on new music for Fanfare, and was the editor of an issue of Contemporary Music Review on historicism in late 20C American music and has contributed a chapter to The Farthest Place, an anthology of writings on the music of John Luther Adams.

A CD on New World Records of his string chamber works has been released to critical acclaim. In 1998 he received the Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as a Copland Award, which resulted in an artistic residency in the Copland home in fall 1999. He has held other composer residencies abroad at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France (1984 and 1993), at the Bogliasco Foundation near Genoa, Italy, in Spring 2000 and 2007, at the Rockefeller International Study Center in Bellagio, Italy, in 1987, and at the Youkobo ArtSpace and Tokyo Wonder Site in 2007.  US residencies include stays at Yaddo, the Djerassi and Ucross Foundations, and at the MacDowell and Millay Colonies. Mr. Carl has received extensive performances throughout the US and Europe, at such venues as Carnegie Recital Hall, Alice Tully Hall, IRCAM, Orchestra Hall Chicago, Musical Spring in St. Petersburg [Russia], the Royal Academy of Music, London, and New Music America 1982 and 1985. In 2010 he was the featured composer for the Festival of Contemporary Art Music at Washington State University, and in 2011 he was resident composer for perfomances and masterclasses at Hacettepe University National Conservatory, Ankara, Turkey.

His works are published by American Composers' Edition (www.composers.com), Boosey and Hawkes, Northeastern, and Apoll-Edition (Vienna). A CD of Mr. Carl's complete piano music has been released on Centaur Records, and a selection of electronic, experimental and theatrical works on Innova; other CD recordings include on Time/Memory/Shadow for sextet on Neuma, Towards the Crest for solo bass clarinet on Koch International, the song “Beginning my Studies” on Cedille Records, A Wide Open Field for electronic cello and orchestra on Vienna Modern Masters, Duke Meets Mort on Lotus Records, Death for orchestra on Capstone Records, and Magic Act for violin and marimba on The Aerial. In 1988 his Roundabout for contrabass and computer-generated tape was released on an Opus One recording celebrating the 50th anniversary of the American Composers' Alliance. Mr. Carl has written works for soloists Evelyn Glennie, percussion; Robert Black, contrabass; Kathleen Supové, piano; and John Bruce Yeh, clarinet, among others. Currently he is chair of the composition department at The Hartt School, University of Hartford. He has been a director of the Extension Works new music ensemble in Boston.


Artist Statement

My work has always been concerned with time. At first this meant inventing musical techniques and forms that allowed for a peculiar flow of musical events, dynamic yet not always straightforward. Later, my "pre-musical" background as a historian reasserted itself, bringing more and more artifacts of my earlier life, earlier music, and other eras into my music, in a play of memory and shadow.

For me, time is a substance both malleable and “crystallizable”. By shaping form in a manner similar to making a sculpture, I have found that I am able to create an ever-broader sense of space in my pieces, even when they are information-rich. As a result I hope that by creating a sense of amplitude into which the listener can enter, and trying to synthesize diverse historical elements, I can create something of a model for how s/he can cope with our increasingly fragmented, intense, and vertiginous experience of life today, and find a sense of energizing peace.

Tied into this sense of space, of rendering even complex events clear, is the way I’ve come to conceive of harmony in the last decade or so. I’ve been using “screens” of overtones from which to derive new harmonic combinations, and whose common partials create links for modulation. So far--it my ear at least--the result is a sound that’s fresh and satisfying. It also sounds “natural”, whatever that means. I do feel, however, that the flow and shape of my pieces is closer to natural phenomena than ever before, and the music is more “itself” than ever, with less need to symbolize something.