Breakfast in Japan, May 2007

Click here to read an interview/profile of Robert Carl by Molly Sheridan in the June 2013 NewMusicBox

Click here to read a review of Robert Carl’s Symphony No.4, “The Ladder” by Kyle Gann on his blog Postclassic.


The New York Times: To this taste the most striking effort of the evening was Robert Carl's Always Rising, which was inspired by an experience Mr. Carl had of ascending in an airplane through clouds into sunlight. The music was dense, passionate, and knotty.... (John Rockwell) 

Some of this weekend’s offerings [for the New York City Opera’s VOX Showcase] look enticing. “Harmony”, by the dynamic Hartford-based composer Robert Carl, with a libretto by Russell Banks, imagines romantic intrigue between Charles Ives and his wife, Harmony, with her disapproving godfather, Mark Twain, causing no end of trouble. (Anthony Tommasini) 

Time Out New York: New World Records has been on a measured but steady winning streak lately, and once again, expectations are met and even raised by this new collection of works by Robert Carl. It’s curious that this composer has not garnered more popular attention. Although he has been ensconced in academia most his life, his writing is free of the predictable trappings and dogma, conveying an intelligence that doesn’t need to bury itself in theory in order to express something serious and compelling.

Music for Strings collects three of Carl’s chamber works, each performed by the players for whom it was written. The composer acknowledges that with these pieces, he sought to create an open space for rumination, and an existential climate pervades the disc. By mining established string techniques—notably glissandi—rather than more experimental sounds, Carl couches these musics in the familiar, organic, and lovely, even when the music scratches and bites.

The real standout on the disc is Open for string trio. Carl fashions this piece as something of musical mandala. Following his line around and around as it develops. We don’t reach a grand, sweeping philosophical conclusion; but rather sense a common bond formed by our need to ask the big questions. (Molly Sheridan)

The Boston Globe: Carl's own From Him to Me often felt like a weighty, confidently ordered passacaglia, making its way, without a seam, from the tonally angular to the lushly chromatic. Another solo piano piece, The Big Room, trafficked in spikiness and split-screen simultaneities. And finally, how would you set to music the utterances of Blaise Pascal? Carl's approach in Pensées Nocturnes could be songful, yet still bear the cadences of orderly prose, and---in atmosphere cool and deep and calm--occasionally bring to mind Erik Satie's Socrate. Robert Carl would seem to have a hard time writing dull music. There wasn't any in this concert. (Richard Buell)

Robert Carl ...provided a description of his compositional procedure for his short wind quintet A Fork in the Road, method of exponentially expanding intervals...that--guess what?--just happened to produce tonal harmonies. Carl may have maneuvered himself into this stringent quasi tonal language, but it suits this quintet, a captivating world-weary elegy. (Anthony Tommasini)

The most ambitious of the pieces was Robert Carl's Trancendance, a theater piece which has the singer---with authentic period texts---enacting an American Shaker's crisis of conflicting pulls of the flesh and spirit, and the music darts between the rapt, homely manner of Shaker music and the virtuosic free-for-all that seems to come bubbling up from the steaming tureen of the unconscious. It wasn't always clear what was going on, so quick were the changes in dramatic perspective, but that there was something its intensity left no doubt of, and Karol Bennett threw herself into the split-second twists and turns of the solo part with admirable brio and precision.
(Richard Buell)

In Robert Carl's polished, epigrammatic Magic Act, Marimolin...reminded you of the kind of lively couple that can silently anticipate or finish each other's thoughts. Although it abounded in fine, specific effects of phrasing with color, the piece didn't sound arbitrary or scattered. Particularly fine was the the evanescent, ghostly, morendo conclusion--like a wisp of smoke rendered in sound. (Richard Buell)

The unarguably choice stuff was...Robert Carl's Roundabout for doublebass and tape...say that here were combined the best features of modern gallery art and the "new music"--quick, rhythmic, technologically self-aware, pop-culturish, and delighting in sharp, bright colors. (Richard Buell)

As a musical environment, Carl's Open (1998) seemed to take in several climates and terrains, some of them like electronic glisses from the lab of Dr. Frankenstein, some of them deliberately tentative sallies into straight-arrow variations writing. Surely it takes a practiced hand to write music that's unashamedly about music? That's what Carl is, and the Adaskin String Trio evidently felt so too. (Richard Buell)

"Welcome to our wake", said composer Robert Carl. Addressing the audience assembled last night for the "going out of business" concert by Extension Works....tellingly, only one of the pieces, Carl's Excavating the Perfect Farewell, was written for this concert.... Carl's valedictory piece explores potential elements of a work before arranging them in place as a melody endlessly unfolding over a primal harmony; the melody is at once a fulfillment and an embalming---one assumes at the end the cycle of life will resume. (Richard Dyer)

The New Music Connoisseur: [In] Robert Carl’s A Clean Sweep…the two shakuhachis (played by Elizabeth Brown and the composer) against a computerized sound field come to a visceral climax as one begins to get a sense of vibrating textures in the microtonal design that emerges. Carl seems to have a way with unpromising material, getting the most theatricality out of it. He no doubt brought back from Japan, where he studied the last year or so, something mysterious that touches a chord within us.

New York Classical Review: Robert Carl’s ColdNightSnow managed the feat of being both abstract and imagistic. Heard in its world premiere, the work was inspired by the long and intense New England winter of 2015. Written for two glockenspiels, the music is simple, tonal, graceful. One was immediately tempted to think of falling snow, but the sound was evocative of the shining clarity of cold winter air, the reflection of lights off bright surfaces, and the sense that there would come a thaw. The music is utterly gorgeous, and left a feeling of mesmerization that lasted as one returned to the night.

My favorite part of the piece (Piano Sonata No.2, “Clouds of Clarification”) was watching the composer react to Aron’s [Kallay] portrayal. He knew every note he wrote; this piece, like everything he has written, is his child, and he was infectiously joyous hearing it realized. I believe most of audience felt his enthusiasm, and I hope all may be as enthusiastic as microtonal music when they encounter it. (Elizabeth Hambleton, New Classic LA)

Applegate Classical-Modern Music Review: Robert Carl devises a modern music that sounds like no other. On The Geography of Loss (New World 80780-2) we have the opportunity to hear four major works.
The final piece is the eight-movement title work, "The Geography of Loss" (2010) for soprano, baritone, mixed chamber ensemble and chorus and again was written in reaction to the sudden deaths of his parents. Carl cites the influence of Bach and Stravinsky for this music and you can hear a certain structural quality in all of it that seems to reference the masters, yet it like the others stands out as original. Modern and lucidly scored, it covers a great deal of ground. The choral writing is especially poignant. In the end you come away from this program with a distinct impression of a modern master finding his own way in a high modern zone with a noticeable lyric and dramatic panache that places him in a class of one. Highly recommended.

Over the years I have found Carl’s music to be both pleasant listening and consistently thought-provoking. His work possesses a great deal of immediate, surface appeal, and yet every piece has deeper layers that repay further listening and consideration. Indeed, a remarkable property of this symphony (No.4, “The Ladder”) is that it feels both modest and substantial at the same time; it possesses a rare balance of tone that contributes to a tremendous feeling of “rightness.” (Carson Cooman, Fanfare)