The shakuhachi in Taiwan, June 2009

Robert Carl writes music that strives to create a sense of spaciousness, opens the listener to new possibilities of perception and openness. He received his musical training at Yale, Penn, and the University of Chicago. As an undergraduate, he was a history major, with a concentration on the late-19C south. 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 received the 2016 Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; he received the Charles Ives Fellowship from the same organization in 1998. He has also 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 Harmony, his opera with novelist Russell Banks on the meeting of Charles Ives and Mark Twain: 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; Symphony No. 4, “The Ladder,” No.5, “Land”, and No. 6 "Dome of Refuge"; and The Geography of Loss for soloists, choir, and eight instrumentalists, premiered by Khorikos.

As a writer on new music, Mr. Carl was 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 which involved the interviewing of 25 contemporary Japanese composers. A New World CD of electroacoustic music written during and related to his Japanese sojourn was released in July 2012. An Innova CD of recent major piano works was released in June 2013. He writes extensively on new music for Fanfare, 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. He is the editor of Jonathan Kramer’s final manuscript, Postmodern Listening, Postmodern Music, released by Bloomsbury Academic in 2016. In 2020 Bloomsbury also released his set of essays on issues in new music, Music Composition in the 21st Century: A Practical Guide for the New Common Practice.

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project released a CD of four orchestral works in 2020, receiving international critical acclaim.  New World Records has also presented programs of his string chamber works, and orchestral/choral music.  An Innaova CD features recent major piano work. In 1999 he received a Copland Award, which resulted in an artistic residency in the Copland home that fall. 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, 2007 and 2014, 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, Ragdale and Ucross Foundations, and at the MacDowell and Millay. 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; in 2011 he was resident composer for performances and masterclasses at Hacettepe University National Conservatory, Ankara, Turkey; and in July 2013 he was composer-in-residence at both the Wintergreen Music Festival in the Virginia Blue Ridge, and Western Michigan University.

His works are published by American Composers' Edition (www.composers.com), and Boosey and Hawkes. Other CDs of his work include piano music on Centaur; his sextet Time/Memory/Shadow on Neuma; the song "Beginning my Studies" on Cedille; a selection of electronic, experimental and theatrical works on Innova (Roundabout); and A Wide Open Field for electronic cello and orchestra on Vienna Modern Masters.

Mr. Carl has written works for soloists Robert Black, contrabass; Kathleen Supové, piano; Guido Arbonelli, and John Bruce Yeh, clarinet, among others. Currently he is chair of the composition department at The Hartt School, University of Hartford. He was a director of the Extension Works new music ensemble in Boston.


Artistic 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 2+ decades. I’ve been using “screens” of overtones from which to derive new harmonic combinations, and whose common partials create links for modulation. So far--in my ear at least--the result is a sound that’s fresh and satisfying. It allows me to write textrures that are often extremely active and dense without sounding cloudy or clogged. It gives me a way to use the total chromatic but maintain a sense of deep tonal rootedness, with careful registration of pitches. I feel, 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.