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: The four recent works by Robert Carl on “White Heron” all deal in various ways with space, as the composer points out in the liner notes. The album’s title piece emerged from Carl’s intimate observation of avian life in the Florida Keys. “Rocking Chair Serenade,” for string orchestra, is an elegy to, in his words, “front-porch conversation and communion in the Appalachian Mountains,” inspired by memories of his youth. The concept of space is conveyed during extended stretches of these scores that unfold in spacious, quivering, tart sonorities, often built from what Carl describes as a personalized harmony that creates “ladders” (a term I like) of all 12 chromatic pitches. This technique comes through especially in “What’s Underfoot.” Yet even in seemingly tranquil episodes, below the surface Carl’s music is restless with riffs that stir up internal intensity and thrust.

It’s gripping, almost a relief, when a piece really takes off, as in sections of the Symphony No. 5, “Land,” that teem with hurtling energy, streams of notes and slashing bursts. The performances under Gil Rose capture both the sonic allure and multilayered intricacy of the music. (Anthony Tommasini)

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) 

The Gramophone: Aficionados of contemporary music will already be familiar with the name Robert Carl as a writer. He has authored extensive reviews for Fanfare and recent, thought-provoking collection of essays on the challenges faced by contemporary composers. As an exemplar of the latter, Carl has been steadily building an admirable body of work that convincingly balances an unlikely amalgam of influences. These include the tradition of American Transcendentalism, the unflinching rigor of Xenakis (one of his teachers), and the backwards glances encouraged by a postmodern aesthetic.

The four orchestral pieces gathered here date from between 2012 and 2016. They exhibit Carl’s mature synthesis of far-ranging interests into a unique sound world that is recognizably contemporary while aiming for a timeless sublimity—the kind of transportive experience for which our era las little patience. (Thomas May)

[On States of Play]…these incongruously delicate yet gritty, occasionally grungy Chopinesque miniatures from a haunted alternative universe probe and discover music with a compelling lvesiaan curiosity.

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)

Fanfare Magazine: Robert Carl’s Splectra is as unified and diverse as his whimsically multifarious title suggests, and he could find no better collaborators than composer and sound designer Matt Sargent and harpist Alison Bjorkedal to bring his vision to fruition.

Carl states that the piece is based on C’s overtone series, but his innovative approach to its inherent complexities cannot be squeezed into any of the boxes most often fashioned to hold music with the Minimalist moniker. Check out the motors, sounding more like something out of C.P.E. Bach than anything readily associated with the 21st century, when the vast harmonic progression finally finds its way from C-minor to G-minor, or something approaching it. It is a real joy to hear Carl’s melodic invention as lines form from the places where tone and line converge….

The harmonic, melodic and rhythmic intricacies of this slowly evolving masterpiece would be enough, but Carl and Sargent add a layer of processing, or is it better to say that the processing blooms from each note? It’s all very subtle in the first section, making itself known only on strategic pitches and at key moments, but in the second section, it creates a parallel harmonic layer. The timbres…provide simultaneous commentary and development as they swell and ebb, each note complex amassing its own overtones and enriching the already sumptuous harmonic landscape.

There are so many discs that I review and never audition again, which speaks not so much to any lack of quality but to their becoming too familiar too quickly. Not so with Splectra, whose deceptive simplicity yields deep satisfaction every time I play it. (Marc Medwin)

The idea of music inspired by the actual contours of landscape is not new (Villa-Lobos used it extensively), but Robert Carl’s tracing of a contour in River’s Bend (2011) for two flutes exhibits real subtlety, especially in such a respectful performance as this one by Janet Arms and John McMurtery (the two flute lines have an equal say)….Interesting how Carl’s skillful writing for just two flutes is just as impressive as his way with a symphonic canvas (his Fifth Symphony is on an album that is the subject of an interview with the composer in this issue). Written for flute and piano, the earlier Birds and Flowers (1990) is again inspired by scenery, this time two sets of hills/mountains: the English Cotswolds and the New England Berkshires. It is intriguing how Carl’s angular lines seem softened by the timbres he chooses, a fine piece of writing.

Robert Carl’s Forms of Floating (1981) is an early work, but I’m not sure I could tell; it is fluent and well-shaped, and coherent in its musical language. The three movements of his 2006/08 Sonatina, “The Dance of Space and Sound” all reflect aspects of the composer’s preoccupation with space and how it might be constructed or filled with sound. Arms and Goldberg are superb partners here; one can hear just how closely they react to one another. Particular praise is due to Arms for her control of flutter-tonguing in the central movement. The warmth of the harmonies of the finale comes as a bit of a (pleasant) shock; the title is “Freeing the space” so one assumes this refers to a sort of expansion. (Colin Clarke)

Sequenza 21: Clouds of Clarification is a technically challenging piece – and the listener is naturally drawn to the velocity and agitation of the notes. The polish of the just intonation tuning, however, provides a sonority that artfully mirrors the surfaces. (Paul Muller)

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.

New Classic LA: 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)

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)

Classical CD Review: This [White Heron] is an important release giving collectors the opportunity to hear music by a leading contemporary American composer, beautifully performed by the virtuoso Boston Modern Orchestra Project directed by Gil Rose, a master at discovering new treasures. The recordings were made 2018 - 2018, and the multi-channel audio is first-rate. Whether regarded for its atmospheric reverence for nature or deep intellectual (or spiritual) reflections on the meaning of time and space, White Heron is essential listening, and an entrée for many to the music of a modern American master. (Linda Holt)