Alvin Curran’s music career spans nearly 50 years as a composer/performer/teacher in the American experimentalist tradition – his work readily embraces all the contradictions. Born in Providence RI in 1938 into a Yiddish speaking family of popular musicians, he studied piano from the age of five and learned trombone by himself, opening up to early formative experiences playing Jazz, dance music, Orchestral Choral and Band music. He studied composition with Ron Nelson at Brown University (in the American symphonic style) and with Elliott Carter at Yale School of Music earning an MMus. degree in 1963. Since 1964 has resided in Rome, Italy, taught briefly at the Accademia Nazionale d’Arte Drammatica, and was the Milhaud Professor of Composition at Mills College 1991-2006. His work is a kind of hand-book to music making in the late 20th Century, seen through his original pursuits of: live electronic Improvisation (founding member of MEV 1966); solo performance (“Songs and Views from the Magnetic Garden” 1973, Endangered Species 2000); Radio Art (Crystal Pslams 1988, Erat Verbum 1990, TransDadaExpress-Extraordinary Renderings, 2006) large theatrical sound installations (the Twentieth Century 1996, Gardening with John 2005, and Maritime Rites 1978 (il Laghetto di Villa Borghese, Oh Brass on the Grass Alas 2006), NPR radio series 1984, 2007- Thames River, Tate Modern London) – his expansive composition with natural sound and acoustic and electronic instruments has lead to the creation of a form of new musical theater in large architechtural and natural spaces. His chamber music includes abundant music for solo piano (Inner Cities 1-14 – a 6 hour piano cycle 1992-2008) and numerous works for ensembles and small orchestras, and chorus, many of which have been made in collaborations with choreographers, Trisha Brown, Joan Jonas, Margy Jenkins, Achim Freyer, Molissa Fenley, Nancy Karp, Wanda Golonka, and Yoshiko Chuma.
The Glass Octave
(by the composer himself)
I have been writing pieces based on the octave for as long as I can remember;
there is no other interval in anyones music history which so seductively approaches nothingness…
as if a musical sandwich made of two pieces of bread only.
It is the only interval (sound) which Elliott Carter advised his students
– Yale, 1960 – not to use in their compositions; in short “don’t bring octaves into this room..”
A personal note of thanks to Philip for bringing such keen musical focus
to the then, here-hear and now.