Paul Dresher exemplifies the spirit of West Coast music both in the richness of his sound world as well as the inventiveness of his mind. In the tradition of Harry Partch, Conlon Nancarrow, Lou Harrison, and Bill Colvig, Paul has invented new instruments, both mechanical and electronic, each of which has expanded his musical thinking. To that he adds a background in North Indian and Balinese traditions, all of which results in music of exceptional individuality and beauty.. He's a maverick in the very best sense of the world. John Adams, Interview, 2004
[Paul Dresher has] an omnivorous sensibility that combines rock'n'roll, minimalism, Indian music and ambient sounds into a pungent and wonderfully elusive hybrid. Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, 2004
The music [in Dresher's Tyrant ] embraces pungent and delicate modernism even as it teases deftly with anxious waltz figures, menacing marches, and expansive lyricism. Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 2006
Paul Dresher is an internationally active composer noted for his ability to integrate diverse musical influences into his own coherent and unique personal style. He pursues many forms of musical expression including experimental opera and music theater, chamber and orchestral composition, live instrumental electro-acoustic music performances, musical instrument invention, and scores for theater, dance, and film.
A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2006-07, he has received commissions from the Library of Congress, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Spoleto Festival USA, the Kronos Quartet, the San Francisco Symphony, California EAR Unit, Zeitgeist, San Francisco Ballet, Walker Arts Center, Meet the Composer, Seattle Chamber Players, Present Music, San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, Chamber Music America, and the National Flute Association. He has performed or had his works performed throughout North America, Asia, and Europe at venues including New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Munich State Opera, London Sinfonietta, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, the Festival d’Automne in Paris, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, CBC Vancouver Radio Orchestra, the Minnesota Opera, Arts Summit Indonesia ’95 and Festival Interlink in Japan. Dresher has also worked extensively with many choreographers including Margaret Jenkins, Brenda Way/ODC San Francisco, Nancy Karp, Wendy Rogers, and Allyson Green.
In Oct. 2012, conductor Joana Carneiro premiered Dresher’s Concerto for Quadrachord and Orchestra, a three movement work featuring Dresher’s invention Quadrachord, with the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. The work was reprised in March 2013 by Steven Schick conducting the La Jolla Symphony.
In December of 2009, Dresher performed of his invented instrument work Glimpsed From Afar on two programs with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Disney Hall. In March of 2009 at Stanford University, Dresher premiered Schick Machine, a music theater work performed on a set comprised entirely of invented musical instruments/sound sculptures and created in collaboration with writer/director Rinde Eckert, percussionist/performer Steven Schick and mechanical sound artist Matt Heckert. In April 2008, the San Francisco Ballet premiered Dresher’s orchestral score for Thread, his collaboration with choreographer Margaret Jenkins, commissioned for the Ballet’s 75th anniversary. In May 2006, Dresher’s chamber solo chamber opera The Tyrant, for tenor John Duykers and with a libretto by Jim Lewis, premiered in five performances at Opera Cleveland and has now been produced in nine cities in the US. In 2012, the Teatro Comunale di Bolzano (Italy) created an entirely new production that received 5 performances and was broadcast live nationally on RAI 3.
Other recently completed projects include Low, Close, Vast, a joint commission from the Music and Architecture Departments at the University of Texas at Austin and a collaboration with architects Michael Rotondi and Michael Benedikt that premiered at the Music and Architecture Conference at Austin in October, 2011; the evening-length score for Light Moves (20II), a collaboration with choreographer Margaret Jenkins, painter/video artist Naomie Kremer and poet Michael Palmer; Two Entwined, for pianist Sarah Cahill that premiered at the Spoleto Festival in 2011, and Snow in June, a collaboration with playwright Charles Mee and director Chen Shi-Zheng, commissioned by the American Repertory Theatre.
A major focus of Dresher’s work has been the Paul Dresher Ensemble. Formed in 1984, this group commissions, performs and tours a diverse repertory of new chamber works from a wide range of contemporary composers, it produces and tours new opera/music theater productions; it collaborates with a broad range of dance and theater artists and organizations to create and perform new work based in contemporary music; and it mounts educational and family programs to bring its repertory to diverse audiences of all ages.
The Ensemble spent its first decade creating collaboratively created experimental theater/opera productions involving Artistic Director Paul Dresher. The best known is American Trilogy, comprised of Slow Fire, Power Failure, and Pioneer. The American Trilogy has received over 200 performances worldwide.. More recent productions of Dresher’s work include the collaboration with Rinde Eckert on the invented instrument work Sound Stage (2001, commissioned by Zeitgeist and the Walker Art Center), and Schick Machine (2009) and The Tyrant (2005-6).
In 1993 the Ensemble began commissioning, producing and performing new opera and music theater by other contemporary composers, staring with Rinde Eckert’s The Gardening of Thomas D. In 1995 it formed the core musical group for the world premiere and first tour of the John Adams/Peter Sellars/June Jordan production I Was Looking At The Ceiling And Then I Saw The Sky. In 1998, working in collaboration with composer Steve Mackey and librettist Rinde Eckert, the Ensemble produced the highly-acclaimed solo opera Ravenshead, a work honored by USA Today as the “Best Opera of ’98. In 2000, in collaboration with San Francisco’s ODC Theater, the Ensemble produced Erling Wold's chamber opera A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil and in 2003, again collaboration with ODC Theater, they produced Wold’s Sub Pontio Pilato. In the fall of 2005, the Ensemble premiered and for three years, toured Rinde Eckert’s music theater work Horizon.
In 1993, to order meet the technological and expressive demands of many contemporary composers, Mr. Dresher formed The Electro-Acoustic Band. Comprised of six musicians and a sound engineer, the band combines traditional acoustic instruments with the latest advances in live electronic music technology, and is noted for its ability to perform works that have roots in diverse traditions including classical music, rock & roll, jazz and world music. The Band is often joined by noted soloists such as pianist-composer Terry Riley, cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, violinist David Abel, and pianist Lisa Moore. The Ensemble has commissioned and/or premiered works by such composers as John Adams, John Luther Adams, Samuel Adams, Mark Applebaum, Dan Becker, Eve Beglarian, Martin Bresnick, Ryan Brown, Cindy Cox, Alvin Curran, Anthony Davis, Fred Frith, Mark Grey, Paul Hanson, Bun Ching Lam, David Lang, Keeril Makan, Steve Mackey, Ingram Marshall, James Mobberley, Bruce Pennycook, Jack Perla, Gyan Riley, Terry Riley, Roger Reynolds, Neil Rolnick, John Schott, Carl Stone, Lois Vierk and Randall Woolf. In 2014, with the support of Chamber Music America, the EAB will premiere a commission from Sebastian Currier.
In 2009, Dresher formed a new smaller ensemble, the Double Duo, combining his invented instrument duo with percussionist Joel Davel and the violin & piano duo comprised of long-time Ensemble violinist Karen Bentley Pollick and the original Bang On A Can pianist Lisa Moore. In May of 2013, the Double Duo group completed a four-city tour of Australia, during which time they were the Ensemble-in-Residence at the Canberra International Music Festival.
Born in Los Angeles in 1951, Dresher received his B.A. in Music from U.C. Berkeley and his M.A. in Composition from U.C. San Diego where he studied with Robert Erickson, Roger Reynolds, Pauline Oliveros, and Bernard Rands. He also studied intonation and instrument building with Lou Harrision. sHe has had a longtime interest in the music of Asia and Africa, studying Ghanaian drumming with C.K. and Kobla Ladzekpo, Hindustani classical music with Nikhil Banerjee as well as Balinese and Javanese music. Recordings of his works are available on the Lovely Music, New World (with Ned Rothenberg), CRI, Music and Arts, 0.0. Discs, BMG/Catalyst, MinMax, Starkland, and New Albion labels.