History and Purpose
The Paul Dresher Ensemble is one of only a handful of composer-led performing groups active in the US today with a repertory that is almost entirely commissioned. Each year The Ensemble tours nationally, bringing contemporary chamber music and new music theater to American audiences across the country. The Ensemble presents new music in ways that make it accessible to core audiences as well as to people who find this repertory surprising or challenging. The performances attract listeners interested in bridging aesthetic divides–between “serious” and “popular” styles, or between different musical genres and ethnicities.
Founded in 1985, The Paul Dresher Ensemble spent its first decade performing experimental theater/opera productions by artistic director Dresher. Perhaps best known is The American Trilogy, which encompasses SLOW FIRE, Power Failure, and Pioneer. Created collaboratively with performance-artist Rinde Eckert, tenor John Duykers, and designer/writer/songwriter Terry Allen, The American Trilogy has received over 200 performances worldwide. Slow Fire was recently remounted for its 20 th anniversary production, which continues to tour.
In 1993, to meet the technological and expressive demands of contemporary composers, Mr. Dresher formed The Electro-Acoustic Band. Comprised of six musicians and two sound engineers, the Band’s concerts often feature noted soloists such as pianist-composer Terry Riley, cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, violinist David Abel, and pianist Lisa Moore. The Band performs compositions from diverse musical traditions–including classical, rock & roll, jazz and world music, focusing almost exclusively on newly commissioned work by such composers as John Adams, Eve Beglarian, Cindy Cox, Alvin Curran, Anthony Davis, Bun Ching Lam, David Lang, Ingram Marshall, Terry Riley, and Ayuo Takahashi. In October 2004, The Band made its Carnegie debut at Zankel Hall with a program of music by Paul Dresher.
Also in 1993 The Ensemble began presenting theatrical works by other composers. This has included the John Adams/Peter Sellars/June Jordan production I Was Looking At The Ceiling And Then I Saw The Sky, as well as the acclaimed solo opera Ravenshead (1998), a collaboration with composer Steve Mackey and librettist Rinde Eckert. In 2000, collaborating with San Francisco’s ODC Theater, The Ensemble produced a Erling Wold’s A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil. In 2001 the Ensemble premiered Sound Stage, a collaboration with Zeitgeist and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Performed on a stage comprised of very large-scale, invented musical instruments, this work tours nationally each year. The Ensemble’s newest production is Dresher’s chamber opera The Tyrant (2005), composed for tenor John Duykers and a six-person acoustic chamber ensemble. To date the opera has been produced in Seattle, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, and Napa Valley, California, with excerpts performed in San Francisco. A fully staged production will be performed on the Cleveland Opera’s home season this May.
The Ensemble, under the legal name Musical Traditions, is supported by a broad base of individual, governmental and private funders. They include the San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund’s Grants for the Arts, BMI, Chamber Music America, Copland Fund for Music, Creative Work Fund, Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Meet the Composer, Opera America, Bernard Osher Foundation, Rockefeller MAP Fund, Thendara Foundation, Trust for Mutual Understanding and the Zellerbach Family Foundation, as well as individual contributors.