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/music theater, chamber and orchestral composition, live instrumental electro-acoustic music, musical instrument invention, and scores for theater and dance.
A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition in 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, Zeitgeist, San Francisco Ballet, Seattle Chamber Players, Present Music, Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, Brenda Way/ODC Dance and Chamber Music America. He has performed or had his works performed throughout the world at venues including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Festival d ’automne in Paris, the Other Minds Festival, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, and the Minnesota Opera.
Recent works include, Global Moves (2022) and Breathing at the Boundaries (2020) both created with Rinde Eckert and the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, Trace Figures (2019) a site specific work also with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company using Dresher’s invented instruments; Crazy Eights & Fractured Symmetries which was commissioned and premiered by the Berkeley Symphony in October 2016, Family Matters (2014) – a duo for TwoSense – cellist Ashley Bathgate and pianist Lisa Moore, Concerto for Quadrachord & Orchestra (2012) composed for conductor Joana Carneiro and the Berkeley Symphony, and a major piano work – Two Entwined (2011) – commissioned by pianist Sarah Cahill and premiered at the Spoleto Festival USA.
In 2015, Dresher entered an entirely new arena with Sound Maze, a hands-on installation of his large-scale invented musical instruments created in collaboration with Daniel Schmidt. Sound Maze, which is appropriate to audience/participants of all ages, has been presented at OZ in Nashville, the Esplanade Theater in Singapore, Fort Mason in San Francisco, the Mondavi Center at UC Davis, the Napa Valley Museum, USC’s Fisher Museum, UNC Chapel Hill’s CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio (where it was the inaugural exhibition) and at The Doseum in San Antonio. From Dec. 2022 to mid-April 2023, it was installed at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and continues to be booked in both performing arts centers and museums.
In 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. The work has since toured to Hong Kong and has been presented in the US at such venues as the Krannert Center in Urbana, Il, UCLA, UCSD, Breckenridge International Festival of the Arts and the Mondavi Center at UC Davis. The work continues to tour nationally.
His solo chamber opera, The Tyrant, with a libretto by Jim Lewis, was written for renowned contemporary opera tenor John Duykers. Inspired by the writing of Italo Calvin, the work premiered at Opera Cleveland in May, 2006 and has since been produced in 10 cities in the United States. In 2012, the Teatro Comunale di Bolzano (Italy) created an entirely new production of The Tyrant that then traveled produced in Rotterdam and was broadcast live nationally in Italy on RAI 3 and internationally.
In 2016, ODC Dance Theater commissioned and premiered Dresher’s score Walk Back the Cat at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. In 2012 Dresher wrote Times Bones for the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company (YBCA, score performed by the Ensemble). In December of 2009, Dresher performed his invented instrument work, Glimpsed From Afar, on two programs with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Disney Hall. 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.
Other 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 and performed at ART, Boston in 2003.
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; produces and tours new opera/music theater productions; collaborates with a broad range of dance and theater artists and organizations to create and perform new work based in contemporary music; and mounts educational and family programs to bring its repertory to diverse audiences of all ages. Dresher leads three different music groups within the Ensemble: the seven-member Electro-Acoustic Band, the Dresher Double Duo and the Dresher|Davel Invented Instrument Duo. In November 2004, the Electro-Acoustic Band made its Carnegie Hall debut, performing a concert of Dresher’s chamber works as part of the “In Your Ear Festival” curated by John Adams.
The group celebrated its 21st anniversary in December 2014 at Cal Performances in Berkeley with the highly-acclaimed premiere of “They Will Have Been So Beautiful”, a project for which 10 composers were commissioned to write songs for singer/composer Amy X Neuburg and the Electro-Acoustic Band. For the Band, Dresher has commissioned and/or premiered works by 45 different composers, including four who subsequently went on to win the Pulitzer Prize: John Adams, John Luther Adams, David Lang and this past year’s winner Anthony Davis, who won for his opera “The Central Park Five”. Other commissioned composers include Eve Beglarian, Lisa Bielawa, Martin Bresnick, Carla Kihlstedt, Conrad Cummings, Alvin Curran, Sebastian Currier, Rinde Eckert, Fred Frith, Guillermo Galindo, Bun Ching Lam, Steve Mackey, James Mobberley, Bruce Pennycook, Jack Perla, Roger Reynolds, Terry Riley, Neil Rolnick, Ken Ueno, Chinary Ung, Lois Vierk, and Pamela Z.
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 Harrison. He 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 (Composers Recordings, Inc), Music and Arts, 0.0. Discs, BMG/Catalyst, MinMax, Starkland, and New Albion labels.