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Ruben Naeff: Interview



I recently spoke with composer Ruben Naeff who is one of the winners of Wild Rumpus’ Commissioning Project, and whose piece Euphoria is being featured on our upcoming concert on May 11, 2013 at Salle Pianos in San Francisco. Ruben is a native of the Netherlands, but has lived for the last few years in New York City. He recently graduated with a Master’s degree from New York University, where he studied with Michael Gordon, and is currently working as a freelance composer and a math teacher. Our conversation ranged over a wide array of topics, from differences between the Dutch and American music scenes, to economics, to the various influences at work in his very evocative and engaging music. – Dan VanHassel

Dan VanHassel: You have a certain perspective on music that I think is a bit different than the typical contemporary music composer. You weren’t originally planning to be a musician correct?

Ruben Naeff: That’s true. I studied mathematics, I did a Master’s degree so I studied that for six years. But I had composition lessons all the time as well. Then I had a short break in composition lessons because I moved and didn’t have a piano, so that’s why I started studying musicology just so I would have something going on. After my graduation I went to the Conservatory at the Hague to study full time, but I didn’t like that at all, so I quit after half a year and became a business strategy consultant. I did that for about a year, and after that I worked as an economist at the anti-trust department. Breaking up monopolies and so forth. So I was a watchdog.

That was actually fun. I was doing economical research, scanning the markets to see which ones were vulnerable to these practices. Typically markets with high technicalities that are difficult for consumers to understand. I just did research, so I didn’t really deal with complaints. Well I did a little bit, I assisted with dawn raids, where you go early in the morning to a company and say “Everyone freeze!” and you go through the books. It’s kind of fun actually, you go with the police.

D: (laughs)

R: And you can do good work. I like working in business, but on the good side of business. Trying to make it fair.

D: So how does all of this relate to you as a composer? Does it relate?

R: Yeah…maybe it does actually. Everyone always asks me how mathematics relates to music, but now you’re asking me about…

D: I’m asking you how does anti-trust work relate to music.

R: (laughs) Yeah, well…not at all…maybe there are some things…

D: Was music just an escape for you? Just a totally different thing?

R: Well, both are true. Yes, it’s a different part of the brain. So if I work hard as an economist or a mathematician then I’m tired, but if I spend the next day composing it’s totally fine. It’s not like you’re tired so you can’t, because it’s a different part of the brain. And if you’re tired composing then you have more energy for doing the other things. So it was actually very productive.

Also, having that kind of job teaches you to be efficient. So your composing itself becomes more efficient.

D: Because you have limited time to work?

R: Yeah, but you also apply all of the things you learn at your job to your composing, like how to divide your time, what are the real problems you have to address, and so forth.

D: I remember when we spoke before you said something about how you felt that you didn’t identify with the musical status quo at the school you were at or in general in the Netherlands, in terms of the avant-garde, etc. Is this still what you think?

R: I must say that I have lost touch a bit with the music from Holland. But that’s one reason why I moved to the U.S. actually, because I think that the music here – and I know mostly New York, but I have a feeling it’s the same where you guys are, because I hear the same music – the music I hear here is more down to earth, as in it’s very clear what it is and what it wants to tell, and it is free of pretensions in that way. This is the answer you were looking for I think!

D: Well…I’m not necessarily looking for anything…

R: Hold on, because I’m going to answer it right now. In every field, but especially in consulting or economics, there are many people who are just talking BS, right? So they want to convince you of their point of view and they make arguments and sometimes they use very difficult words just to – well maybe it’s not on purpose – but the effect is that many people get intimidated by the difficult words and they think “Wow! This is a really smart consultant. I don’t really understand what he’s saying, but I don’t want to look stupid, and it sounds quite nice, so probably it’s true.” Something like that right? This happens more often than you think. And I think it happens in new music too. Not so much here, but in the Netherlands I hear people writing music that is just using difficult “words” – or notes, in that case.

D: Do you mean in terms of the way people talk about music? Or the music itself?

R: The music itself. And it’s emphasized by the way they talk about the music, because if you read the program notes it’s all very esoteric and floating away. And what I noticed is that if you listen to American music it is more direct, I think. More accessible, but that doesn’t make it easier.

Another difference is the following discussion, which I often had in Holland  – although I was also much younger, so maybe that helps – I would ask “How do you think the audience will get this?” and they would say “Why do you refer to something like an audience? Because if you want to write music that’s appealing for an audience you should write pop songs.” That’s the kind of discussion you would often have. It’s very black and white, and not very honest either, because they do want to have an audience also. Sometimes in Holland, I’m not sure about the other countries, because Europe is less homogeneous than Americans often think, but in Holland especially new music often is a kind of “sacred” thing. So there’s always this serious thing around it, which is not healthy for the art itself either, you know? We talk [in America] about a “piece” and there they talk about a “composition”, that’s already a big difference.

D: So who would you say your audience is? Who are you writing for?

R: I have actually thought about that. My audience is fictitious person, a person like me, not necessarily me myself. This is something I think of between composing, it’s not what I think of during composing. Why do I write music? Why do I write in this genre? Why do I not just write film music? Why do I write music that doesn’t sell? Right? This is actually the question?

D: Sure.

R: I think about someone who struggles with things in the world and in his life, and thinks about that and tries to seek answers to that, and also in a musical way. He tries to hear music that responds to things that he feels. It’s very abstract I realize…

D: So are you writing for other composers and other artists? Or more of a sort of general public? Or do you not think about that? Because, you’re saying people that want to experience music in this way, it sounds like that’s going to be primarily musicians who want to do that right?

R: Yeah, that’s true. But it’s a little bit broader, everyone who’s interested in music. I’m not writing for someone who gets scared easily. So I’m not avoiding difficult things – Ok, let me give you two different answers that are contradictory and both true. First let me say, I do adjust what I write if I know the audience is different. I noticed that, maybe not on purpose. One time I wrote for a general audience of scientists (De Bètacanon), and I knew it would be a book presentation, and I knew that the audience wouldn’t be scientists but more people with a general interest in science. That was the only thing I knew. And I had that audience in mind. It’s not that I dumbed down everything, but I talked to them, so you change your voice.

Listen to De Bètacanon[audio:|titles=De Betacanon|artists=Ruben Naeff]

D: So how did you change what you did for them? What does that mean? Does that mean you simplified things, or you used a different type of musical language?

R: Well, I wanted to set their “Bètacanon” to music, so I made that very clear. I started with words they can relate to and it’s very clear what is going on. And in a piece that’s written for a new music ensemble in New York, you can go crazy right away, because people will right away understand that. So the context makes it a little bit different. It’s not like you have some idea and you think “oh they won’t understand, so let’s make it easy”. That’s not how it works but it’s that I have something else to tell. I always hated it if somebody wants to explain something to you but they don’t really explain it because they are afraid they will lose you. So he’s making it easier, but then also a little harder. So I’d rather think, maybe this is too hard, but they will get it if they listen ten times. So I’m not diluting the music I want to write.

D: In your music I hear a lot of different influences. I’m curious what you see as your major influences.

R: Stravinsky, of course. But, world music often helps me.

D: Oh yeah? What kind?

R: Often, Latin music. This was very important in Fill the Present Day with Joy actually. It has a sort of groove, and there are often claves in my music.

It differs a little bit though, in De Bètacanon I used this song in the middle that I thought was very inspired by a Dutch cabaret song. Often stand up comedians have a sort of song that is very simple, but effective, and this sounded much like that. There is a kind of potpourri of all kinds of genres.

I’m interested in living things…what are other people now playing, what are other people now dancing to, what do other people love now, and I want to dive into that.

Listen to Fill the Present Day with Joy:
[audio:|titles=Fill the Present Day with Joy|artists=Ruben Naeff]

D: So what is your relationship to pop music?

R: I tune in and out every now and then. I’m not super thrilled actually, because often it’s just a trick, or just the same music, like Amy Winehouse, for example, is just the same music with a different filter over it.

D: The same music as what?

R: As the blues. Often popular music I don’t find very interesting. But for example, sometimes I pick something out that I think I should know, or get into. So I’ve listened to a ton of Radiohead and Coldplay. Like in Fill the Present Day with Joy, the entire intro is a Radiohead kind of intro.

D: Oh, that’s the part I though sounded like Philip Glass, but it’s Radiohead actually!

R: Here’s the thing. You write music, you look for what you think is beautiful and after a few pieces you ask yourself, what on earth have I been doing? And what is it that I want to write? I think I am looking for something, but I’m not sure what, so I’m trying to figure out what I’m looking for. So now if I look back on my last few pieces after De Bètacanon, I thought I should find new harmonies, so that’s why I started playing with twelve-tone rows.

D: So what about the piece you wrote for Wild Rumpus, Euphoria? I didn’t notice any twelve-tone stuff in there. Are you using tone rows in this one?

R: Yes, but it’s very distinct. I started with a progression using all twelve tones, and I started playing with that. The piece grows, but not all of the twelve tones grew as big. So there are actually basically four chords in the entire pieces, and the other chords crop up somewhere.  So with a microscope you might be able to find them.

D: So you started with twelve chords, but then they kind of grew at different rates, so some of them got a little obscured?

R: Yes, but I also did some mirror stuff, so other chords come in that are not part of the row. But it was a departure point. Because I’m not trying to use the row to construct something like in serialism, I’m just trying to break out of something that I am always doing. It also brings you different rhythms if you have a twelve-tone melody, and you have chords under that. They will dictate rhythms, so you get this kind of meter automatically. But when I look back on my last few pieces, including the piece I wrote for Wild Rumpus, they are very busy and I think they represent that life is busy, and there’s a lot of information thrown at us, and we have to do something with that and be happy with it.

The 2012 Commissioning Project Results!

Results are in! 383 submissions later, we’re delighted to announce that we’re commissioning the following composers for new pieces:

Ioannis Angelakis
Per Bloland
Eliza Brown
Joshua Carro
Ruby Fulton
Leaha Maria Villareal
Lee Weisert
Nina C. Young
With so many more applications than last year, it took us longer to finish reviewing submissions than we’d expected, so our commissions will premiere over the 2014 calendar year, as opposed to just the 2013-2014 season. Thanks again to everyone who took the time to send us their work! We can’t wait to get started!

Ioannis Angelakis

ioannisBorn in Thessaloniki, Greece in 1988. He studied in the Department of Music of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and he received his undergraduate degree in composition. His principal teacher was Prof. Christos Samaras. Since fall 2011 he has been living in Boston, where he is studying with Joshua Fineberg in a master’s degree in composition in Boston University.

He is a recipient of many international and national awards and distinctions and he has been selected in numerous festivals of new music.

Per Bloland

per-verticalPer Bloland is a composer of acoustic and electroacoustic music whose works have been described as having an “incandescent effect” with “dangerous and luscious textures.” The New York Times recently praised him for his “ear-opening electronic innovations.” His compositions range from short, intimate solo pieces to works for large orchestra, and incorporate video, dance, and custom built electronics. He has received awards and recognition from national and international organizations, including SEAMUS/ASCAP, Digital Art Awards of Tokyo, ISCM, and SCI/ASCAP. Performers of his work include the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, the ICE Ensemble, Bent Frequency, Insomnio, the Callithumpian Consort, Linea Ensemble, ECCE, and Inauthentica, among others. His music can be heard on the TauKay (Italy), Capstone, Spektral, and SEAMUS labels, and through the MIT Press. The first album dedicated to his compositions, featuring performances by the East Coast Contemporary Ensemble, will be released on John Zorn’s Tzadik label in the fall of 2013.

Bloland is also the co-creator of the Electromagnetically-Prepared Piano, about which he has given numerous lecture/demonstrations and published a paper. He is an Assistant Professor of Technology and Music Theory at Miami University, Ohio, and is currently in residence at IRCAM in Paris for the spring semester of 2013 for a Musical Research Residency. He received his D.M.A. in composition from Stanford University and his M.M. from the University of Texas at Austin.

Eliza Brown

elizaComposer Eliza Brown (b. 1985) writes music that explores the interaction between natural acoustic properties of sound, the physical construction of instruments, and culturally defined elements of musical meaning and syntax. Eliza’s music, described as “delicate, haunting, [and] introspective” by Symphony Magazine, has been performed and/or commissioned by Ensemble Dal Niente, Network for New Music, Spektral Quartet, Wet Ink Ensemble, members of the PRISM and Anubis saxophone quartets, and others. Eliza’s current projects include the Barely cycle, an extractable cycle of solo works and chamber miniatures that seeks to render in sound the interior psychological processes of identity formation and attempted communication, and a new opera with librettist Royce Vavrek inspired by Bronzino’s 1539 portrait of Cosimo I di Medici as Orpheus. A native of Philadelphia, Eliza is currently a doctoral student and lecturer at Northwestern University.

Joshua Carro

joshuajoshua michael carro (b.1982) is a sound artist based in Los Angeles, California. starting at the age of 5 years old, carro pursued a life in the arts by drawing and the making of objects. at the age of 9, josh became obsessed with jazz and quickly began to play and specialize in jazz drumset. this would later lead him to a scholarship to Arizona State University where he then was able to study classical percussion and new music composition. carro is now pursuing a master’s degree in performance and composition from CalArts where he studies with Ulrich Krieger, Wolfgang Von Schweinitz, Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, Susan Allen, and Randy Gloss. carro has released over 10 electro-acoustic albums on a series of net labels including: H.L.M. (France), Somehow Recordings (London), with reviews by Silent Ballet, Kultur Industrialna (Poland), Norman Records, and Linus Records (Japan).

Ruby Fulton

rubyBaltimore-based musician Ruby Fulton (b.1981) writes music which invites listeners to explore non-musical ideas through sound. Her musical portfolio includes explorations into mental illness, buddhism, philosophy, psychedelic drugs, addiction, and chess strategy; and profiles of iconic popular figures Syd Barrett, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Ringo Starr. She holds degrees from Boston University, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Peabody Conservatory, and she teaches composition at the Shenandoah Conservatory.

Leaha Maria Villareal

leahaBlending literature and visual art with experimental composition, Leaha Maria Villareal brings a contemporary focus to classical music. Her sonic explorations often stem from themes of home, loss, and memory.

With works written for dance, opera, and the concert hall, Villarreal’s output includes the electro-acoustic solo The Warmth of Other Suns for violinist Andie Tanning Springer, The Bell for Waking/The Bell for Sleep premiered by the JACK Quartet, and A Window to a Door commissioned by Experiments in Opera. She has worked with organizations and ensembles such as W4, the Composers’ Voice concert series, the Boston New Music Initiative, BODYART, and the PUBLIQuartet. Past composition teachers include Pulitzer-prize winner Roger Reynolds, Steven Kazuo Takasugi, Chinary Ung, and Tania Leon. Villarreal holds a B.A. from the University of California, San Diego and is pursuing her M.M. at New York University with Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon.

In addition to her work as a composer, Villarreal is an avid supporter of the performing arts. She has lent her services to such preeminent institutions as Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Wordless Music Series, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, MATA, the Unsound Festival, and the FIGMENT Arts Festival on Governor’s Island. She is a co-founder and the artistic director of the New York-based contemporary music ensemble Hotel Elefant. (

Originally from Los Angeles, Leaha lives and works in New York City.

Lee Weisert

leeLee Weisert is a composer of instrumental and electronic music. His recent work draws inspiration from a wide variety of scientific disciplines and reinterprets their respective principles into an artistic context. His instrumental music has been played by nationally recognized performers and ensembles, including Steve Schick and the red fish blue fish percussion ensemble, the Callithumpian Consort, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and the JACK string quartet. His pieces have been performed at several music festivals including the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice (SICPP 2009, 2011), June in Buffalo (2008), and New Interfaces In Musical Expression (NIME 2009, 2012).

His electronic music, composed primarily in cSound and MAX/MSP, deals with algorithmic and chaotic structures in 4- and 8-channel spatialization. Along with composer Jonathon Kirk, he is a member of the Portable Acoustic Modification Laboratory (PAML), a collaborative sound installation team. PAML’s most recent project, Cryoacoustic Orb, uses hydrophones frozen inside several large spheres of ice to create a dense and naturally-evolving soundscape. Lee has degrees in music composition from the University of Colorado (BM), California Institute of the Arts (MM), and Northwestern University (DM). His primary composition instructors have been James Tenney, Michael Pisaro, Jay Alan Yim, and Chris Mercer. He is currently an assistant professor at UNC Chapel Hill.

Nina C. Young

ninaNina C. Young (b.1984) is a New York-based composer who writes instrumental and electronic music. Her pieces incorporate her research on blending amplification and live electronics into instrumental ensembles, always with a view toward creating a natural and cohesive sound world.

Nina’s music has been performed internationally by ensembles including the Orkest de ereprijs, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, JACK Quartet, Sixtrum, Yarn/Wire, the Chameleon Arts Ensemble, and artists affiliated with the Live@CIRMMT Concert Series. The American Composers Orchestra recently read her orchestral work “Remnants” as part of the Underwood New Music Readings. Nina has received honors from BMI, IAWM, SEAMUS, and SCI and has participated in festivals and conferences including the 17th International Young Composers Meeting, SEAMUS, N SEME, Domaine Forget’s New Music Session, the Electroacoustic Barn Dance, the European American Musical Alliance, and the US State Department’s Fusion Arts Exchange. Nina has held fellowship residencies at the Atlantic Music Festival and the Bennington Chamber Music Conference; and will participate as a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center in 2013.

Nina is currently pursuing doctoral studies in composition at Columbia University under the tutelage of Fred Lerdahl, George Lewis, Richard Carrick, and Brad Garton. She is an active participant at the Columbia Computer Music Center where she is teaching electronic music. Nina received a Master’s degree from McGill University, studying with Sean Ferguson. While in Montreal she worked as a research assistant at the Centre for Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT) and as a studio and teaching assistant at the McGill Digital Composition Studios. Nina completed her undergraduate studies at MIT receiving degrees in ocean engineering and music (working with Keeril Makan) alongside holding a research assistantship at the MIT Media Lab.

In addition to concert music Nina composes music for theatre, dance, and film. She also works as a concert organizer and promoter of new music; Nina currently serves as General Manager for the publisher APNM (Association for the Promotion of New Music) and as a board member of Columbia Composers.

Concert May 11, 2013: World Premieres

We are holding our final concert of the season on Saturday, May 11, 2013 at Salle Pianos (1632 C Market St) in Hayes Valley in San Francisco at 8 pm. We will be performing five world premieres by young and emerging composers from all over the world: Julian Day, Ruben Naeff, Jonathan Russell, Jeffrey Treviño, and Dan VanHassel. Tickets will be available at the door, prices are $25 ($15 for students). Wine and desserts from La Boulange Bakery included in ticket price.


Jeffrey Treviño: The World All Around (2013) for piano, harp, and clarinet

Dan VanHassel: Incite (2013) for electric guitar and piano

Julian Day: Father (2013) for clarinet, electric guitar, piano, violin, cello, and percussion

Ruben Naeff: Euphoria (2013) for flute, clarinet, harp, electric guitar, piano, violin, cello, and percussion

Jonathan Russell: Lament and Frippery (2013) for clarinet, harp, piano, violin, and cello

Julian Day ::


Julian Day is a composer and sound artist based in Sydney, Australia. Described as “an epic and intimate formalist”, he creates evocative works through simple yet often lateral means. His work inhabits a lush and frequently dark world of slowed down sounds, broken patterns and basic geometries, influenced by conceptual art, cracked media and pop culture. Recent works include Ascent for 100 flutes, Totem for skipping CDs and Ceremony for multiple spatialized synthesizers. Much of his work is site-specific and collaborative, taking place in spaces as varied as railway sheds, former meat markets and even on New York’s Central Park lake.

Day has worked with Lisa Moore and Mark Stewart (Bang On A Can All Stars), TILT Brass, Mark Dancigers (NOW Ensemble), David Longstreth (Dirty Projectors), ExhAUST and DuoSolo. His work has featured at New York’s MATA festival, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, ISCM World New Music Days, Whitechapel Gallery (London), Het Nutshuis (The Hague), Liquid Architecture Festival and Perth Institute of Contemporary Art. He directs the keyboard ensemble An Infinity Room (A.I.R) and co-directs Super Critical Mass, a large-scale performance project for massed identical instruments.

Day studied at the Queensland Conservatorium and Sydney College of the Arts, undertaking lessons and masterclasses with Louis Andriessen, Martin Bresnick, Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe among others. He won the British Council’s Realize Your Dream Award and The Australian Voices Young Composer of the Year. Julian is also a writer and new music broadcaster, having appeared on BBC Radio 3 and ABC Classic FM. His interviewees include Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Pauline Oliveros, Christian Wolff, Terry Riley, Laurie Anderson and John Cale.

Ruben Naeff ::


Educated in both mathematics and music and recently employed as an economist, Dutch composer Ruben Naeff (1981) finds himself in an attempt to comprehend the world and set it to music.  His broad interest led to many interdisciplinary pieces like De Bètacanon (about the hard sciences), The Dancing Dollar (about the current financial crisis), and the YouOpera (about our lives online). Currently, he is a recipient of the HSP Huygens Talent Scholarship from the Dutch government to study composition with Michael Gordon in a master’s program at New York University.

Ruben has collaborated with numerous people and organizations from a wide range of disciplines, reaching from national newspaper de Volkskrant to the debate & fine arts festival happyChaos. He is co-founder of the West 4th New Music Collective, which promotes the work of emerging composers in New York. He has written for renowned ensembles as the Deviant Septet, JACK Quartet, Vigil Ensemble, Cadillac Moon Ensemble, the Los Angeles based duo Meyerson & Valitutto, and the Dutch Erasmus Kamerkoor and Quatre Bouches, and for festivals as the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, Music11, and the UNL Chamber Music Institute. His music has been performed in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Latvia, and various states across the USA (NY, CA, MA, CT, TX, NE). He has joined forces with such public figures as NRC Handelsblad economics editor Maarten Schinkel, scientists and (former) presidents of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences Robbert Dijkgraaf and Frits van Oostrom, and the Dutch Fokke & Sukke cartoonist Jean-Marc van Tol.

Jeffrey Treviño ::


Jeff Treviño’s recent projects include a one-act musical theater adaptation of Anthony Ha’s award-winning science-fiction story, Orbiting, a set of solo percussion frames for recordings of Alice Notley reading her poems, four two-minute duos for for a two-seat theatre in the Hammer Museum’s coat closet, a series of abstract animations for Golden Parachutes gallery’s Total Vivid Presence, and a year-long series of fluxus performances with his Berlin-based ensemble, the Institute for Intermediate Studies. Notable mentors include Mark Applebaum, Brian Ferneyhough, Max Mathews, Rand Steiger, Miller Puckette, Tom Erbe, Walter Zimmermann, Pauline Oliveros, Beat Furrer, Helmut Lachenmann, Chaya Czernowin, and Steven Takasugi.

Treviño has received commissions from the University of California at Berkeley Graduate Program in Media Studies, the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Music at the University of California at Santa Barbara, bass clarinetist Anthony Burr, percussionist Ross Karre, pianist Rei Nakamura, contrabassist James Ilgenfritz, violinist Batya MacAdam-Somer, and the Arditti String Quartet, with notable premieres at the International Computer Music Conference (Miami, 2004, and New Orleans, 2006), the Oberlin Conservatory Percussion Institute (2006), New York City’s Symphony Space, Germany’s Akademie Schloss Solitude Summer Residencies, South Korea’s Seoul International Computer Music Festival (2007), Mexico’s Visiones Sonoras (2007), SIGGRAPH (2007), the International Conference of the Society for Improvised Music (Chicago, 2007), the Freiburg Hochschule für Musik, June in Buffalo (2008), Portugal’s Vila Real Conservatory, New York City’s Miguel Abreu Gallery, the Carlsbad Music Festival (2008), Freiburg im Breisgau’s E-Werk (2009), and Berlin’s Hanns Eisler Akademie (2009).

An accomplished pianist and tubist, Treviño has performed in world class venues such as Carnegie Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Sheldonian Theatre, and the Sydney Opera House. He is currently studying John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano with pianist Aleck Karis.

Treviño researches the ways composers think when they write computer programs, and his doctoral work at the University of California at San Diego is supported by the university’s San Diego Fellowship, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the university’s Center for Latin-American Studies.

Jonathan Russell ::


Jonathan Russell is a composer, clarinetist, conductor, and educator who is active in a wide variety of music, from classical to experimental to klezmer to church music. Especially known for his innovative bass clarinet and clarinet ensemble compositions, his works for bass clarinet duo, bass clarinet quartet, bass clarinet soloists, and clarinet ensembles have been performed around the world and are radically expanding the technical and stylistic possibilities of these genres. He has received commissions from ensembles such as the San Francisco Symphony, Empyrean Ensemble, ADORNO Ensemble, Classical Revolution, Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, Imani Winds, and DZ4, and performances from numerous other ensembles and performers, including the Berkeley Symphony, San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra, the BluePrint Project, the Great Noise Ensemble, the new music bands FIREWORKS, Capital M, and Oogog, pianist-percussionist Danny Holt, and pianists Sarah Cahill, Lisa Moore, Lara Downes, and Matthew McCright. Upcoming projects include compositions for So Percussion, the guitar-percussion duo The Living Earth Show, the new music ensemble REDSHIFT, and a new Bass Clarinet Concerto commissioned by the Bass Clarinet Commissioning Collective. His works are published by Potenza Music and BCP Music, and have been commercially recorded by the Sqwonk bass clarinet duo and pianist Jeffrey Jacob.

An avid performer on clarinet and bass clarinet, Jonathan is a member of the heavy metal-inspired Edmund Welles bass clarinet quartet and the Sqwonk bass clarinet duo, which has commissioned numerous new works and released two CDs of new American bass clarinet duets. He has also music directed two dance productions with choreographers Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton, and is co-director of the Switchboard Music Festival, an annual eight-hour marathon concert that brings together the San Francisco Bay Area’s most creative and innovative composers and performers. He has served on the Music Theory Faculty at San Francisco Conservatory and on the Composition Faculty at the Conservatory’s Adult Extension and Preparatory Divisions. He has a B.A. in Music from Harvard University and an M.M. in Music Composition from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. His composition teachers have included Paul Lansky, Dmitri Tymoczko, Dan Becker, Elinor Armer, Eric Sawyer, John Stewart, and Eric Ewazen. He is currently a student in the Composition PhD program at Princeton University.

Dan VanHassel ::


Dan VanHassel is a composer and multi-instrumentalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His music has been performed across North America, Europe, and Asia by performers such as pianists Keith Kirchoff and Gloria Cheng, Dinosaur Annex, Red Fish Blue Fish, Ensemble SurPlus, saxophonist Michael Straus, and bassoonist Dana Jessen. Active as a performer, Dan draws influence from his experience performing in rock bands, Javanese and Balinese gamelan, free jazz groups, and chamber ensembles. Dan is co-director of the Wild Rumpus new music ensemble in San Francisco and was a founding member of the new music ensemble Agenda, the free-improv group Output, and the Embryonic Noise new music series in Boston. He has studied composition at Carnegie Mellon University, the New England Conservatory, and the University of California at Berkeley.