Alvin Curran, classical music composer

Alvin Curran image

Alvin Curran


Democratic, irreverent and traditionally experimental, Curran travels in a computerized covered wagon between the Golden Gate and the Tiber River, and makes music for every occasion with any sounding phenomena -- a volatile mix of lyricism and chaos, structure and indeterminacy, fog horns, fiddles and fiddle heads. He is dedicated to the restoration of dignity to the profession of making non-commercial music as part of a personal search for future social, political and spiritual forms.

Curran's music-making embraces all the contradictions (composed/improvised, tonal/atonal, maximal/minimal...) in a serene dialectical encounter. His more than 150 works feature taped/sampled natural sounds, piano, synthesizers, computers, violin, percussion, shofar, ship horns, accordion and chorus. Whether in the intimate form of his well-known solo performances, or pure chamber music, experimental radio works or large-scale site-specific sound environments and installations, all forge a very personal language from all the languages through dedicated research and recombinant invention.

The Main Story

With a fortuitous bang, he begins his musical journey (1965 in Rome) as co-founder of the radical music collective MUSICA ELETTRONICA VIVA, as a solo performer, and as a composer for Rome's avantgarde theater scene. In the 70's, he creates a poetic series of solo works for synthesizer, voice, taped sounds and found objects. Seeking to develop new musical spaces, and now considered one of the leading figures in making music outside of the concert halls -- he develops a series of concerts for lakes, ports, parks, buildings, quarries and caves -- his natural laboratories. In the 1980's, he extends the ideas of musical geography by creating simultaneous radio concerts for three, then six large ensembles performing together from many European Capitals. By connecting digital samplers to MIDI Grands (Diskklavier) and computers, since 1987, he produces an enriched body of solo performance works -- an ideal synthesis between the concert hall and all sounding phenomena in the world. He creates a visually striking series of sound installations, some of them in collaboration with visual artists including Paul Klerr, Melissa Gould, Kristin Jones, Pietro Fortuna, Umberto Bignardi, Uli Sigg. Throughout these years he continues to write numerous pieces for radio and for acoustic instruments.


From 1975-80 taught vocal improvisation at the Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatica (Rome) and from 1991 to 2006 was the Milhaud Professor of Composition at Mills College in Oakland, California.  Currently teaching privately in Rome in addition to master classes, residencies, and lectures at Oberlin, Peabody, Brown, Berkeley, The Hague, Haifa, Bolzano, Northwestern, Yale, Beijing, etc.

Formative Years

Born December 13, 1938, Providence, Rhode Island. From five years: piano lessons, trombone, marching bands, Synagogue chants, Jazz, and his father's dance bands. Becomes an artist at age 13 in an apple tree at the house of his lifelong friend, poet Clark Coolidge. Hears Spike Jones, the Rhode Island Philharmonic, Satchmo, The Boston Symphony Orcherstra, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, The Band of America, Thelonius Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Bartok and Christian Wolff.

Studies composition with Ron Nelson (B.A. Brown University 1960) and with Elliott Carter and Mel Powell( M.Mus., Yale School of Music l963). During summer vacations, plays European crossings with the "Brunotes" on the Holland American Line, in a Greek Dance Band in the Catskills, and in the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas.

Continues studies and friendship with Carter in Berlin (1964 Ford Foundation Grant), meets Stravinsky, Xenakis, Berio, Yuji Takahashi, Andriessen, Remo Remotti, and above all Rzewski. Goes to Darmstadt, hangs with Babbitt and Earl Brown, hears Stockhausen and Ligeti. Goes to Rome with Joel Chadabe and plays piano in bars on via Veneto, meets Franco Evangelisti and Cornelius Cardew.

In the MUSICA ELETTRONICA VIVA years (1966 -1971 in Rome), performs in over 200 concerts in Europe and the USA with Teitelbaum and Rzewski, Carol Plantamura, Ivan Vandor, Alan Bryant and Jon Phetteplace; and makes significant artistic encounters with Giuseppe Chiari, Edith Schloss, AMM, Cardew, Steve Lacy, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Steve ben Israel, Anthony Braxton, Simone Forti, Steve Reich, Joan La Barbara, Michael Nyman, La Monte Young, Trisha Brown, Ashley, Behrman, Gordon Mumma, Alvin Lucier, Larry Austin, Bill Smith, Ketoff, Robert Moog, Nuova Consonanza, MEV2, Meme Perlini, Mario Ricci, Maria Monti, Prima Materia, Ron Bunzl, Phil Glass, Charlemagne Palestine, Terry Riley, George Lewis, Evan Parker, Gregory Reeves, Serge Tcherepnin, Kosugi, Pulsa, Maryanne Amacher, John Cage, David Tudor, Morton Feldman. Scelsi becomes his friend and mentor.

Composer Title Date Action
Alvin Curran For Cornelius ( live rec ) 10/01/2011 Play Add to playlist