Composition

Music composition has been central to the teaching of music at Bard for decades; creativity is the core of our mission. We get performers to engage with living composers, and we encourage—and in some cases require—performers to compose something at some point in their education, so they’ll have an idea what the act involves.

The Bard composition faculty is committed to aesthetic diversity. We argue with each other about what kind of music is best, and the fact that we disagree means that the student composers have a range of options. Stylistic dogma has no place here. Our composition professors have international careers and are actively integrated into a worldwide network of colleagues. Through our program, young composers come into contact with the wider world of new music composition.

Our student composers are guaranteed a range of opportunities for performance of their works. Most regular of these is the student composition concerts presented by the Da Capo ensemble, which is in residence; once each semester they give a concert of student works for Pierrot ensemble (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano), plus other performers as needed. The graduating composer has the option of having an orchestra piece performed by The Orchestra Now at the Commencement Concert. In addition, the students have many avenues for getting their pieces performed by student ensembles and soloists.

Requirements

The requirements for composition majors are:

  • Three semesters of music theory past first-year theory, at least one of which should be a course analyzing music after 1910
  • Two semesters of music history
  • Two semesters of lessons on an instrument (unless prior proficiency can be demonstrated)
  • Orchestration
  • Composition workshop
  • An electronic music course (Some of our electronic courses are designed with the acoustic composer in mind.)

Composition Faculty

Thurman Barker

Thurman BarkerGrowing up in Chicago in the 1950s, Thurman Barker was exposed to the city’s rich musical heritage, regularly hearing R&B, doo-wop, soul, jazz, and blues. Accordingly, he began his professional career at age 17 by anchoring the rhythm section for blues legend Mighty Joe Young. He then attended the American Conservatory of Music and later Roosevelt University, where he received classical training. While serving as percussionist for the city’s Shubert Theatre throughout much of the 1960s, Barker played for numerous national touring productions, including Hair, The Wiz, Grease, One Mo’ Time, and Ain’t Misbehavin’. A versatile drummer and percussionist, he also performed with singers Billy Eckstine, Marvin Gaye, Bette Midler, and Vicki Carr, and worked with classical groups like the Chicago Chamber Players and the New York City Opera. Perhaps Barker’s most notable musical experience has been with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), an organization founded in the 1960s to promote innovative music and its players. A charter member of the group, Barker first appeared in AACM productions with Joseph Jarman’s pioneering ensemble. He then went on to play with many other members, including Muhal Richard Abrams, Amina Claudine Meyers, Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, Roscoe Mitchell, and Henry Threadgill. In the 1970s and ’80s, after moving to New York, Barker worked with jazz giants Cecil Taylor, Sam Rivers and Billy Bang, touring with their groups and recording numerous albums with them. Most recently, he has performed with trombonist and composer George Lewis at the Festival International Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville, Quebec. Since creating Uptee Records in the late 1980s, Barker has released five recordings as a leader, including Voyage (1987), The Way I Hear It (1999), Time Factor (2001), Strike Force (2004), and Rediscovered (2008). In 1994, his work “Dialogue,” commissioned by Mutable Music, premiered at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City. The Woodstock Chamber Orchestra premiered Barker’s chamber piece “Expansions” in May 1999, and that same year he became a lecturer at Smolny University in St. Petersburg, Russia. Barker has taught jazz history and performance at Bard College since 1993. Through his efforts to develop the program, he was appointed professor of jazz studies in June 2016.

John Esposito

John Esposito

John Esposito is an American pianist/composer/drummer/producer who works on a wide array of creative music projects. His technical skills and the range of his artistic palette extend across the stylistic boundaries of the stride piano, swing, bebop, modal, and free music movements. He has performed and recorded with artists including Nick Brignola, Dave Douglas, Dave Holland, Carter Jefferson, Franklin Kiermyer, Joe Lovano, J. R. Monterose, David “Fathead” Newman, Eric Person, Arthur Rhames, Sam Rivers, Roswell Rudd, Pharaoh Sanders, and John Stubblefield. Esposito is the owner/executive producer of the independent label Sunjump Records, and has created music for theater, dance, film, TV commercials, and multimedia performance art. He is a visiting full-time assistant professor and artist in residence at Bard College and resides in New York State’s Hudson Valley.

After attending SUNY Albany Esposito worked as house pianist at the Gemini Jazz Café for several years, leading his own group with guest soloists that included Stubblefield and Nick Brignola, and spent a year working in saxophonist J. R. Monterose’s band. He moved to New York City in 1980 and met the phenomenal young saxophonist/pianist/guitarist Arthur Rhames while playing on guitarist Steve Geraci’s Beat City label record date for Aliqae Song with Stubblefield and Rashied Ali. Esposito worked in the Arthur Rhames Quartet for the next five years. In 1985, he formed Second Sight—a quintet with trumpeter Dave Douglas, saxophonist Jeff Marx, and drummer Jeff Siegel. They recorded Flying with the Comet in 1986, an album of Esposito’s original compositions and released on his Sunjump Records label, followed by Tiger Tracks  in 1987. This five-year period marked the beginning of Esposito’s work as a producer, and in addition to Second Sight’s music Sunjump released a Jose Chalas record, Living On Avenue F, and Marc Wagnon’s Shadowlines. Throughout the 1980s Esposito also worked with saxophonists Hugh Brodie, Greg Abate, Bobby Johnson Jr., Beaver Harris, Brignola, Jefferson, Montrose, Rudd, Stubblefield, and many others. In 1987 he moved to Woodstock, N.Y., and in 1989 formed the FM Artists Coalition with saxophonist Erica Lindsay and bassist Anthony Cox. The group lasted three years, beginning with a series of monthly house concerts, continuing with two years of coproductions with the Woodstock Guild in the Kleinert/James Gallery, and culminating in August 1992 in the three-day Jazz, Poetry and Visual Arts Festival at the Byrdcliff Barn. Esposito produced 25 concerts for the FM Coalition, and the 160 artists presented include Holland, Karl Berger, Tim Berne, Cindy Blackman, Baikida Carrol, Dave Douglas’s Tiny Bell Trio, Marilyn Crispell, Santi DeBriano, Jack DeJohnette, Howard Johnson, and Wadada Leo Smith. From 1990 to 1992 he played regularly with the Glen Richmond trio at Fat Tuesday’s in New York City, and solo piano at the Village Corner, Bradley’s, and the United Nations.

Beginning in 1993 Esposito began working as pianist and arranger with the groups headed by Franklin Kiermyer and Eric Person. He recorded four albums with Kiermyer: In the House of My Fathers (Konnex, 1993) with Douglas and Stubblefield; the critically acclaimed Solomon’s Daughter (Evidence, 1994) with tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and bassist Drew Gress; Kairos (Evidence, 1996) with saxophonists Rivers, Person, and Michael Stuart; and Sanctification (Sunship, 1999) with Stuart and bassist Fima Ephron. Gigs included NYC’s Sweet Basil with Person, Gress, and Joe Lovano; US tours that included the San Francisco Jazz Festival at Yoshi’s in Oakland, the Panasonic Jazz Festival at the Knitting Factory in NYC, and Lincoln Center; and a 10-concert tour of Canadian jazz festivals including Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver. Esposito also played on four albums with Person’s Meta Four, beginning in 1996 with Eric’s More Tales to Tell (Soulnote) with Holland and Gene Jackson. Gigs included NYC club appearances at the Blue Note, the Knitting Factory, and Visiones; tours of jazz festivals and clubs including the Montreal Jazz Festival, Billy Higgins Festival (Fresno), Savannah Jazz Festival, Texaco Jazz Festival (NYC), Newport/Friehoffer Jazz Festival (Saratoga Springs), Ford/Montreux Festival (Detroit), Newport Jazz Festival (NYC), and the Bell/Atlantic Festival (NYC). Media performances include a broadcast of the Detroit Montreux concert on Branford Marsalis’s Jazz Set on NPR. Esposito appeared on three more Eric Person CDs: Extra Pressure (2000), Live at Big Sur (2003), and Reflections (2006) with Dave Douglas and Kenny Davis. He toured with Eric Person’s Meta Four in performances at the Guimaraes Jazz Festival (Portugal), the Blue Note (NYC), Big Sur Jazz Festival, Blues Alley (Washington, D.C.), Savannah Jazz Festival, Jazz Factory (Louisville), Brooklyn Academy of Music, and dozens of clubs, concerts, and workshops at colleges across the United States. Featured media performances included a Knitting Factory concert and interview on BET Jazz and webcasts from the Blue Note and Knitting Factory.

In 2002 Esposito renewed his collaboration with saxophonist Jeff Marx on two CDs: The Great Unknown (Naugual) and Treading Air . . . Breathing Fire (Soluna). He continued his work with Marx, contributing four compositions to the Marx/Siegel CD Dreamstuff (Ayler Records, 2005) and playing piano and writing compositions for the Esposito/Marx/Siegel recording Inyo (Sunjump 2009). In 2006 he revitalized Sunjump Records, which had been inactive since 1988, releasing John Esposito: Down Blue Marlin Road, a deconstruction/reconstruction of some of jazz’s most overplayed standards. The second was a quintet date of nine Esposito originals, The Blue People. He followed this in 2008 with John Esposito: A Book of Five Rings; Sangeeta Michael Berardi: Earthship; and a rerelease of Second Sight’s Flying with the Comet on CD with three bonus tracks. In 2009 he produced three releases: Geraci’s Aliqae Song, an archival recording of that first meeting with Arthur Rhames in 1980; the previously mentioned Inyo; and Mitch Kessler’s Erratica. During this period Esposito began experimenting with music/video duet improvisations with video artist/photographer Laura Steele, culminating in a concert at the University of Chapel Hill. In April 2009 he presented a multimedia concert with Steele at Bard College that combined through-composed and freely improvised music with Steele’s real-time video mixing using prerecorded images and live video feeds projected on four walls. Audience seating was configured in various geometric shapes throughout the space. The septet was divided into three segments placed in different parts of the hall. He produced two Sunjump Records releases in 2010: flutist Jayna Nelson’s Bloom of Creation; and Orisha, Esposito’s second trio CD with nine new originals. The year 2011 brought the release of Kessler’s Der Erlkonig. Other recording projects in 2011 included the Esposito/Marx/Siegel trio CD Tahrir and the mixing/mastering of Berardi’s Calling Coltrane (both released in 2012). Recent undertakings include production of a four-CD boxed set, Second Sight: Complete Studio Recordings; a CD release of A Book of Five Rings: Ground; and a collaboration with Berardi on the music for a record date featured in the upcoming film Playing with Parkinson’s by noted jazz documentary filmmaker Burrill Crohn. This documentary film of Berardi’s life’s work as a painter/poet/musician is undergoing the editing process.

Kyle Gann

Kyle Gann, born in 1955 in Dallas, Texas, is a composer and was new-music critic for the Village Voice from 1986 to 2005. A prolific writer of books on American music, and one of the few professors in America to teach a course on microtonality, he is the author of The Music of Conlon Nancarrow, American Music in the 20th Century, Music Downtown: Writings from the Village Voice, No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage’s 4’33”, Robert Ashley, Charles Ives’s Concord: Essays after a Sonata, and The Arithmetic of Listening: Tuning Theory and History for the Impractical Musician (forthcoming). Gann studied composition with Ben Johnston, Morton Feldman, and Peter Gena, and his music is often microtonal, using up to 37 pitches per octave. His major works include Sunken City, a piano concerto commissioned by the Orkest de Volharding in Amsterdam; Transcendental Sonnets, a 35-minute work for choir and orchestra commissioned by the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir; Custer and Sitting Bull, a microtonal, one-man music theater work he’s performed more than 30 times from Brisbane to Moscow; The Planets, commissioned by the Relache ensemble; and Hyperchromatica, a 17-movement work for three retuned, computer-driven pianos. In 2007 choreographer Mark Morris made a large-ensemble dance, Looky, from five of Gann’s works for Disklavier (computerized player piano). His writings include over 3,500 articles for more than 45 publications, including scholarly articles on La Monte Young, Henry Cowell, John Cage, Edgard Varese, Earle Brown, Philip Glass, Ben Johnston, Mikel Rouse, John Luther Adams, Dennis Johnson, and other American composers. He was awarded the Peabody Award (2003), the Stagebill Award (1999) and the Deems-Taylor Award (2003) for his writings. His music is available on the New Albion, New World, Cold Blue, Lovely Music, Mode, Other Minds, Meyer Media, New Tone, Microfest, and Monroe Street labels. In 2003 the American Music Center awarded Gann its Letter of Distinction, along with Steve Reich, Wayne Shorter, and George Crumb. At Bard since 1997.

Erica Lindsay

Erica LindsayErica Lindsay, tenor saxophonist and composer, teaches jazz music theory, arranging, and composition. Lindsay performs with numerous ensembles, most recently with the Jeff Siegel Sextet, featuring Feya Faku; a quartet co-led with pianist Sumi Tonooka; and her own quartet featuring Francesca Tanksley. Her extensive discography is available at ericalindsay.com. Lindsay has performed and/or recorded with such artists as Melba Liston, McCoy Tyner, Rufus Reid, Baikida Carroll, Oliver Lake, Pheeroan akLaff, Art Blakey Jazz Messengers (with Jimmy Cobb), Howard Johnson, Frank Zappa, Reggie Workman, Da Capo Chamber Players, and Clifford Jordon, among many others. Her orchestral piece Inner Dialogue was read by the American Composers Orchestra in 2011. Her piece for drum set and orchestra, Mantra, was performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 2014. She is a 2017 recipient of the Chamber Music of America New Jazz Works Commission, with the generous support of the Doris Duke Foundation, and has just completed a Composer Now artist residency, collaborating with dancer/choreographer Wangjia Zhaxi. Nat Hentoff writes, “Erica Lindsay plays with such an emotional spontaneity that she is very much in the tradition of those jazz makers who were so evidently taking joy in surprising themselves each night, each song, each bar. She has a distinctive clarity and fullness of sound as well as an acute sense of dynamics. Her compositions are also characterized by an invigorating clarity of form and direction.” Bob Margolis, writing for the Daily Freeman, states, “Her profound, soul-searching technique straddles Coltrane’s spirituality and Joe Henderson’s fiery versatility, making hers a name to watch.”

Lindsay’s parents were educators who moved to Europe in the 1960s, raising their family in various European cities. She began her compositional studies at the age of 15 with Mal Waldron in Munich, where she spent her high school years. She deepened her experience of the music through her exposure to jazz expatriates Mal Waldron, Dexter Gordon, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Griffiths, Jimmie Woode, and Benny Bailey, as well as the continuing flow of visiting jazz greats. Upon graduating from high school she continued her studies at Berklee College of Music in Boston. When she returned to Europe, Lindsay focused on her compositional work, writing and arranging for various big bands and composing for the many different smaller groups she performed with. She was involved in the vibrant free jazz scene that existed then in Europe and was an original member and composer of the Unique Munich Saxophone Choir. During this period she formed her first quintet and also did guest performances with Frank Zappa and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. In 1980 Lindsay moved to New York City. Referred by her saxophone teacher at Berklee, Andy McGee, she began performing and touring with Melba Liston & Co. During this time she performed with many jazz legends: Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Williams, Al Grey, Britt Woodman, Mary Lou Williams, and others. After leaving Liston’s group in 1984, Lindsay performed with other leaders such as McCoy Tyner, Clifford Jordan, Reggie Workman, Ted Curson, George Gruntz, and Amiri Baraka, at Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, Merkin Hall, La MaMa, and other jazz venues. Lindsay at this time also became involved in performance art, and has collaborated with poet/playwright Carl Hancock-Rux; poets Janine Vega, Janice King, and Mikhail Horowitz; and painter Nancy Ostrowski. She composed the book for two off-Broadway plays—Carl Hancock-Rux’s Song of Sad Young Men and John Carter’s Feed the Beast—and has written for television and modern dance. While living in New York City she also received a degree in psychology from NYU. She now resides in the Woodstock area and is artist in residence at Bard College.

Matt Sargent

Matt Sargent is a composer, guitarist, and music technologist. He teaches a variety of courses at Bard on topics including music composition, experimental music, music technology, audio engineering, and contemporary music performance. Sargent has recently received commissions from the [Switch~] Ensemble, Ensemble Mise-En, and the Chesapeake Orchestra, among others. His music has recently been heard in concerts and installations at Constellation (Chicago), the Reykjavik Art Museum, the Wulf (Los Angeles), Mise-En_Place (Brooklyn), Spectrum (New York), Real Art Ways (Hartford), I-Park International Artist-in-Residence Program (East Haddam), the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, and the Center for New Music (San Francisco). He was the recipient of a 2017 NewMusicUSA Project grant for “Unwound Path,” a new chamber work premiered and recorded by the [Switch~] Ensemble in spring 2018. His music is included in Jennie Gottschalk’s Experimental Music since 1970, published by Bloomsbury in 2016. Ghost Music, a CD of Sargent’s music for solo percussion, performed by Bill Solomon, was released by Weighter Recordings in 2018.

Joan Tower

Joan TowerJoan Tower is widely regarded as one of the most important American composers living today. During a career spanning more than 50 years, she has made lasting contributions to musical life in the United States as composer, performer, conductor, and educator. Her works have been commissioned by major ensembles, soloists, and orchestras, including the Emerson, Tokyo, and Muir Quartets; soloists Evelyn Glennie, Carol Wincenc, David Shifrin, and John Browning; and the orchestras of Chicago, New York, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C., among others. Tower was the first composer chosen for a Ford Made in America consortium commission of 65 orchestras. Leonard Slatkin and the Nashville Symphony recorded Made in America in 2008 (along with Tambor and Concerto for Orchestra). The album collected three Grammy awards: Best Contemporary Classical Composition, Best Classical Album, and Best Orchestral Performance. Nashville’s latest all-Tower recording includes Stroke, which received a 2016 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. In 1990 Tower became the first woman to win the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Silver Ladders, a piece she wrote for the St. Louis Symphony, where she was composer in residence from 1985 to 1988. Other residencies with orchestras include a 10-year residency with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s (1997–2007) and the Pittsburgh Symphony (2010–11). She was the Albany Symphony’s Mentor Composer partner in the 2013–14 season. Tower was cofounder of and pianist for the Naumburg Award–winning Da Capo Chamber Players from 1970 to 1985.

George Tsontakis

George Tsontakis has been the recipient of two of the richest prizes awarded in all of classical music: the International Grawemeyer Award, in 2005, for his Second Violin Concerto; and the 2007 Ives Living, from the American Academy. He studied with Roger Sessions at Juilliard and in Rome with Franco Donatoni. Born in Astoria, N.Y., of Cretan heritage, he has become an important figure in the music of Greece and his music is increasingly performed abroad, with several performances in Europe every season. Most of his music has been recorded by Hyperion, Koch, Innova, and Naxos, including 14 orchestral works, leading to two Grammy nominations for Best Classical Composition. He served as composer in residence with the Aspen Music Festival for 40 years, where he was founding director of the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble; with the Oxford (England) Philomusica; with the Albany Symphony for six years; and with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for the 2009–10 season, among others. Tsontakis is distinguished composer in residence at the Bard College Conservatory. His most recent commissions and premieres (2016–18) include chamber works for Maverick Concerts and London’s Mobius Ensemble, and large-scale pieces for the Boston Symphony, Albany Symphony, and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra as well as a violin concerto for Gary Levinson and the Dallas Symphony. His latest CD, three concertos with the Albany Symphony, was released by Naxos in August and heralded as one of NPR’s “Top 10 Classical Recordings of 2017.” He lives in New York’s Catskill Mountains.

scores on a table in the music building
faculty pointing on score