Nathan Currier is a winner of prizes and awards such as the Rome Prize, Guggenheim, and the American Academy of Arts & Letters’ Academy Award, given for lifetime achievement in composition, as well as the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, Fulbright, Fromm, Charles Ives, Barlow, and ASCAP awards. Currier’s compositions have been heard at prestigious venues, from Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center to IRCAM in Paris and the Philharmonie in Berlin. Currier's largest work, a massive oratorio named Gaian Variations, concerns Gaia theory - which views the Earth as a self-regulating entity - and was premiered at Avery Fisher Hall by the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Important recent premieres include his Hildegard’s Symphony, premiered by the Simon Bolivar Orchestra.
Currier studied at Juilliard and Peabody, was the Leonard Bernstein Fellow in composition at Tanglewood, and also holds a Diploma with First Prize from the Royal Conservatory of Belgium. The diversity of his composition teachers – Joseph Schwantner, Frederic Rzweski, David Diamond, Bernard Rands and Steven Albert – reflects the encompassing palette of his music. His graduate thesis piece, a work for chamber orchestra called Chants and Dances, was broadcast nationally on National Public Radio in a performance by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Hugh Woolf, conducting
Chants and Dances
(excerpt) Mvts. 1, 2, 3, 6
Mvt. 1 Chant
Mvt. 2 Dance
Mvt. 3 Chant
Mvt. 6 Dance
His first commissioned work, Adagio and Variations, written while still at Juilliard, was called a ‘a piece of genius’ by the critic at its premiere by the Verdehr Trio.
Other significant earlier works include chamber pieces such as A Musical Banquet, a winner of the International Barlow Prize,
as well as Tanz Nachtanz, a clarinet quintet commissioned by the Chelsea Ensemble, and The Quartet Book, commissioned by The Shanghai Quartet.
Shortly after finishing Juilliard we wrote A Kafka Cantata, a one act monodrama rated the #1 Musical Event of the Year in Pittsburgh by that city’s chief newspaper after its premiere there with Tenor Paul Sperry.
Around this time he also began a long collaboration with harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet, principal harpist of the Berlin Philharmonic, which led to his writing a wide variety of works with harp, such as the chamber works A Sambuca Sonata, recorded on the Chandos label, Possum Wakes from Playing Dead, commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic, A Nursery Sleep, commissioned by Concert Artists Guild, and his quintet Thirty Little Pictures of Time Passing, also premiered as part of the Berlin Philharmonic’s chamber music series.
A Sambuca Sonata, Mvt. 1, opening
Possum Wakes from Playing Dead, opening
Thirty Little Pictures of Time Passing, #1
Thirty Little Pictures of Time Passing, Part 3, opening
A Nursery Sleep, Mvt. 4, ending
Currier is himself an accomplished pianist, having won the Silver Medal in the International Piano Recording Competition in his early twenties for a performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations. A recording of Currier performing his piano sonata From the Grotto on New World Records was praised for “over the top virtuosity” in Fanfare.
An important part of Currier's career has been the oratorio Gaian Variations, his largest work - and most controversial.
Gaia theory was itself long wrapped in controversy, since receiving negative reception from neo-Darwinists, starting in the 1980s. As Currier was in the middle of working on his score, however, more than 1,000 scientists from over 100 countries came together under the auspices of the United Nations to sign a Declaration which states at the outset,"The Earth System behaves as a single, self-regulating system." Lovelock's primary assertion of planetary-scale self-regulation had gradually become the accepted wisdom of science, despite the relentless criticism of figures like Richard Dawkins.
It is ironic then, that Currier's work sparked controversy having no direct bearing on the scientific controversy, when the orchestra stopped playing in the middle of the concert, claiming that it was heading into overtime. The interrupted premiere gave rise to litigation, some of which is still ongoing.
Since his troubles with Gaian Variations Currier has led a more varied career: his artistic life has become broader, as in his recently engaging in an ongoing collaborative effort with painter Suzan Woodruff on a series of what they call "moving paintings," painting-films in which Currier makes the films from footage of Woodruff painting, and sets his own music to the visual imagery.
Another outgrowth - perhaps the most unexpected one - of Gaian Variations is that Currier soon afterward became directly involved with the science of Gaia itself, also becoming active in a wide variety of climate-related initiatives around the same time.
In the following fascinating video, NASA celebrates the 50th Anniversary of its Exobiology program. The keynote speakers were Gaia theory founders James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis - one of the last times that they spent together. Near the climax of Margulis' talk on Gaia, she cites a passage from NASA's Paul Lowman. Seemingly attributed to Lowman's book Exploring Earth, Exploring Space, it is actually a paraphrase from Life's Tectonics (MIT Press, 2011), co-authored by Lowman and Nathan Currier. Margulis had finished editing it herself shortly before giving this talk, which she closes by giving a succinct definition of Gaia theory.
TOMORROW, AGAMEMNON? for baritone, 2 male actors, piano (or ensemble). Written for a Symphony Space event called November 21, 1963: The Day Before. premiered 11/8/2013, Symphony Space, New York, NY. 5 min. 2013.
LOOMING ATMOSPHERES. This is a collaboration with painter Suzan Woodruff, a painting-film that has been “choreographed,” edited, and scored by Nathan Currier. Will be exhibited at the Katherine Cone Gallery, October, 2013, Los Angeles, CA. 2013.
SYMPHONY, ‘HILDEGARD’S SYMPHONY’, for orchestra with harp solo. Commissioned by Marie-Pierre Langlamet with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts. In five movements. Scoring: 3333/4331/percussion (2), timpani, piano, strings, harp solo. Premiered June 1, 2012, by the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, Caracas, Venezuela, with Marie-Pierre Langlamet, harp, Cesar Ivan Lara, conductor. About 38 minutes. 2012.
FROG AND TOAD CHACONNE for solo violin, Bufo Americanus (the American toad), as well as other toads and frogs, prerecorded. Commissioned by Cornelius Dufallo. Duration: 15 minutes. 2012.
AT THE RIVERS for baritone and piano. Based on the Robert Lowry gospel, and meant to be paired with the earlier settings by Charles Ives and Aaron Copland. Commissioned by the Music on the Hill Summer Music Festival, Providence, Rhode Island. Premiered June 18th, 2011, Rene de la Garza, baritone, Nathan Currier, piano. Duration: circa 7 minutes. 2011.
FALLING STARS for baritone, flute (doubling on piccolo and alto flute), viola, cello and piano. Text by Suzanne Cleary. Commissioned by the Monadnock Music Festival, and first performed July 22nd and July 23rd, 2010, Monadnock Music Festival, Peterborough, New Hampshire. Duration: circa 7 minutes. 2010.
PIANO CONCERTO International Sackler Prize Commission. Scored for piano soloist with 3 fl. (3. doubles on picc., 2. doubles on alto fl., picc.), 3 ob. (3. doubles on E.H.), 2 cl. (2. doubles on B. cl.), 2 bsn. (2. doubles on Cbsn.)/4 hrn. (2 offstage/2 onstage), 4 tpt in C (1. and 2. double on picc. tpt. in Bb), 2 tenor trb., 2 bass trb./ 1 percussion player/ timpani/celli (2 players), bassi (2 players). Premiered March 21/22, 2010, Stamford/Storrs, Connecticut. 27 minutes. 2009.
DOROTHY’S DINNER for string quartet with four actors. Written for Ethel. 34 minutes. 2009.
THE LAWS FOREVER HIDDEN for soprano with piano (the work also includes a male spoken part, performable by the pianist: when performed with a woman pianist, a separate male speaker should be used). Composed on texts by the composer. Premiered April 22nd, 2007, Philadelphia. c. 35 minutes. 2007.
POSSUM WAKES FROM PLAYING DEAD for harp and cello, commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic for Marie-Pierre Langlamet, principal harp. Premiered September 30th, 2008, Philharmonie, Kammersaale, Berlin. c. 12 minutes. 2006.
WAR MUSIC a large theatrical work using texts of Christopher Logue. Libretto by Nathan Currier and Christopher Logue. Winner, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Grant. Also funded by the Rhode Island Foundation. The work calls for actors and baritone soloist, as well as an ensemble of flute (doubles on picc./alto flute), chromatic harmonica (C,D, Eb), trumpet in C (doubles on picc. tpt. in Bb), trombone, keyboards (piano/synthesizer), percussion, violin, viola, bass. September 2005 premiere in Providence was cancelled – premier upcoming. 2 hours and 20 minutes. 2005.
GAIAN VARIATIONS oratorio on texts of James Lovelock, Loren Eiseley, and Lewis Thomas. An evening-lengthed work for vocal soloists - soprano, alto, tenor, bass, - and piano soloist, along with chamber choir and full chorus, and large orchestra made up of 5 fl. (4.,5. on picc.), 4 ob. (3.,4. on E.H.), 4 cl. (2. on Eb cl., 4. on B. cl.), 4 bsn. (4. on Cbsn.)/4 hrn., 4 tpt in C (1. on tpt in D and picc. tpt. in Bb), 4 trb.,tba/ 3 percussion, timpani/ piano (piano 2.), harpsichord, synthesizer, organ/ banjo, harmonica, electric guitar (can be performed on synthesizer if necessary)/ strings. Premiered on April 21st, 2004, Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York. 2 hours and five minutes. 2003.
A SIMPLE SONATA for piano solo. For Laura-Gray Street. In two movements. Rather easy to play. c. 6 minutes. 2002.
CITY LIFE; A Symphony in Eleven Parts for orchestra. scored for 3 fl., 2 ob., 3 cl., bass cl., alto sax., 2 bsn., 4 hrn., 3 trpt., 2 trb., 1 tba., perc. (1), timp., hrp., celeste, pno., strings. A reworking of Symphony in Eleven Chapters, 1985. c. 25 minutes. 2002.
LOOKING OUT a collaborative song cycle, with texts composed by poet Laura-Gray Street. Commissioned by the New York Festival of Song, for a millenium celebration concert, March 23rd, 2000. For mezzo-soprano, tenor, clarinet, french horn, cello and piano. 14 minutes. 1999.
THIRTY LITTLE PICTURES OF TIME PASSING for flute, harp, violin, viola and cello. Commissioned for the Berlin Philharmonic String Trio [Romano Tommasini, Wolfgang Talirz, and David Reiniker] along with principal flutist Emmanuel Pahud and principal harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet. Premiere, Philharmonie, Berlin, March, 2004. 20 minutes. 1998.
THE LAST THOUGHTS OF GREGOR SAMSA for string orchestra. Commissioned by the Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra. Premiered at Jordan Hall, Boston. c. 12 minutes. 1997.
BECKMESSER'S REVENGE for full orchestra: 3 fl.,3 ob., 3 cl.,3 bsn., 4 hrn.,3 trpt.,3 trb., 1 tba., perc. (3), timp., piano, strings. c. 8 minutes. Winner, American Composers Orchestra Reading series. 1997.
ÉTUDE CHACONNE for piano solo. Commissioned by Diane Walsh. Premiered at Miller Theater, New York City. c. 13 minutes. 1996.
IN A BURNING FOREST for violin, clarinet and piano. Commissioned by the
Verdehr Trio. Premiered in Yugoslavia. c. 22 minutes. 1996
FROM THE GROTTO; A SONATA FOR MOZART'S SECRET SOCIETY
for piano solo. Recorded CRI Records; re-issued, New World records. Composed with the support of the American Academy in Rome. Premiered in Rome, 1996. c. 30 minutes. 1995.
SONATA FOR FLUTE AND PIANO in two movements. Composed with the support of the Guggenheim foundation. Premiered in Rome, 1996. c. 9 minutes. 1995.
HUSH CRIES THE LAMB for violin and piano. Composed with the support of the Guggenheim foundation. Premiered in Rome, 1996. c. 12 minutes. 1993.
SONG FROM THE DEAD SEA for mixed chorus with orchestra. Text from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Minimum duration c. 6 1/2 minutes (meant to be repeated; thus, it could be 13 minutes, etc.). Commissioned by the Juilliard Preparatory Division Chorus & Orchestra. Premiered at the Juilliard Theater, Lincoln Center, New York City. 1993.
SARAH'S LAUGH for solo guitar. Commissioned by William Matthews. Repertory piece for International Guitar Competition, Templin, Germany. c. 10 minutes. 1993.
A SAMBUCA SONATA for flute, viola and harp. Recorded on Chandos records. c. 15 minutes. Premiered in Paris, 1996. Also performed at the Berlin Philharmonic, at Lincoln Center’s A Great Day In New York Festival, and in Norway, Sweden, etc. 1993.
A QUILT CANZONA for piano, left hand. Written for pianist Leon Fleisher. c. 7 minutes. 1993.
TWO PIECES FOR HARP for harp solo. Commissioned by the Barlow Foundation for Marie-Pierre Langlamet. Premiered at Merkin Hall, New York City. c. 19 minutes. 1992.
A KAFKA CANTATA for tenor with ensemble. Commissioned by Paul Sperry. Scored for fl., cl., vln., vla., vc., piano, perc. Uses texts of Franz Kafka, in a dramatic setting, based on J.S. Bach's "Coffee Cantata". Premiered in Pittsburgh, February, 1993. c. 35 minutes. 1992.
HYMN TO ROSA VALADO'S DYING EARTH for string orchestra. Commissioned by artist Rosa Valado for an installation/exhibit. minimum duration c. 6
minutes (meant to be repeated or looped indefinitely).1992.
A NURSERY SLEEP for harp, flute and cello. Commissioned by Concert Artists Guild. c. 22 minutes. 1991.
THE QUARTET BOOK for string quartet. Commissioned by the Shanghai Quartet, funded by Chamber Music America. Premiered in Richmond, VA. c. 24 minutes. 1990.
TANZ-NACHTANZ for clarinet and string quartet. Commissioned by the Chelsea Ensemble, funded by the Jerome Foundation. Premiered Carnegie Recital Hall, New York City. c. 20 minutes. 1990.
ENTROPIC DEVELOPMENTS for violin, clarinet and piano. Commissioned by the Verdehr Trio. Premiered Buffalo, New York. c. 12 minutes. 1989.
CHANTS AND DANCES for orchestra. scored for 1 fl., 2 ob., 2 cl., 1 hrn., 1 trpt., perc.(one player), accordion, piano, strings. Winner of the 1989 ASCAP Awards, and the 1989 Juilliard Orchestral Composition Prize. Premiered at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center. Broadcast Nationally on NPR in a performance by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, 2000. c. 19 minutes. 1989.
OVERLAPPINGS for fl.,cl., alto sax., trb., perc., piano 4 hands, vln., vc. Premiered at the Juilliard School, New York City, 1989. c. 9 minutes. 1988.
VARIATIONS for violin, clarinet and piano. Commissioned by the Verdehr Trio. Recorded on Crystal Records. Premiered in India, 1988. c. 33 minutes. 1987.
NOTHING ABIDES for soprano with fl., eng. hrn., cl., vc., hrp., pno., perc. Song cycle on texts of Lucretius. Winner of the International Olympia Competition in Athens. Premiered at the Juilliard School, New York City. c.18 minutes. 1987.
A MUSICAL BANQUET for violin, cello and piano. Winner, International Barlow Prize. Premiered at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, 1987. c. 26 minutes. 1987.
ADAGIO for violin, clarinet and piano. This later became part of the ADAGIO AND VARIATIONS listed above. Premiered at the Juilliard School. c. 5 minutes. 1986.
FROM THE MOON'S ORCHESTRA for mezzo soprano with piano. A song cycle on texts of John Gould Fletcher. Premiered at the Juilliard School, New York City. c. 16 minutes. 1986.
THREE AMERICAN SONGS for baritone with piano. Premiered at the Juilliard School, New York City. c. 6 minutes. 1985.
COMMENTARY MASS for chorus & str. quart., hrp., celeste, guit., glock.
Premiered at the Juilliard School, New York City. 14 minutes. 1985.
STRING QUARTET in three movements. Premiered at Merkin Hall, New York City. c. 23 minutes. 1985.
PIANO SONATA in seven movements. Premiered at CAMI Hall, New York City. c. 20 minutes. 1984.
THE CICADA for baritone solo with orchestra. scored for 2 fl., 2 ob., 2 cl., 2 bsn., 2 hrn., 2 trpt., 2 trb., 1 tba., perc., timp., hrp., strings. Text of Ou -yang Hsiu.
Readings by Juilliard Orchestra and Symphony. c. 35 minutes. 1984.
SALTIMBANQUES; FOUR PIECES FOR ORCHESTRA scored for 2 fl., 2 ob., 2 cl., 2 bsn., 2 hrn., 2 trpt., 2 trb., timp., gong, strings. c. 16 minutes. 1982.
THIRTY THREE PIANO PIECES for solo piano. Premiered at the Peabody Institute. c. 30 minutes. 1980.
PRESTO FUGACIOUS for solo piano. c. 4 minutes. 1973.