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Alvin Singleton on PSNY

Alvin Singleton has been one of the leading compositional voices in America since the 1960s, as a member of a cohort of American composers who fused the inheritance of European Modernism with a unique style of American individualism. Raised in Brooklyn and trained at Yale, Singleton resided in Europe for most of the 1970s, returning to become the composer-in-residence at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 1985, and has since become an acclaimed American composer. For the first time, a selection of Singleton's music is now available for immediate download via PSNY. 

Though Singleton has worked extensively with orchestras, he has also written works for chamber ensembles, theatrical pieces, and vocal ensembles. Two early works from 1966—Mutations for solo piano, and Epitaph for double SATB chorus—show Singleton's own unique take on the transformations of melodic material, nodding toward the Serialist tradition but going his decidedly own way.


(Singleton composing in his Atlanta studio, late 1980's)

In the 1970s, Singleton's writing for solo performers and small chamber groups pushed on that tradition even further: 1974's Be Natural, for any trio of bowed string instruments, includes ludic and improvisational elements that emphasize the creativity inherent in musical performance, and 1978's Argoru IV is a fiendishly difficult piece for solo viola, meticulously notating music to the point of it sounding improvisatory during performance. Both pieces were recently performed as part of a portrait concert at Brooklyn's Roulette — check out a video of Be Natural from that concert, below: 

[Be Natural performed by Stefanie Griffin (va), James Ilgenfritz (db) and Meaghan Burke (vc)]

Singleton's signature playful, enigmatic style is also heard in other chamber works from this period, including the solo harpsichord work Le Tombeau du Petit Prince (1978) as well as Necessity is a Mother...!!! (1981), for three female actors and amplified double bass—a piece which calls for extensive improvisation by all four performers, and nods to the tradition of spoken word performance.

            
(pages from Le Tombeau du Petit Prince, listen to a recording here)

His more serene, mysterious aesthetic can be heard on pieces such as Et Nunc (1980) and Through it All (2007), both of which feature wind instruments. A truly versatile composer, Singleton's work over the past forty years has varied widely by instrumentation and ensemble, but has retained a fascinating, important compositional voice.

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