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Thomas Buckner

Recently awarded the American Music Center’s Letter of Distinction, Thomas Buckner has championed music of the avant-garde in America and throughout the world for three decades as a performer, producer, and promoter. A former student of the legendary Metropolitan Opera baritone, Martial Singher, he was trained in the classical tradition and has continued throughout his distinguished career to broaden the scope of his vocal styles, specializing in a wide range of experimental music. Buckner has collaborated with a host of “new music” composers including Robert Ashley, Roscoe Mitchell, Wadada Leo Smith, Noah Creshevsky, Annea Lockwood, Bun-Ching Lam, David Wessel, Tom Hamilton, Leroy Jenkins, Phill Niblock, Matthias Kaul and many others. He has made solo appearances at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Harvard University, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Edinburgh Festival, the Prague Spring Festival, and the Bienalli Festival of Venice, presenting a repertoire that includes more than 100 compositions, written for, or dedicated to him.

Buckner’s professional life as a musician began in the 1960’s with the founding of 1750 Arch Concerts and the 23-member Arch Ensemble in Berkeley, California, which presented hundreds of musical events yearly. These two institutions provided a venue for a wide range of experimental music by numerous composers, and included the baritone’s own innovative vocal performances. In conjunction with these activities, 1750 Arch Records was founded, and produced over 50 record albums including works of Villa-Lobos, and Dallapiccola, as well as many established and emerging composers from throughout the world.

Buckner left California for New York City in 1983 and began a long association with renowned composer Robert Ashley, performing a lead role in his acclaimed opera Atalanta (Acts of God) as well as the opera eL/Aficionado which was composed especially for Buckner. He has performed major roles in many of Ashley’s other works such as Balseros, Dust, the Now Eleanor’s Idea series, Celestial Excursions which premiered in Berlin in 2003, and his most recent work, Concrete. Buckner has performed with Ashley’s company throughout the world, including appearances at the Avignon Festival, Festival d’Automne a Paris, the Paris Quartier d’Ete Festival, the Strasbourg Musical Festival, the Warsaw Autumn Festival, and in New York at BAM’s Next Wave Festival and the Kitchen’s Electronic Café International.

Thomas Buckner also has a longtime association with legendary saxophonist, improviser, and composer Roscoe Mitchell, founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Their ongoing collaboration has resulted in the acclaimed Roscoe Mitchell Chamber Ensemble recording Pilgrimage, as well as the recording First Meeting, which Buckner is a guest with Mitchell and pianist Borah Bergman. Buckner premiered Mitchell’s Fallen Heroes with Petr Kotik conducting the Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble at Lincoln Center and the Prague Spring Festival. Buckner and Mitchell’s current project is the quartet entitled “OPEN”, which also includes multi-dimensional drummer Jerome Cooper and bassist Harrison Bankhead.

Recently, Buckner has participated in installation performances in relation to the forged metal sculptures of celebrated French sculptor Alain Kirili. This enterprise has resulted in further highly acclaimed collaborations in Africa, Europe, and the United States, and has included original compositions by Somei Satoh and Alvin Lucier, as well as improvisations with Leroy Jenkins, Daniel Carter, Aki Takahashi, Joseph Jarman, and dancers Kei Takei and Maria Mitchell.

Electronic and multi-media theater works are also part of Thomas Buckner’s musical vocabulary. He has been a featured vocalist in Morton Subotnik’s Intimate Immensity and Daniel Rothman’s Cezanne’s Doubt, both of which toured the United States and Europe. Buckner extemporizes with electronic composer and performer Tom Hamilton, resulting in the works Jump the Circle, Jump the Line, and Hamilton’s acclaimed Off-Hour Wait State, satirizing long delays on New York City subways at night. Other longstanding associations with electro-acoustic composers include Annea Lockwood, Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Lucier, Noah Creshevsky, Phill Niblock, and the notable German, Matthias Kaul.

Joseph Kubera, the baritone’s accompanist for almost two decades, has been acclaimed as “one of the world’s foremost interpreters of contemporary piano music.” These two artists have toured the world and recorded extensively, appearing in joint recital, as well as in collaboration with larger ensembles.

Thomas Buckner has participated in over 40 recordings, including five solo albums: Full Spectrum Voice [1991], Sign of the Times [1994], Inner Journey [1998], His Tone of Voice [2001] (all on Lovely), and Contexts [2006] (on Buckner's own label, Mutable Music), which features solo improvisations as well as improvised duets including the distinguished artists Borah Bergman (piano), and David Darling (cello). This disc also includes the work Ilex by Earl Howard, who provides an electronic accompaniment in conjunction with Gustavo Aguilar (percussion), and Wu Man, (pipa). The entire discography features newly commissioned works by an impressive array of composers including Annea Lockwood, Somei Satoh, Alvin Lucier, Muhal Richard Abrams, Blue Gene Tyranny, Brian Smith, David Behrman and many others, who utilize Buckner’s wide range of musical styles.

The baritone works as an energetic concert producer as well, presenting many facets of new music deserving recognition. This year marks the nineteenth season of his celebrated Interpretations series in New York City, which focuses upon the interaction between creator of a musical work and his or her performers. It stands as one of the most prominent forums for the avant-garde in the United States, and has presented over three hundred premieres of compositions by established and emerging composers from around the world.

He also has created the Mutable Music record label to produce new recordings and reissue some important historic recordings, previously unavailable in CD format. The impressive catalog includes recordings by Randy Weston, Roscoe Mitchell, Borah Bergman, Jerome Cooper, Earl Howard, Noah Creshevsky, and Tom Hamilton.

Thomas Buckner’s contribution to new music through the commissioning and performance of new works, the production of concerts and recordings, and support of numerous musical enterprises world wide is perhaps unprecedented in the history of American music.

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