dana richardson


Short bio for publication

Curriculum vitae

Biography (detail)

Dana Dimitri Richardson, born in 1953, is a composer and music theorist whose work has been dedicated to propelling the classical music tradition forward while avoiding on the one hand, the sterility of modernism, and the nostalgic eclecticism of post-modernism, on the other. His study of species counterpoint, canon, fugue and classical forms with Constant Vauclain at the University of Pennsylvania from 1971 to 1976, formed the basis of his compositional technique. Upon the completion of his tonal studies, Vauclain offered him the prospect of developing a contemporaneous style by means of biscalarity, a system Vauclain had formulated in the early 1960s in an attempt to find a way out of the compositional dead ends of the 20th century.

In brief, biscalarity (later renamed syntonality), is a special case of bitonality in which the keystreams are registerally fused and whose intervallic relationship is limited to the tritone or semitone so that all twelve chromatic tones are available within each 'superkey' (See syntonality theory at left for more information.) The registral fusion of the two constituent keystreams creates a new and beautiful surface on which neither key is perceptible. Since, in his inchoate groping toward modernity, Richardson had already decided to experiment with bitonality, he was immediately receptive to Vauclain's revelation and in 1978, completed his first important syntonal work, the Violin Sonata #1.

Following his studies with Vauclain, he obtained a Masters in Music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook where he studied composition with Peter Winkler from 1978 to 1981. During that period, he wrote Fantasy & Fugue for chamber orchestra. Its performance by the Stony Brook Chamber Orchestra in 1982 was previewed in The New York Times. The article focused on Richardson's practice of composing by hearing the tones mentally while plugging his ears with wax ear stopples and wearing firing range ear muffs in addition, if necessary, to block distracting external sound.

After his graduation from Stony Brook, he split his time between London and New York. The most important of his London works is the piano cycle The Smile of Eternity (1985). From New York, he launched a radio promotion that resulted in the broadcast of tapes of Fantasy & Fugue (1981), Violin Sonata #1, Cello Sonata #1 (1981) and String Trio (1981) on more than 70 stations nationwide, including WNYC where he was interviewed by Tim Page in 1984. Frustrated by the difficulty of procuring performances of his works in London, he returned to New York in 1985 to produce an LP recording. In 1986, Richardson received a Meet the Composer grant for a performance of his Cello Sonata (1981) by the American Chamber Ensemble. That was followed by five additional awards from Meet the Composer, which subsidized the performance of his works through 2001. In 1987, the LP recording, "DANA RICHARDSON" containing Fantacycle for piano (1980), Cello Sonata #1 and The Smile of Eternity, was released on Dionysian Records.

At this time, Richardson began to write more works for the voice, and completed Landscapes of Desire I for soprano, clarinet and piano on texts by Robert Graves in 1987. This was followed by Spellbound for mezzo-soprano and piano on texts by E. Bronte, Keats, Hardy and Shelley in 1995, and A Liquor Never Brewed for soprano and piano on texts by Emily Dickinson in 1996. Searching for appropriate poetry to set to music stimulated him to write his own, an urge that culminated in the publication of Aphrodite and Other Poems in 2000.

Between 1990 and 1991, Richardson researched, wrote, produced and hosted Modernism in Music, a series of ten two-hour programs aired on WBAI (NYC). The broadcast of the recordings was intercut with commentary that investigated the relationship between social, economic and military history, and musical structure in the art music of the twentieth century. Theoretical ideas about the connections between the history of capitalist development and tonal structure that were sketched in the mid 1990s but never fleshed out grew out of the research for these programs.

In 1992, he wrote the Preludes and Dances for cello solo, a work that demonstrates that syntonal harmony can be arpeggiated and projected linearly in a manner analogous to that practiced by Bach in a tonal style. Later that year, he moved to Greece, his mother's homeland, to expand the possibilities for more international performances. While teaching harmony and counterpoint at various music schools, he wrote the Hellenic Symphony for string orchestra and the mammoth Discovery for full orchestra, a tone poem about Columbus's discovery of America. Both were later withdrawn (as has been perhaps thirty to forty percent of Richardson's oeuvre). However, ideas in the Hellenic Symphony later served as kernels for The Two Voices of Hellas (1999). The most successful work from the Greek period is the Sonata for Harp and Violin (1994), which was performed in Athens on the eve of Richardson's departure in February 1995. He was accepted into the Greek Composers Union in 1993 --the only composer without a Greek passport to be awarded that honor. He left Greece with an enduring web of friendships, convinced that the social life in Greece permits the richest expression of one's social nature.

Returning to New York in 1995, he was admitted to the doctoral program in composition at NYU in 1996. There, he studied with Brian Fennelly and Louis Karchin. In 1998, Richardson's dissertation proposal to examine Vauclain's theory of biscalarity was rejected. The rejection was fortunate because it stimulated him to create an entirely new body of theory underpinning the system that became the basis of the article "Syntonality: A New System of Harmony." After his work on syntonality, he wrote the dissertation Dallapiccola's Formal Architecture (2001) and was awarded the Ph.D. in January 2001. Some of the important works written during the NYU period are the String Quartet #5 (1997), Hymn to Pan (1997) for flute, oboe and piano, The Dutch Muse (1998) and Diptych (1999) for piano solo (both dedicated to the pianist, Maria Rose who performed The Dutch Muse at Merkin Hall NYC in 2003) and the Sonata for Alto saxophone and Piano (2000).

During the 2000-2001 academic year Richardson was a visiting professor of music history at SUNY Fredonia (near Buffalo, NY) where it snowed every day from Thanksgiving to Easter. Lake Erie, frozen to the horizon, was a short walk from his bungalow. Here, he prepared lessons for a student body whose attitude toward the subject matter, with a few notable exceptions, ranged between indifference and hostility. During this period, he completed the dissertation and composed Piano Concerto for Left Hand (2001). The latter was written for the Greek pianist, Jenia Manoussaki after she suffered temporary loss of her right arm. Also in 2001, he wrote Heartbreaker for tenor saxophone (in only four days) for soloist Mark Engebretson, as a substitute work for a concert he and Mark (also a composer) had organized, after several other players scheduled to perform, canceled at the last minute. Heartbreaker has been one of Richardson's most performed works.

Between his return from Fredonia in 2001 and the summer of 2004, Richardson continued his compositional work while teaching harmony, counterpoint and music history as an adjunct professor at various New York area schools including NYU, Cooper Union and Kingsborough Community College. Opting for employment outside of academia, Richardson prepared for a career in finance. After passing rigorous exams in August 2004, he was hired as a securities analyst by Argus Research to cover the diversified industrials sector. In this capacity he appeared on CNBC, Bloomberg TV and ROB-TV, Canada. In 2006, he left Argus to found his own money management firm. In addition to his busy work schedule, he continues to compose music. His most recent works are Concerto for French Horn and String Orchestra (2006), and also Autumn Song for tuba and piano (2006), which was written for the tuba player, Raymond Stewart. Heartbreaker is scheduled to be performed by the saxophonist and composer, Eric Honour, in February, 2007. Richardson is a member of ASCAP and the Long Island Composers Alliance (LICA).


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