Eric Salzman

Eric Salzman

Salzman at the Cell Theater in 2011 for the Center for Contemporary Opera atelier of his opera, Big Jim and the Small-Time Investors.
Born (1933-09-08) September 8, 1933
Queens, New York, U.S.
Occupation Composer, producer, author, music critic
Years active 1958–present

Eric Salzman (born September 8, 1933) is an American composer, scholar, author, impresario, music critic, and record producer. He is known for his work advancing the concept of "New Music Theater" as an independent art form differing in scope (economically and aesthetically) from Grand opera and contemporary popular musicals. He co-founded the American Music Theater Festival and is currently Composer-in-Residence at the Center for Contemporary Opera in New York City.

Early life

Salzman was born September 8, 1933 in New York City and attended Forest Hills High School (1946–1950). After studying composition with Marris Mawner at the New York High School of Music and Art (1949–51), he continued his studies (majoring in music and minoring in literature) at Columbia University (BA 1954), where his teachers included Jack Beeson, Lionel Trilling, Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky. He pursued postgraduate work at Princeton University (MFA 1956) with Milton Babbitt, Roger Sessions, Earl Kim, Edward T. Cone, Arthur Mendel, Oliver Strunk and Nino Pirrotta. A Fulbright Fellowship (1956–58) enabled him to study at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome with Goffredo Petrassi, and at the Darmstädter Ferienkurse with Karlheinz Stockhausen, Bruno Maderna and Luigi Nono.

Music critic, producer and broadcaster

In 1958 he returned to the USA and began a career as a music critic, writing for The New York Times (1958–62), the New York Herald Tribune (1962–6) and Stereo Review (from 1966); he won the Elsie O. and Philip D. Sang Prize for Critics of the Fine Arts in 1969 (an award previously given to Harold Clurman and subsequently to Hilton Kramer).[1][2] The judges were Aaron Copland, Vladimir Ussachevsky and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. He also worked as contributing editor and critic for Opera News, Opera, Neue Zeitschrift der Musik, New York Magazine and other publications in Germany, France and England.

Salzman founded and ran The Electric Ear at the Electric Circus from 1967 to 1968. He served as music director of WBAI-FM (Pacifica Radio) from 1962 until 1964 and again from 1968 until 1972, winning a Major Armstrong Award for broadcasting.[3] He interviewed numerous artists, including Stefan Wolpe and Edgard Varèse, and was himself interviewed by Virgil Thomson as the special guest on Thomson's radio program for WNCN-FM in 1970.[4]

Through his work at WBAI (where he founded the Free Music Store), Salzman was approached by Joseph Papp in 1968 to create concerts for the then-vacant Martinson Hall at The Public Theater.[5] As a result, the Free Music Store (FMS) presented free concerts in Martinson Hall until Papp evicted the group in 1971. FMS provided a platform for musicians who wanted to explore new musical projects while foregoing compensation. Among their many programs, the Free Music Store was responsible for organizing formal performances of ragtime music, presenting concerts featuring Eubie Blake and others. Salzman left The Free Music Store in 1972, though FMS continued operating in various locations under the leadership of Ira Weitzman.

From 1975 to 1990 he produced and directed over two dozen recordings (mainly for Nonesuch Records), including two Grammy Award-nominated records: the Hal Prince production of Kurt Weill's The Silver Lake with the New York City Opera conducted by Julius Rudel (1980) and The Unknown Kurt Weill, featuring Teresa Stratas (1991). He produced the Nonesuch album The Tango Project (1991) and the two follow-up Tango Project albums, Two to Tango and The Palm Court. The first Tango Project album (for which Salzman and his collaborators transcribed Carlos Gardel's Por una Cabeza) won a Stereo Review Award for Record of the Year and was featured prominently in the films Scent of a Woman and True Lies. The album has been credited for bringing attention to tango music in Argentina and internationally. Salzman also produced several recordings featuring the music of Harry Partch and William Bolcom, as well as his own music.

New Music Theater

According to Salzman's writing, the future of opera/music theater lies in economically viable, small-scale theater works where music is the dominant driving force. This concept is evident in Salzman's early works like Verses and Cantos (1967), The Peloponnesian War, a full-evening mime-dance-theater piece with dancer/choreographer Daniel Nagrin (1967 tour), Feedback, a multimedia participatory environmental work for live performers, visuals and tape with Stan Vanderbeek (1968 premiere, 1969 Torcuato di Tella Institute with Marta Minujín, NY Public Television 1969) and the Nude Paper Sermon, for actor (played by Stacy Keach), Renaissance consort, chorus and electronics (commissioned by Nonesuch in 1969) which toured widely in a theatrical version. The Nonesuch recording of the piece was chosen separately by both Dennis Báthory-Kitsz and David Gunn (creators and hosts of the Kalvos & Damian New Music Bazaar) for the "Top 100" desert island recordings.

In 1967 Salzman founded the New Image of Sound series at Hunter College where his theatrical composition Verses and Cantos (a.k.a. Foxes and Hedgehogs) was performed for the inaugural concert conducted by Dennis Russell Davies alongside the New York premiere of Berio's Laborintus II. Five years later (1972), Pierre Boulez conducted the piece with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.[6]

In 1970, Salzman founded the Quog Music Theater, a mixed media performing group that performed many of Salzman's works, including Ecolog, a music theater piece for television (premiered on Channel 13), which received its live premiere at the New York Philharmonic's Prospective Encounters Series in 1972 conducted by Boulez.[7][8] With Quog, Salzman experimented with theatrical forms and ensembles, creating an a capella radio opera and the music drama Lazarus (1973), combining contemporary and medieval elements, which appeared at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in 1974 before touring in Europe.

Salzman created numerous theatrical works with the musician Michael Sahl (with both artists generally serving as co-composer as well as co-librettist). Among their many collaborations were The Conjurer, (1975) which premiered at the Public Theater directed by Tom O'Horgan and Civilization and Its Discontents, a music theater comedy which premiered at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in 1977. The latter show toured Europe extensively, was recorded for National Public Radio and Nonesuch records, winning the Prix Italia and a Backstage Award. Other Michael Sahl/Eric Salzman collaborations were produced in partnership with the Pratt Institute, Victory Theater, WNYC, Theater for the New City, KCRW Santa Monica, Quog Music Theater, and the American Music Theater Festival.

American Music Theater Festival

In 1984, Salzman founded the American Music Theater Festival with Marjorie Samoff and Ron Kaiserman.[9] The festival's advisory council included Stephen Sondheim, Milton Babbitt, Philip Glass and Leonard Bernstein. For the opening, Salzman reconstructed and adapted the 1927 antiwar satire Strike up the Band by George and Ira Gershwin. The production was directed by Frank Corsaro and conducted by Maurice Peress at the Walnut Street Theatre. Salzman was co-director of the Festival until 1993. Notable productions during his tenure include Julie Taymor, Elliot Goldenthal and Sidney Goldfarb's The Transposed Heads, Duke Ellington's Queenie Pie, Emily Mann, Ntozake Shange, and Baikida Carroll's Betsy Brown, Bob Telson and Lee Breuer's The Gospel at Colonus, David Henry Hwang, Philip Glass and Jerome Sirlin's 1000 Airplanes on the Roof, Robert Xavier Rodriguez' Frida, Harry Partch's Revelation in the Courthouse Park, William Bolcom's Casino Paradise, and a 1987 production of Salzman's and Sahl's 1976 work, Stauf, a music theater version of Faust directed by Rhoda Levine.

Center for Contemporary Opera

From 2000 until 2012, Salzman was Artistic Director of the Center for Contemporary Opera (CCO) in New York City and currently serves as Composer-in-Residence for the company. CCO presented the U.S. premiere of Salzman's La Prière du loup, (2003) and The True Last Words of Dutch Schultz (Symphony Space 2007) and workshops of other works, including Big Jim & the Small-time Investors at The Flea Theater (2010) and the Faison Firehouse Theater (2014). Among the major works which have received important productions or premieres through CCO during Salzman's tenure as Artistic Director are Michael Dellaira and J. D. McClatchy's The Secret Agent and Daron Hagen and Paul Muldoon's Vera of Las Vegas.[10]

European projects

1997 saw the world premiere of True Last Words of Dutch Schultz at the Internationaal Opera Centrum Nederland, starring Theo Bleckmann as Dutch Schultz. Also in 1997, the Théâtre Max Jacob of Quimper, Brittany, premiered Salzman's work, La Prière du loup, which had been commissioned by Un Théâtre pour la Musique and Scène National de Quimper and which was directed by Michel Rostain, who had written the libretto.The same forces commissioned Salzman to write another version of Gershwin's Strike Up the Band which was performed several times in Quimper and Paris between 2000 and 2002. This eventually led to a commission from L'Orchestre du Sciences-Po for a chamber orchestra suite based on the work.

Other projects

Salzman's recent work includes the madrigal comedy Jukebox in the Tavern of Love (text and stage direction by Valeria Vasilevski) commissioned by The Western Wind Vocal Ensemble which performed it at the Flea Theater in 2008 and Brooklyn's Bargemusic in 2009.[11] In 1980, Salzman composed and conducted instrumental music and song for Yuri Rasovsky's Peabody Award-winning audio dramatization of Homer's The Odyssey for the National Radio Theater.[12] The Kronos Quartet's 1997 album, Early Music featured Salzman's arrangement of John Cage's Totem Ancestor. This was part of a suite of five of Cage's pieces for prepared piano arranged by Salzman for string quartet or string orchestra, published by C.F. Peters.[13]

Publications, teaching and musicology

Salzman was editor of The Musical Quarterly from 1984 to 1991 and his teaching appointments have included positions at Queens College, City University of New York (1966–8), the Institute for Studies in American Music (Brooklyn, New York) and guest faculty/lecturer at Tisch School of the Arts/New York University, the Music Theater Program at the Banff Centre for the Arts, Yale University School of Music, the Conservatoire Nationale de Lyon, France and other academic institutions. In 1962, he was invited by Friedelind Wagner to present several lectures at the Bayreuth Festival.

He is the author of The New Music Theater: Seeing the Voice, Hearing the Body with Thomas Desi (Oxford University Press, 2008) and Twentieth Century Music: An Introduction (Prentice Hall, 1967; 4th edition, 2001) which has become a widely used textbook in university courses on modern music.[14] He also wrote Making Changes: A Practical Guide to Vernacular Harmony with Michael Sahl (G. Schirmer Inc., 1986) in addition to articles which have appeared various publications. He published an essay on the new music theater movement, "Music-Theater Defined: It's ...Well...Um..." [15]

Private life

Salzman has been married to environmental activist, writer and U.S. Green Party founding member Lorna Salzman (née Jackson) since 1955. They have two daughters, the poet Eva Salzman and composer/songwriter Stephanie Salzman.[16] He is an avid birdwatcher and an expert in bird calls of Eastern Long Island.



  1. "People in the News". Idaho State Journal. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  2. "Hilton Kramer Papers 1950–2012, n.d.". Bowdoin College. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  3. "WBAI Folio from the Pacifica Radio Archives April 16 – April 29, 1962". Internet Archive. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  4. ""Radio" February 23, 1970". The New York Times. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  5. Henahan, Donal (28 February 1971) "They've Gotta Be Free; They've Gotta Be Free" The New York Times
  6. ""Concert" BBC Radio 3 31 January, 1972". BBC Genome Project. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  7. Strongin, Theodore (1 December 1967) "Salzman and Berio Presented at Hunter In Modern Series" The New York Times
  8. Rockwell, John (19 February 1973) "Salzman's QUOG Is Not All It's Supposed to Be" The New York Times
  9. Page, Tim (15 September 1985) "The Music Theater Festival, a Mere Idea in 1983, Starts Second Big Season" The New York Times
  10. "About Us". Center for Contemporary Opera. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  11. Schweitzer, Vivien (9 July 2009) "Music Review: All in the Same Boat, Singing Away the Blues" The New York Times
  12. "The Odyssey of Homer". Blackstone Audio. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  13. "Early Music". Kronos Quartet. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  14. "The New Music Theater, ISBN 0195099362". Oxford University Press. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  15. "Music-Theater Defined". Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  16. "Miss Lorna Jackson a Prospective Bride October 5, 1955". The New York Times. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  17. "Catalogue". Labor Records. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
  18. "Western Wind Vocal Ensemble Delivers Buoyant Meredith Monk and Eric Salzman". Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  19. "Recordings of the Year (Sounds of America, III)". Retrieved Jan 6, 2015.


External links

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