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Frank J. Oteri at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2003

Frank J. Oteri

New York, NY         

Frank J. Oteri is the composer advocate at New Music USA and the editor of NewMusicBox, which has been online since May 1999. An outspoken crusader for new music and the breaking down of barriers between genres, Frank has written for numerous publications and has also been a frequent radio guest and pre-concert speaker. Frank is also the vice president of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) and a board member of the International Association of Music Information Centers (IAMIC). Frank holds a B.A. and a M.A. (in Ethnomusicology) from Columbia University where he served as Classical Music Director and World Music Director for WKCR-FM.

Frank’s own musical compositions reconcile structural concepts from minimalism and serialism and frequently explore microtonality. His music has been performed in venues ranging from Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall and the Theatre Royal in Bath, England to the Knitting Factory, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and PONCHO Concert Hall in Seattle where John Cage first prepared a piano. Among his most widely performed compositions are: Imagined Overtures, a 36-tone rock band piece that has been performed around the country and is the centerpiece of a 2009 CD by the Los Angeles Electric 8; and Last Minute Tango which pianist Guy Livingston has toured around the world and paired with a short film by Thijs Schreuder on his DVD One Minute More. MACHUNAS, a performance oratorio inspired by the life of Fluxus-founder George Maciunas which Oteri created in collaboration with Lucio Pozzi, received its world premiere during the 2005 Christopher Summer Festival in Vilnius, Lithuania; that performance can be streamed in its entirety from the website of the Other Minds Video Archive. Oteri’s most recent works include: Love Games, a setting for girls chorus, harpsichord, and two tambourines of three poems by the Elizabethan sonneteer Mary Wroth which was commissioned and premiered by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City under the direction of Francisco J. Núñez for their Radio Radiance series; (not) knowing the answer, a setting of six sijos by James R. Murphy for unaccompanied vocal ensemble in 13-limit just intonation; and Counting Time in Central City, a setting for unaccompanied SATB chorus of three poems by Charles Passy commissioned by Central City Chorus for their 35th anniversary season, which received its world premiere performance in New York City in June 2016.

Ironically, one of Oteri’s most recent compositions, Dually, is also his oldest. It is based on material from his earliest piece of chamber music which was written after becoming intrigued about instrumental composition due to his high school music teacher, Dr. Lionel “Lee” Chernoff, shortly before turning 15 in 1979. Chernoff died in December 2016 prompting Oteri to re-examine that music which led to a realization that it contained anagrams of Chernoff’s name inspiring a “new” work for alto saxophone and guitar which was performed by the Duo Montagnard (Joseph Murphy and Matthew Slotkin) in the rotunda of Bronx Community College’s Gould Memorial Library on April 26, 2017 and again at the First Presbyterian Church of Elmira, New York on Friday, December 8, 2017 and at the Tenri Cultural Institute in Manhattan on June 21, 2019.

In 2007, Oteri was the recipient of ASCAP’s Victor Herbert Award for his “distinguished service to American music as composer, journalist, editor, broadcaster, impresario, and advocate” and, in January 2018, he received the Composers Now Visionary Award. For more information, visit fjoteri.com.

Frank J. Oteri: Fair and Balanced, Mvt 4 — Incremental Change

Fair and Balanced is a quartertone saxophone quartet that was composed for PRISM Quartet in celebration of their 20th anniversary. They have performed the work around the world and have recorded it on their innova CD Dedication. Other groups have recently begun performing it as well such as the wonderful Pacific Saxophone Quartet. Here is the PSQ’s performance of the final movement, “Incremental Change.”

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Frank J. Oteri: Last Minute Tango

Last Minute Tango is exactly what it says it is, a tango that lasts only a minute. It was commissioned by pianist Guy Livingston who has performed it all over the world as part of a set of 60 minute-long works he commissioned from 60 different composers. Last Minute Tango was also included on Livingston’s One Minute More DVD in which each of the 60 works is paired with a minute-long film, also expressly created for this project. The accompanying video for Last Minute Tango was created by the Dutch film-maker Thijs Schreuder. And if you’ve read this far it has probably taken you longer than hearing the piece!

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Frank J. Oteri: Spurl

Spurl systematically explores all possible hexachords within an octatonic aggregate consisting of the 8th through 15th partials of the overtone series. This compositional conceit is clearly indebted to serial procedures and the rhythmic shifts are also inspired by Elliott Carter’s metric modulations. The resultant music, however, sounds minimalist and is obstinately tonal as a result of the clearly audible harmonic implications of the intervallic relationships between these eight pitches. In Roald Dahl’s 1949 short story, “The Sound Machine,” a man is driven mad by a contraption he builds that enables him to hear sounds that occur in nature which had heretofore been impossible to perceive. The following passage from the story was on my mind throughout the compositional process: “A flower probably didn’t feel pain. It felt something else which we didn’t know about—something called toin or spurl or plinuckment, or anything you like.”

Commissioned to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Boston Microtonal Society and originally written for the alto saxophone, Spurl has had a second life as a composition for solo clarinet thanks to the masterful clarinetist Michiyo Suzuki who performs it in the video clip featured here. In September 2018, Spurl received the Untwelve Micro-Cosmos (Mikrokosmos) Microtonal Pedagogy Award.

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NewMusicBox Articles

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The concept for New Music Gathering was born in an online forum and now, in our time of physical distancing, it has been reimagined for virtual space.

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Anthony Davis has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his opera The Central Park Five.

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Third Coast Percussion: The Collaborative Process

David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and Sean Connors of Third Coast Percussion explain how they introduce audiences to percussion instruments, how they each came to devote their lives to...

See more of Frank J. Oteri's articles on NewMusicBox.