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The Paul Dresher Ensemble [aka Musical Traditions, Inc.]

San Francisco, CA         

Mission: The Paul Dresher Ensemble believes deeply in the transformative power of artistic expression. Like the best of American culture, our work is grounded in experimentation and exploration, and embodies a distinctly entrepreneurial spirit. For nearly 30 years the Ensemble has been a creative force and active member of the San Francisco Bay Area as well as the national arts community. Our overarching goal is to produce innovative and engaging performances that reach for the highest artistic standards. We create, produce and tour works of new opera/music theater; commission and perform new chamber music; collaborate with other artists and arts organizations; support their creative work by providing technical, financial, and advisory assistance; and through our new Artists Residency Center (ARC) offer free studio residencies each year to early to mid-career Northern California artists working in the time-based arts.

New Music Theater: Creation, Production, & Performances

The Paul Dresher Ensemble spent its early years performing the experimental theater/opera productions by artistic director Paul Dresher. Best known is The American Trilogy, which encompasses Slow Fire, Power Failure, and Pioneer. Each season The Paul Dresher Ensemble presents and produces theatrical works by a wide range of different composers. This has included the John Adams/Peter Sellars/June Jordan production I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, as well as the acclaimed solo opera Ravenshead (1998), a collaboration with composer Steve Mackey and Rinde Eckert. In 2001, the Ensemble premiered Sound Stage, performed on a set comprised of large, invented musical instruments. More recent productions include Rinde Eckert’s acclaimed theater work Horizon (2006), and Dresher’s chamber opera The Tyrant (2006) for a six-person acoustic chamber ensemble that has been produced in Chicago (2011), the Teatro Comunale di Bolzano in Bolzano, Italy (2012) and the Operadagen Rotterdam in Belgium (2012). Our most recent theatrical production, Schick Machine, premiered on Stanford University’s Lively Arts concert series (2009) and has been performed at the Mondavi Arts Center (Davis, CA), San Francisco’s Z Space, the Hong Kong Cultural Center (China) last July, and the University of Illinois in Urbana. It will tour to UCLA and UC San Diego this winter.

Instrumental Ensembles: Commissions & Performances

Each year the Paul Dresher Ensemble performs contemporary chamber music for audiences across the US. We have two different performing groups: the seven-member Electro-Acoustic Band and the Double Duo quartet.

Electro-Acoustic Band was formed in 1993 to meet the technological and expressive demands of contemporary composers. With 6 instrumentalists plus a sound engineer, the Band regularly commissions new chamber music for its home season concerts in San Francisco. Collaborating closely with noted soloists such as pianist-composer Terry Riley, cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, violinist David Abel, pianist Lisa Moor, and tenor Rinde Eckert, the Band premieres new work by a diverse group of international composers that has included John Adams, John Luther Adams, Eve Beglarian, Cindy Cox, Alvin Curran, Anthony Davis, Fred Frith, Bun Ching Lam, David Lang, Jack Perla, Terry Riley, Ingram Marshall, Roger Reynolds, David Lang, and Ayuo Takahashi, among others. The Band tours regularly across the US and made its Carnegie debut in October 2004 at Zankel Hall.

Double Duo, formed in 2010, is a quartet of virtuosic instrumentalists who perform contemporary music scored for acoustic and electro-acoustic instruments or for Dresher’s invented musical instruments. The quartet includes pianist Lisa Moore, violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, acoustic/electronic percussionist Joel Davel (often performing on Don Buchla’s Marimba Lumina), and Paul Dresher on guitar/bass guitar and invented instruments. Double Duo’s repertory embraces acoustic duets like John Adams’s Road Movies or Martin Bresnick’s Bird As Prophet; duets for invented instruments such as Dresher’s Glimpsed from Afar;trios like Samuel Adams’s Piano Trio; and hybrid pieces for electro-acoustic quartet: Dresher’s Chorale Times Two or Bresnick’s Willie’s Way.

Our Audiences

The Paul Dresher Ensemble is one of the few composer-led, performing groups active in the US today with a repertory that is almost entirely commissioned. Each year the ensemble tours nationally to bring contemporary chamber music and new music theater to American audiences across the country. The ensemble makes contemporary genres accessible to core audiences as well as to people who find this repertory surprising or challenging. Our performances attract listeners interested in bridging aesthetic divides–between “serious” and “popular” styles, or between different musical genres and ethnicities. Annual home season concerts by our Electro-Acoustic Band consistently attract enthusiastic audiences from around the San Francisco Bay Area. They are equally divided between residents of San Francisco, of the East Bay cities of Oakland and Berkeley, and visitors from neighboring Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Yolo counties. Current audience surveys indicate that our performances attract people of all ages. Approximately 45% is either under 21 or over 65, attracted in part by discounts we offer to local schools and senior centers; men and women are equally represented, with approximately 10% self-identifying as being of Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or African-American descent.

The Ensemble performs annual home season concerts in San Francisco, typically at Z Space or ODC Theater, as well as other concerts in northern California (the new Bindlestiff Studio, Jewish Community Center San Francisco, YBCA’s Novellus Theatre, Old First Church, Oakland’s Chapel of the Chimes, UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall and University Art Museum, and UC Davis’s Mondavi Center for the Arts. In upcoming seasons we will also be performing at the Cowell Theater and Zellerbach Playhouse.

Each season, the ensemble also mounts national and international tours. Since 2012, they include tours to the universities of Texas Austin, Maryland (Clarise Smith Performing Arts Center), Illinois (Krannert Center), UC San Diego, and next winter to UCLA and UCSD. Our performances have also been presented at the Ordway Center (Minneapolis), the Flynn Space (Burlington, VT) the Myrna Loy Center (Helena, MT), and next year Le Poisson Rouge (New York City). Internationally, we have performed in Bolzano, Italy, Rotterdam (The Netherlands), Hong Kong, and over three weeks last May at cultural centers in Brisbane, Campbelltown, Sydney, and Canberra, Australia

Institutional Supporters

Foundations supporting our current productions and performances of the past two seasons include the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, American Composers Forum, AVK Cultural Heritage Foundation, Bernard Osher Foundation, East Bay Community Foundation, Chamber Music America Commissioning, Fleishhacker Foundation, Clarence Heller Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Opera America, Kenneth Rainin Foundation, Ross McKee Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, Thendara Foundation, US Artists International, Zellerbach Family Foundation. Our governmental support comes from the SF Arts Commission and San Francisco’s Grants for the Arts. 

Schick Machine

Collaboratively created by a multi-disciplinary team including composer/instrument builder Paul Dresher, writer/director Rinde Eckert, percussionist/performer Steven Schick, lighting and visual designer Tom Ontiveros, instrument inventor/educator Daniel Schmidt, and mechanical sound artist Matt Heckert, Schick Machine features percussionist Schick exploring a visually compelling world of mechanical devices, invented instruments and seemingly infinite sonic possibilities. Recorded Mondavi Center (Davis, CA), November 2009

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Glimpsed From Afar – composed by Paul Dresher & perf. by The Dresher Ensemble Invented Instrument Duo performs

Ensemble percussionist Joel Davel, playing the Marimba Lumina, a specialized MIDI control surface invented by Don Buchla, and Paul Dresher, playing the Quadrachord, a 14-foot long guitar-like stringed instrument invented by him, perform the duo “Glimpsed From Afar” at ODC Theater in San Francisco (Nov. 2010).

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For Joe Z – by Bruce Pennycook

Commissioned by the Paul Dresher Ensemble Electro-Acoustic Band, Bruce Pennycook’s “For Joe Z” features Karen Bentley Pollick (violin), Jeff Anderle (bass clarinet), Marja Mutru (keyboard), Paul Dresher (electric bass), John Schott (electric guitar), Joel Davel (electronic mallet percussion), and Gene Reffkin (electronic drum set). Recorded at Z Space in San Francisco, December 15, 2012.

In this work, Pennycook sought “to capture the energy and rhythmic vitality of the music of the late Joseph Zawinul, especially as in Weather Report.”

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