Thomas Buckner Long Biography


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Thomas Buckner, recipient of the American Music Center’s Letter of Distinction, has for decades championed music of the avant-garde in America and throughout the world as a performer, producer, and advocate. A former student of the legendary Metropolitan Opera baritone, Martial Singher, Buckner has continued throughout his career to broaden the scope of his vocal styles, specializing in a wide range of experimental music and collaborating with a host of “new music” composers including Christian Wolff, Robert Ashley, Noah Creshevsky, Earl Howard, Matthias Kaul, Leroy Jenkins, Bun Ching Lam, Annea Lockwood, Roscoe Mitchell, Phill Niblock, Wadada Leo Smith, Chinary Ung, and many others. He has made solo appearances at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Harvard University, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Edinburgh Festival, the Prague Spring Festival, the Berlin Spring Festival, the Bienalli Festival of Venice, the Angelica Festival of Bologna, and the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival presenting numerous premiers including includes 100 compositions either written for, or dedicated to him.

His 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 a wide range of 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 part of the world.

Buckner left California for New York City in 1983 and began a long association with celebrated composer Robert Ashley, performing a lead role in his opera Atalanta (Acts of God) as well as ELAficionado which was composed especially for Buckner. He has created 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, Concrete, When Famous Last Words Fail You which received its premiere at Carnegie Hall in 2009, and World War III, Just the Highlights, which was premiered at Dublin’s Beal Festival in 2012.  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.

The singer has also had a longtime association with the venerable saxophonist, improviser, and composer Roscoe Mitchell, a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Their ongoing collaboration has resulted in the legendary 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 most current collaboration took place at the Detroit Museum of Contemporary Art, which was a multimedia performance centered around the work of the French sculptor, Alain Kirili.

In May 2008, Buckner participated in installation performances at the National Museum of Paris in relation to the forged metal sculptures of Kirili. This collaboration resulted in further presentations in Africa, Europe, and the United States. He has recently appeared at the CalArts Creative Music Festival in Los Angeles; the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; the Sibelius Academy, Helsinki; the Apositia Festival in St. Petersburg; the Cultural Center of Moscow; the Royal Academy of Belgium; the Yangoon Festival of Myanmar; the Herbst Theater in San Francisco; the Brecht Forum, New York City, the Casa del Popolo Festival in Montreal, and the Ostrava Days Festival in the Czech Republic. These performances featured premiers of compositions by Edmund Campion, Mel Graves, Annea Lockwood, Wadada Leo Smith, Christian Wolff, and Chinary Ung, as well as improvisations with Roscoe Mitchell, Matthias Kaul, and Juho Laitinen.

Electronic and multi-media theater works are also part of Buckner’s musical vocabulary. He has appeared as vocalist in Morton Subotnick’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 recordings of Jump the Circle, Jump the Line, and  Off-Hour Wait State, satirizing the shortcomings of the New York City subway system. Other longstanding associations with electro-acoustic composers include Larry Austin, Noah Creshevsky, Annea Lockwood, Alvin Lucier, Phill Niblock, and Pauline Oliveros.

Joseph Kubera, the baritone’s accompanist for almost two decades, has been acclaimed in the press 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.

Buckner has participated in over 50 recordings, including six solo albums: Full Spectrum Voice [1991], Sign of the Times [1994], Inner Journey [1998], and His Tone of Voice [2001], Contexts [2006], and New Music for Baritone and Chamber Ensemble [2007] as well as collaborations with distinguished artists Robert Dick (flute), Mari Kimura (violin), Borah Bergman (piano), and David Darling (cello), Earl Howard (saxophone), Gustavo Aguilar (percussion), and Wu Man (pipa). The entire discography features newly commissioned works by an impressive array of composers including Christian Wolff, Annea Lockwood, Somei Satoh, Alvin Lucier, Muhal Richard Abrams, Blue Gene Tyranny, Brian Smith, David Behrman, Robert Ashley, Petr Kotik, Tania León and many others, who utilize Buckner’s wide range of musical styles.

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

He also has created the Mutable Music record label, producing new recordings and reissues of some important historic performances, previously unavailable in CD format. The impressive catalog of artists includes by Randy Weston, Roscoe Mitchell, Borah Bergman, Jerome CooperJoseph Bacon, 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.