Jonathan Russell

Composer and clarinetist Jonathan Russell is active in a wide variety of musical genres, from classical to experimental to klezmer to sacred. His work stretches the boundaries of contemporary classical music, opening it up to the sounds and attitudes of the other musical traditions surrounding it. 

He has received commissions from ensembles such as the San Francisco Symphony, the Empyrean Ensemble, the ADORNO Ensemble, Classical Revolution, the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, and the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, and his works have been performed by the Berkeley Symphony, the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra, the Athens (Greece) Youth Orchestra, the BluePrint Project, the Great Noise Ensemble, the new music bands FIREWORKS, Capital M, and Oogog, and pianists Sarah Cahill, Lisa Moore, Lara Downes, and Matthew McCright, among others.

Russell was recently commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony’s Keeping Score educational outreach program to arrange Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring for woodwind quintet. The arrangement is being performed around the country as part of Keeping Score’s curriculum. He was also one of five composers chosen to arrange parts of the Rite for the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra. In the spring of 2009, he served as music director, composer, and arranger for The Illustrated Book of Invisible Stories, a new dance production by choreographers Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton. After a highly successful run of sold-out shows at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, it returned for a longer run in January 2010. In the 2007 New Ariel Competition, Russell’s piano piece Metamorphosis #1 was chosen to be professionally recorded by pianist Jeffrey Jacob for release on the Capstone record label. His orchestral composition Essay was the winner of the 2002 Lee Highsmith Orchestral Composition Competition and received Honorable Mention in the 2003 Minnesota Orchestra Reading Competition.

An avid performer on clarinet and bass clarinet, Russell is a member of the heavy metal-inspired Edmund Welles bass clarinet quartet and the Balkan/klezmer/experimental band Zoyres. He plays in, composes for, and is a founding member of the Sqwonk bass clarinet duo, which has commissioned and recorded new works from 12 composers in the past four years. He is also co-founder and co-director of the Switchboard Music Festival, an annual eight-hour marathon concert that brings together the San Francisco Bay Area composers and performers who are most innovatively stretching the boundaries and definitions of contemporary music.

Russell has served on the music theory and musicianship faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory and on the composition faculty of the Conservatory’s Adult Extension Division. He has also served as music director at First Congregational Church, San Francisco and as a music critic for the San Francisco Classical Voice. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Harvard University and a Master of Music in Music Composition from the San Francisco Conservatory. His composition teachers have included Dan Becker, Elinor Armer, Eric Sawyer, John Stewart, and Eric Ewazen.  In September 2010, he will begin Ph.D. studies in Music Composition at Princeton University.

Jonathan Russell appears in the following:

Jonathan Russell

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The two pieces here—ELEVEN and Sextet —embody many of my current musical interests. Both use minimalist and vernacular materials as starting points, but develop them into complex, dramatic narratives. While I grew up steeped in the classical tradition, I have since become fascinated with minimalism and various vernacular styles, especially heavy metal, funk, klezmer, and Balkan music. I thus aim to use basic materials that are catchy, direct, and rhythmically driving and to build them into complex, dramatic, emotionally compelling narratives in the manner of classical masters like Brahms or Beethoven.

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