About

Robert is a composer living in Boston, MA. He co-founded the Sleeping Giant composer collective and co-directs the Times Two Series. Send me emails at rhonstein@gmail.com !

Check out my store to purchase albums and scores.

long bio

Press

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Events Calendar

  • Th 11.9.17: DDB @ PASIC
  • Th 11.9.17: Economy @ PASIC
  • Sa 11.18.17: Ash @ The Egg
  • Fr 12.8.17: Economy @ Chicago
  • Fr 1.19.18: Soul House @ Seattle
  • Sa 1.20.18: SH @ Portland
  • Su 1.21.18: SH @ Eugene
  • Tu 1.23.18: SH @ San Fran
  • Sa 1.27.18: SH @ San Diego
  • Th 2.8.18: SH @ TSU
  • Th 2.22.18: Ash @ Strathmore
  • Mo 2.26.18: TIC @ MEE
  • Mo 3.5.18: TIC @ MEE
  • Mo 3.26.18: SH @ Cleveland
  • We 3.28.18: SH @ Elyria
Click here to see past events.

Olmsted

Violin and Piano – 20 minutes

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Begun as a response to Beethoven’s first Violin Sonata, Olmsted is at best loosely related to its source. When tasked with responding to the Beethoven I considered more direct, tangible connections, but ultimately felt compelled to toss Ludwig aside and write my own Sonata instead. There are oblique echoes – a whiff of D major persists, small surface details (the four note motive in the third movement, Long Meadow), perhaps the rather Beethovenian obsession with pushing short motives to their musical extremes – but I would say the parallels stop there. The title Olmsted refers to the great American landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. It occurred to me that my entire life has been spent in close proximity to Olmsted parks. This isn’t particularly remarkable given how many iconic public spaces he left behind, but it nonetheless struck me as noteworthy, if not significant.  With this in my mind each movement of my piece refers to a different park. Unfolding like short vignettes, these movements are a collection of fleeting moments from the past. The bright and ebullient first movement, Jamaica Pond, is part of the Emerald Necklace, a string of seven parks gracefully strung through several Boston neighborhoods. The slow, lyrical second movement, The Ramble, is a wooded area of Central Park, full of winding, semi-obscured paths, specifically designed for getting lost, deliberately obscuring the surrounding city. Long Meadow, the playful third movement, is part of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, a vast lawn where kids play and families picnic, a popular spot for winter sledding and summer games. Finally, World’s End is an unfinished project just south of Boston. Preserved as it was left over a hundred years ago, the park is quiet and beautiful, the footprints of a grand design clearly visible beneath the empty meadows and elegant carriage paths. There is a special poetry to these spaces with their winding paths, carefully designed vistas, and perfectly calibrated balance of natural and man-made landscapes. It’s no surprise that in spite of a lifetime of experience – from the mundane to the transformative – they still surprise and delight.

Olmsted was commissioned by Nicholas DiEugenio and Mimi Solomon and premiered October 5, 2017 by Nicholas DiEugenio and Mimi Solomon at Moeser Auditorium, UNC Chapel Hill, Durham, NC.

Middle Ground

for Violin and live processing – 20 minutes

Cast in three movements – Too Far, Too close, and Bridging the GapMiddle Ground searches for a common space between opposites. The first movement, Too Far, emerges quietly from the highest range of the violin. Barely audile, fingers at the instrument’s edge, the music hovers in a cloud of ethereal tones before slowly descending. In an abrupt shift, the second movement, Too Close, lives in the violin’s lowest range. Distorted, rhythmic bursts hammer away at chopped up scales and jagged arpeggios. Eventually waves of sound surge upwards, only to plummet back down, pulled by a relentless, unyielding gravity. The final movement, Bridging the Gap, seems almost without hope. Exhausted by the previous movement’s struggle, the music searches for a new path forward. Two lines, one descending and the other ascending, gradually, methodically move towards each other, steadily intensifying as they approach middle ground.

Check out a recording from the premiere featuring Kate Stenberg, Violin.

Middle Ground was commissioned by Kat Kroll, Barbara Sapienza, and Nancy Karp + Dancers and premiered February 10, 2016 by Kate Stenberg at the ODC Theater, San Francisco, CA.

The Sun Speckled Climbing Up

Chamber Orchestra (1111.2 sax.111.perc.pno.11111) and Two Sopranos – 12 minutes

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The Sun Speckled Climbing Up takes its inspiration from Book of Hours, an artist book stitched on tissue paper by Laura Grey. Loosely following the structure of a medieval book of hours, the project reimagines the ancient prayerbook as a large, hand-stitched, table- sized book. Several texts from various sources are collaged together, creating a narrative that references the structure of the original, while offering a contemporary perspective on the practice of daily devotion. The Sun Speckled Climbing Up is a musical setting of one section from Book of Hours featuring fragments from Rainer Maria Rilke’s own Book of Hours collection. Accompanying the music are video projections created by Hannah Wasileski and Laura Grey comprised of slow moving close up footage of the hand stitched, tissue paper book. The Rilke text speaks of gaping emotional chasms, yearning, and desire. This sentiment finds its way into the music, fueling the piece’s angular vocal lines and churning ensemble rhythms. This piece was commissioned by the Albany (NY) Symphony Orchestra.

For rental information please click here

premiered 06.10.16 at EMPAC, Troy, NY, by the Dogs of Desire, David Alan Miller Conductor

An Economy of Means

Prepared Vibraphone Solo – 30 minutes

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An Economy of Means is a kind of companion piece to my trio An Index of Possibility. In Index I used a wide range of materials—glass, metal, wood, ceramic, drums, toys, found objects—to create a large form that moved between distinctive worlds within a broad sonic palette. With An Economy of Means I’ve done the opposite, deliberately using one instrument, the vibraphone, and forcing myself to make the most out of limited resources. With a few simple preparations—tin foil, a manilla folder—and judicious usage of the vibraphone’s natural properties, I tried to build something vast and varied, as broad and ambitious as the trio but in a narrower, more focused context. Set in six movements, the nearly thirty minute piece doesn’t have a specific narrative. Even so, I think there is always a sense of motion, of drifting from space to space, with little dramas unfolding along the way. An Economy of Means was commissioned by Doug Perkins and a consortium of alumni from the Chosen Vale Summer Percussion Seminar. I think the infectious spirit of friendship and collaboration so strongly felt at Chosen Vale found its way into this work, and for that I am extremely grateful.

An Economy of Means is available for purchase here.

Recording coming soon!

The Great Marsh

String Quartet – 20 minutes

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Stretching across the Massachusetts North Shore from Gloucester to Salisbury, the Great Marsh is the largest salt marsh in New England. My piece is a collection of snap shot impressions, each movement a reflection on some special feature of this beautiful area. On my first visit to the Great Marsh I couldn’t help but think this is what much of the New England coast must have looked like long ago: vast stretches of marsh, barrier beaches, and tidal rivers fanning out for miles, an eternity of mud, grass, and brackish water. The first movement, Salt Hay, refers to the tall thin grass common to the area. Rushing scales, flowing lines, and bright harmonies burst forward, evoking the quicksilver motion of Salt Hay as it flashes back and forth in the wind. In the second movement slowly shifting harmonies, suspended dissonance, and languid motion evoke the oozy muck of tidal Mudflats while a playful, buoyant third movement represents the Seaside Sparrow, a rare bird local to coastal marshes. The final movement, Estuary, reflects on the perpetual tidal ebb and flow, the transition from land to sea, and the ancient, delicate balance of life sustained by the Great Marsh. The Great Marsh was commissioned by Music at Eden’s Edge.

Check out this live recording from the Congregational Church of Topsfield on 7.16.16

To purchase a score and part set please click here

premiered 07.15.16 at the North Shore Arts Association, Gloucester, MA by musicians from Music at Eden’s Edge

Juno

Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello, Percussion, Piano – 20 minutes

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For much of the world, 2015 was one of the warmest winters on record. In Boston, where I live, it was one of the coldest. By mid-January it seemed like we might get a pass from mother nature, but in the last week of January, winter storm Juno paid us a visit, launching a series of massive blizzards that brought a record breaking amount of snowfall. At the time I was holed up in a small New Hampshire cabin, fireplace and food close at hand, working on this piece, actually. For me the storms brought an eerie, magical calm: leafless trees crackling in the wind; pristine, untouched snow as far the eye could see; deep cold and an endless white horizon. At the same time my wife, eight months pregnant with our son, was alone in Boston, commuting to work on treacherous, ice-covered streets hemmed in by ten foot tall snow banks and a sea of frustrated commuters. The contrast was extreme. My piece Juno, reflects on that time: the anticipation before the first big storm; the beautiful stillness of fresh snow; the loud, dirty, struggles of an urban winter; and the feeling of heaviness as the season drags on seemingly without end. Juno was commissioned by the Mandel Foundation for the Utah Arts Festival and premiered in June 2015 by the Verge Ensemble.

Check out this video by Scott Quade of Hub New Music’s performance at the Fenway Center in Boston:
 

 
To purchase a score and part set please click here

premiered 6.27.15 at Library Auditorium, Salt Lake City, UT by the Vertigo Ensemble, Andrew Rindfleisch, Conductor.

 

Orison

Cello and Electronics – 10 minutes

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Orison is an old-fashioned word for prayer. Before writing this piece, I watched a Youtube of Rostropovich playing the complete Bach Cello Suites in a huge cathedral space. I was particularly taken by the Sarabandes. He played them quite slowly and took all the repeats, which made them very long. The slow tempi and the Cathedral’s intense natural reverb directed my ears toward the cello sound itself rather than particular notes or phrases. In those moments it seemed the music’s essence was not Bach’s beautiful writing, but the long tones and rich double stops reverberating through the cavernous, stone space. The impulse for Orison came directly from that listening experience. While ostensibly a solo, Orison’s simple material, bathed in reverb and long, gradually decaying echoes, becomes a kind of duet with the sound itself. Each tone is a question, calling out to a vast, unknowable space, and with every reverberation the cellist must listen carefully, searching for an answer before moving on to the next thought. Orison was made possible by the generous support of the Metropolis Ensemble, New Music USA, Rodney McDaniel, Carol Whitcomb, Hermine Drezner & Jan Winkler.

Check out this live recording by Ashley Bathgate from the World Premiere at (le) Poisson Rouge:

premiered 1.12.16 at (le) Poisson Rouge, New York, NY by Ashley Bathgate

Book of Hours

SATB + Chamber Orchestra (Fl., Cl., Hrn., Tbn., Perc., Pno., Strings) – 25 minutes

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Book of Hours takes its inspiration from an artist book stitched on tissue paper by Laura Grey. Loosely following the structure of a medieval book of hours, the project reimagines the ancient prayerbook as a large, hand-stitched, table-sized book. Several texts from various sources are collaged together, creating a narrative that references the structure of the original, while offering a contemporary perspective on the practice of daily devotion.

Often when looking inward we encounter a volatile and turbulent space: memories, worries, cares, visions, and dreams clash with wide-ranging emotions of sometimes great intensity. Book of Hours enters this space. Wistful childhood memories lead to a joyful outburst of song in the first movement, Now now now now. A quiet meditation on time in the second movement, A thin layer of time, is rudely interrupted by the angry outburst of Why had we even bothered? followed by a short instrumental interlude of equally violent intensity. In Alone on a roof a sense of deep loneliness dissolves into the final movement, Timor Mortis. A layering of text from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and a fragment from the Catholic Office of the Dead, Timor Mortis concludes the work with a quiet prayer, gently accepting fear in the face of an uncertain future and unpredictable fate.

To inquire about rentals and performance materials click here

This piece was commissioned by the Present Music Commission Club for its landmark 35th season. Milwaukee, WI, USA, www.presentmusic.org, 2016. 

Hymning

solo marimba – 8 minutes

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I grew up singing and playing hymns. I’m not particularly religious, but somehow they stuck with me. I love them for that. I love how they’ve always been there. How they never fail to reach me, to draw out some long forgotten feeling. They’re like an old friend: we don’t keep in touch so well, but every time we see each other we pick up right where we left off. My piece Hymning is like a daydream, a quiet stroll through hazy recollections of these tunes. I don’t think I quote anything specifically, rather it’s a sort of fantasy, an extended riff on little phrases that feel similar to probably hundreds of different tunes. After a long, meandering first section the music finds it’s way back to the beginning. On second look the tune takes a few unexpected turns. Digressions lead to wistful flourishes and unexpected tonal detours before returning once again to the opening idea. The piece ends, but I think there’s a sense it might still be going, quietly, barely heard, somewhere off in the distance. I can pick up this thread any time. It’s always there.

Hymning is available for purchase here.

Check out this performance video by Michael Burritt:

Hymning was commissioned by Michael Burritt

premiered 11.11.16 at PASIC 2016, Indianapolis, IN

 

Down Down Baby

Percussion and Prepared Cello – 22 minutesddb2

Down Down Baby is a childhood clapping game. Kids stand in a circle, clapping hands in choreographed patterns while singing a simple rhyming song. You know – Shimmy, Shimmy cocoa pop / Shimmy, Shimmy pow. When I began the piece my son was four months old. As a new Dad I often found myself trying to remember what being a kid was like. At the same time, perhaps with a bit less frequency, I was also thinking about how to approach cello and percussion in a completely new way. The two thoughts merged and I started to wonder if I were a kid with no prior knowledge of cellos and percussion what would I do? My immediate answer – I would hit and pluck in every possible way other than the normal way.

Thinking about childhood, led to games, which led to clapping games, which led to the amazing way two people facing each other performing the same motions become mirrors, which is a mesmerizing thing to watch; so I decided Hannah and Mike would be mirrors, and the cello would be their shared instrument. They would play, sing, whistle and clap (often all at the same time), and it would be hypnotic and joyful, maybe even capture some of the playful spirit and intricate physicality of the game Down Down Baby itself, or at least that was my hope!

With all this in mind, each movement became a short childhood scene. In Follow the Leader the players discover their new instrument, exploring a series of sounds and imitating each other as they go. Next is a brief Daydream, a moment of repose before a spirited Singing Lesson and a beguiling Strange Dance. After a second short Daydream the piece concludes with the title track, Down Down Baby, a kind of virtuosic romp through intricately coordinated hand gestures and interlocking rhythms.

Down Down Baby was commissioned by New Morse Code and developed with the support of the Avaloch Farm Music Institute.

recording coming soon! in the meantime check out these rehearsal videos:

premiered 10.04.16 at Kansas University by New morse Code