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

  • Fr 9.8.17: Ash @ Brisbane
  • Sa 9.23.17: Patter @ NYC
  • Th 10.5.17: Olmsted @ UNC
  • Mo 10.9.17: Night Scenes @ SLC
  • 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 3.26.18: SH @ Cleveland
  • We 3.28.18: SH @ Elyria
Click here to see past events.

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.

 

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

Arctic

String Quartet – 16 minutes

Chris McCaw, Sunburned GSP#492 (North Slope Alaska/ 24 hours), 2011.

Chris McCaw, Sunburned GSP#492 (North Slope Alaska/ 24 hours), 2011.

Arctic is a response to photographer Chris McCaw’s Sunburn series, a body of work exploring extended direct exposures of photo paper to sunlight. The long exposures, sometimes up to 24 hours, magnify the sun’s rays resulting in a literal burning of the paper. The result is an incinerated trace of the sun’s motion across a hazy, negative image of surrounding landscape. Combining pastoral beauty with a visceral physicality, the images evoke feelings of time, materiality and abstraction.

My piece Arctic responds to a pair of photos taken in Alaska, north of the arctic circle. Shot close to the summer solstice they are nearly 24 hour long exposures of the midnight sun. These images, huge 12 panel works, document the sun’s long, sinuous path across a barren, mountainous landscape. Arctic imagines both the midnight sun and the opposite phenomenon, polar night, or the 24 hours of darkness that occur during the winter solstice.

The first movement, Midnight Sun, is short and fast. Its relentless bright energy continues uninterrupted, pausing only to catch quick breaths before pushing forward. The second movement, Polar Night, begins slowly with a simple, undulating theme set against a long passacaglia figure. The music builds in intensity as flickers of color and grit emerge from the texture. As the intensity recedes we are left with the opening theme set against a slowly shifting harmony.

In both movements you will also hear traces of the burning found in McCaw’s photos. Musical lines dissolve into brittle color, harmony grinds into noise, and holes sometimes appear, recalling the seared paper of McCaw’s images.

Arctic was commissioned by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute.

Check out video of the Mivos Quartet recording Arctic at Oktaven Audio:

To purchase a score and part set please click here

premiered 11.20.13 in Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York City by the Mivos Quartet

Conduit

Fl., Cl., Vln., Vc., Perc., Piano – 16 minutes

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Composed for Hand Eye, Sleeping Giant’s evening length collaboration with eighth blackbird, Conduit takes its cue from an interactive sculpture by digital artists Zigelbaum and Coelho. In their 640 by 480 the human body merges with computational process, facilitating simple copy/paste operations between sculptural elements. Set in three movements— Touch, Pulse, SendConduit evokes this man/machine synthesis. As bright waves of color explode from repeated sonic bursts, Touch compulsively repeats the gesture so fundamental to how we interact with our devices. In Pulse long lines in the flute and cello move through a cloud of asynchronous repeated notes, evoking that instantaneous moment when data passes from finger to screen. Finally, Send completes the transfer. Action follows as the music energizes and accelerates, moving briskly to a wild conclusion.

Check out this video of ‘640 by 480’ to see Zigelbaum and Coelho’s sculpture in action.

Conduit was commissioned by eighth blackbird, as part of a group project with Sleeping Giant.

Talking in Circles

Violin and Viola – 14 minutes

Talking in Circles is a conversation that becomes an argument. Two characters are in dialogue, talking but not agreeing. They repeat themselves, making the same points in different ways. There is progress, but ultimately the conversation goes nowhere. In three movements – Give and Take, At odds, Agree to DisagreeTalking in Circles traces this evolution. Give and Take features an exchange, a constant back and forth between the instruments. At Odds, is a standoff. Lines have been drawn. Each side pleas their case, but their cries fall on deaf ears. Finally, in Agree to Disagree the pair are at an impasse. There is some common ground. The musicians find a way to come together, but it is an obstinate unity, a begrudging acceptence of differences.

Talking in Circles was written for the andPlay duo

Check out this fantastic performance video by Evan Chapman + andPlay

Unwind

for prepared marimba – 6 minutes

Hannah in the studio recording ‘unwind’

Commissioned by New Morse CodeUnwind is a delicate exposition of off-kilter rhythms and slowly ascending lines. Layers of asynchronous pulses evoke an unwinding music box as cyclical rhythmic patterns move in and out of phase with each other. Initially confined to a narrow range, the musical voices themselves unwind as they slowly ascend the instrument, ultimately resting on the marimba’s two highest pitches. Bell tones, from a set of vibraphone bars placed on top of the Marimba’s ‘black’ keys, provide a bed of resonance to the pulsating marimba tones.

The piece can be perfumed as a duet, trio or quartet, all musicians playing one instrument.

Recording by New Morse Code coming soon!

 

 

Alone Together

Double Bass Quartet – 8 minutes

There has been so much talk about the internet and social media being both the great connector and the great divider of people. The feeling is that these conduits of information and connectors of people bring with them a kind of odd alienation and disconnect, that we are simultaneous with people and without people. I had been thinking about these things and the image that stuck with me was the physical reality of how we spend so much of our internet time: alone, by ourselves, tucked away in our apartments and homes. My music comes from that place, the quiet times when we commune with our screens and our networks.

Full disclosure, the title Alone Together admittedly takes its cue from the Sherry Turkle book of the same name and not the legendary Arthur Schwarz and Howard Dietz song.

Alone Together was commissioned by the Heavy Hands Bass Quartet.

Check out this video by four/ten media featuring Lisa Dowling:

To purchase a score and part set please click here

premiered 5.10.12 at the Gershwin Hotel by the Heavy Hands Bass Quartet

An Index of Possibility

Percussion Trio – 25 minutes

tigue index

Commissioned by TIGUE, Smoke and Mirrors, and Sonore Percussion, An Index of Possibility explores the secret world of sound in everyday objects. Using found sounds, homemade constructions, and cheap toys, Index unlocks a sonic palette exploding with color and variety. Cast in six movements, the music traverses a symphonic expanse, fluidly moving between ambient textures, visceral unisons and muscular virtuosity. A wistful lullaby tune, Repose, begins the piece. A kind of idée fixe, Repose will return two times, framing the three larger movements – Flicker, Flow and Burst. In Flicker piercing hits punctuate a tremulous layer of pulsating metal and wood. Flow begins with a mesmerizing rhythmic ostinato, gradually moving towards a strange and unexpected place as a new melody emerges on the tuned pipes. Long bell-tones signal a change of direction and then a second Repose appears only to be violently interrupted by the clangorous opening hits of Burst. Erupting into a wild torrent of rhythms traversing the full range of the setup, Burst is the work’s focal point. After barreling through Burst the final Repose brings the music to a hushed conclusion. While virtually the same as the opening, this last Repose feels somehow transformed, touched by the long journey of An Index of Possibility.

A complete instrument list includes –

Kick Drum, 3 Toms, Bongo, 4 jam blocks, 3 metals, 3 glasses, 3 ceramics, 2 Flower Pots, 2 metal mixing bowls, 2 small bells, Caxixi, Log Drum, a chromatic set of Desk Bells, 3 steel pipes (tuned), 9 copper pipes (tuned), 4 wood planks (tuned), 1 shot glass, and one serving platter attached to a foot pedal.

Check out the video by TIGUE

To purchase a score and part set please click here

Premiered 6.13.13 by TIGUE, JACK space, Brooklyn, NY

Beginnings

Piano 4-Hands, String Quartet, Double Bass – 6 minutes

I wrote Beginnings for the final concert of Ensemble ACJW’s 2011-12 season. Endings are often beginnings and this thought immediately made me think of beginnings in my own life. With that in mind I dedicated this piece to my then fiance and now wife, Laura.

Beginnings was commissioned by The Academy—a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education.

The recording is from a studio session featuring Timo Andres and David Kaplan on Piano, Rachel Lee and Tema Watstein on Violin, Edwin Kaplan, Viola, Yves Dharamraj, Cello, and Brian Ellingsen on Bass.

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To purchase a score and part set please click here

premiered 6.10.12 at Le Poisson Rouge by Ensemble ACJW.