Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR)
“For me the arts are like a religion…I still have and play the same violin I played when I was five years old. This inanimate object, the violin, has been the one constant thing in my life.” – DBR
Daniel Bernard Roumain’s (DBR) acclaimed work as a composer and performer have positioned him as one of the most innovative artists and educators of his generation. Having been called “about as omnivorous as a contemporary artist gets” (New York Times), the Haitian-American musician writes singular music that combines his traditional training with his own cultural references and musical imagination. His commissioners include prestigious artists, ensembles and organizations, and his music has been presented worldwide. DBR’s blend of classical music, funk, rock, hip-hop, and his compelling energy have helped broaden and redefine concert music, giving it a fresh appeal to young audiences. This musical eclecticism perhaps makes him the only contemporary composer whose collaborations span the varying worlds of orchestra halls, jazz-singer Cassandra Wilson, choreographer Bill T. Jones, tap-dancer Savion Glover, multimedia artist DJ Spooky, and pop-singer Lady Gaga.
Born in Skokie, Illinois, DBR’s family subsequently moved to the Fort Lauderdale-area of Florida. A first-generation American, his home was filled with Haitian folk music; but his family also encouraged him to listen to a variety of classical and contemporary music. He listened to the sounds of Beethoven, Stevie Wonder, The Eagles and ABBA, along with those of other South Floridian communities hailing from The Bahamas, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. At age five, DBR discovered the violin, and began studying with American conductor and bandleader Mitch Miller. In junior high, he formed his own rock and hip-hop band playing electric guitar and synthesizer. While attending high school at Dillard High School for the Performing Arts, he played in the jazz orchestra which backed such American music icons as Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Charles. After graduation, DBR attended Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music (Nashville, Tennessee) on full scholarship, majoring in composition. He continued with advanced studies at the University of Michigan where he worked with composers William Bolcom and Michael Daugherty, earning both his masters and doctoral degrees.
In 1997, the American Composers Orchestra (ACO) presented DBR’s early work Hip-Hop Essay as part of its annual New Music Readings. Subsequently, he received the ACO’s 1999 Helen F. Whitaker Commission award, and was invited to write a new work for the ensemble. In 2000, the orchestra premiered DBR’s Harlem Essay, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. Written for orchestra and electronic tape, this innovative 20-minute work features a traditional orchestral score melded with the sounds of hip-hop, and recorded samples of the composer’s neighborhood —125th Street, Harlem’s main thoroughfare—which include recollections of local residents.
Other groundbreaking works followed. DBR’s Voodoo Violin Concerto—a signature piece—was commissioned in 2002 by The Kitchen House Blend (New York City) and featured the composer-soloist joined by a chamber ensemble. In 2006, the Vermont Youth Orchestra asked him to re-orchestrate the work for full orchestra, and DBR has since toured it nationwide having most recently performed it with the Arkansas and Oakland East Bay Symphonies during the 2011-12 concert season. 2002 also saw the San Antonio Symphony’s season-opening concertHuman Songs and Stories. Commissioned by Texas Public Radio, and written for narrator, community members and orchestra, the evening featured famed San Antonio Spurs basketball-player David Robinson as narrator. While DBR served as assistant composer-in-residence for the Orchestra of St. Luke’s (New York City), the ensemble commissioned and premiered String Quartet No. 3, Powell for Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. In 2004, the Albany Symphony (New York) premiered its commissioned-work Harvest, a chamber orchestra setting of African-American spirituals for solo baritone. (The orchestra later presented the New York premiere at Carnegie Hall in 2011.) String Quartet No. 4, “Angelou,” premiered in 2005 in San Francisco, and was commissioned by the Bay Area new music-organization OtherMinds. The premiere showcased DBR playing electric violin as he joined local artists the Del Sol String Quartet and DJ Scientific sampling poetry by American poet laureate Maya Angelou.
In 2007, guitarist Eliot Fisk and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra—led by conductor John Yaffe—offered the first performance of the concerto WE MARCH, at the Newman Center in Denver, Colorado. Tuscaloosa Mediations (for solo trumpet, 2 flutes and strings) premiered the same year and was commissioned by the University of Alabama to observe the historic “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” attempt to block the first African-American students from attending the university. A Carnegie Hall-commission soon followed, and the Imani Winds premieredFive Chairs and One Table as part of Carnegie’s 2009 HONOR! Festival curated by soprano Jessye Norman in celebration of the African-American cultural legacy.
DBR’s recent works are wide-ranging. Woodbox Violin Concerto was commissioned by the Boston Pops Orchestra, and DBR premiered the work with them in June 2010 at Symphony Hall. Dancers, Dreamers, and Presidents—a Sphinx Organization commission—also premiered in 2010 at the New World Symphony (a Sphinx consortium partner) with conductor Alasdair Neale. (Dancers, Dreamers, and Presidentsreceived its most recent hearing in spring 2012 from the Nashville Symphony, another Sphinx partner.) Symphony for the Dance Floor (a full-evening multimedia work) premiered in February 2011 as part of DBR’s three-year artist residency at Arizona State University’s Gammage Center. The New York premiere followed in October at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (Symphony for the Dance Floor is the final installment of DBR’s Gammage Center-residency. Previous works include: One Loss Plus and
Darwin’s Meditation for the People of Lincoln.) DBR created two new scores for choreographer Amy Seiwert: “Home in 7” for the Atlanta Ballet and “Illusions of Choice” for BalletMet (Columbus, OH). New music-pianist Anthony de Mare’s 2011-12 season included a DBR world premiere. de Mare asked DBR to write a new solo work for the LIAISONS: Re-Imagining Soundheim Project; this resulted in Another Hundred People, DBR’s re-working of Soundheim’s song from “Company.” Spring 2012 brought two world premieres. The Order of an Empty Place: A Musical Haggadah was co-commissioned by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (University of Marland) and the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Manhattan, where the composer served a two-year residency. The work is scored for rabbinical narrator, solo violin and wind ensemble and is based on texts of the Passover Seder. DBR’s I Need You (for SATB chorus and cello) was premiered by The University of North Florida Chamber Singers (Jacksonville) as part of their international cultural exchange tour to South Africa.
DBR begins his 2012-13 season with a week-long composer-residency at Davidson College (North Carolina) that culminates on September 29th in a concert which includes a world premiere of a new work written in collaboration with North Carolinian singer/songwriter Laurelyn Dossett.