Concerts by Composers: Julius Eastman

Concerts by Composers: Julius Eastman

Works Performed or Excerpted:

1.       “Prelude To The Holy Presence of Joan D’Arc” -  Julius Eastman, voice

2.       “The Holy Presence of Joan D’Arc” – David Sabee, Larry Rawdon, Abby Newton, Chase Morrison, Maureen Hynes, Christine Gummere, Julie Green, Barry Gold, Sarah Carter, and Jodi Beder, celli with Julius Eastman conducting


Julius Eastman


Eastman grew up in Ithaca, New York, where he began studying piano at age 14 and made rapid progress. He began college at Ithaca College and transferred to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. There he studied piano with Mieczyslaw Horszowski and composition with Constant Vauclain, and switched majors from piano to composition. He made his debut as a pianist in 1966 at Town Hall in New York City. He also had a rich, deep, and extremely flexible singing voice, for which he became noted for his 1973 Nonesuch recording of Eight Songs for a Mad King by the British composer Peter Maxwell Davies. Eastman's talents brought the attention of composer-conductor Lukas Foss, who conducted the composer's music in performance at the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

Eastman often wrote his music following what he called an "organic" principle. Each new section of a work contained all the information from previous sections, though sometimes "the information is taken out at a gradual and logical rate." The principle is most evident in his three works for four pianos, Evil Nigger, Crazy Nigger, and Gay Guerrilla, all from around 1979. The last of these appropriates Martin Luther's hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," as a gay manifesto.  Eastman's Stay On It from 1973 was an influential postminimalist piece that incorporated pop music influences.

In 1970, Eastman joined the Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at SUNY Buffalo, where he met the Czech-born composer, conductor, and flutist Petr Kotik. Eastman and Kotik performed together extensively in the early to mid 1970s. Eastman was a founding member of the S.E.M. Ensemble. From 1971 he performed and toured with the group, and composed numerous works for it. Many of the earliest performances of Eastman's works were given by the Creative Associates ensemble of SUNY Buffalo, of which he was a member from 1968.

A 1980 piece for Eastman's voice and cello ensemble, The Holy Presence of Jeanne d'Arc, was performed at The Kitchen in New York City. In 1986 the choreographer Molissa Fenley set his dance Geologic Moments to Eastman's Thruway, which was premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Also a vocalist, Eastman recorded with Meredith Monk's ensemble for her influential album Dolmen Music (1981).

Despondent about what he saw as a dearth of worthy professional opportunities, Eastman grew increasingly dependent on alcohol and possibly on crack-cocaine after 1983. His life fell apart. He had taught theory at SUNY Buffalo. A promised job at Cornell University failed to materialize. At one point he was evicted from his apartment, his belongings (including scores) confiscated by the sheriff, and he was forced to live in Tompkins Square Park.

Despite a temporary attempt at a comeback, Eastman died alone at the age of 50 in Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo of cardiac arrest. No public notice was given to his death until an obituary by Kyle Gann appeared in the Village Voice; it was dated January 22, 1991, eight months after he died. Eastman's notational methods were loose and open to interpretation. Revival of his music has been a difficult task, dependent on people who worked with him. 


Julius Eastman in DRAM


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