Robert Nelson has written music for opera, theater and film, wind and jazz ensemble, chamber music, chorus, and orchestra. He is currently professor emeritus of music theory and composition at the University of Houston Moores School of Music, where he began teaching as a member of the faculty in 1968. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in music education and Master of Music degree from the University of Nebraska, Nelson went on to earn his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Southern California. At USC, he studied composition with Ingolf Dahl and Halsey Stevens and later had the opportunity to study opera under Walter Ducloux.
His catalog of work is so extensive that visitors to his web site (robertnelsonmusic.com) are encouraged to download the full list as a PDF. (Even so, when I tried to download the file, it was so large that my computer froze.) And yet his efforts to write music for the performers and artists who continue to inspire him—at the tender age of 74—is a testament to the enduring innovation and creative collaboration which has been at the heart of Nelson’s career and compositional work.
On his latest CD, Watercolors (Delos), Nelson showcases the vocal talents of mezzo-soprano Sonja Bruzauskas, who sings and performs an array of poetry and prose that Nelson has set to music. From poems by the contemporary poet Ava Leavell Haymon and German cabaret composer Friedrich Hollaender, to the prose of Kate Pogue and the experimental poetry of E. E. Cummings, Bruzauskas both sings and narrates in time to the sometimes dissonant but always expressive music of Nelson’s compositions. I emailed Nelson to ask him about his work process, his influences, and how his endeavor to collaborate with performing artists helps him to maintain his discipline as a working composer.…
Watercolors: Music of Robert Nelson
Sonja Bruzauskas, mezzo-soprano
Robert Nelson is a wonderfully inventive and stylistically versatile composer known for his prolific output and his forays into a broad range of musical idioms. Many of his creations feature artful fusions of classical, jazz and even hard rock. He has a particular affinity for vocal music of all kinds: operas snd choral creations – as well as the art song, as exemplified in this stunning release.