OBITUARY: Jonathan D. Kramer, 62

Jonathan D. Kramer
Jonathan D. Kramer

Listen to an excerpt from Kramer’s Musica Pro Musica (1987) as performed by the London Philharmonic/Harold Farberman, conductor

June 3, 2004—Composer, professor of composition and theory at Columbia University, and American Music Center board member Jonathan D. Kramer died of acute leukemia in New York City early Thursday morning. He was 61 years old.

Kramer was born on December 7, 1942, in Hartford, Connecticut. He held a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and earned his doctorate in composition from the University of California at Berkeley in 1969. His composition teachers included Karlheinz Stockhausen, Roger Sessions, Leon Kirchner, Seymour Shifrin, Andrew Imbrie, Richard Felciano, Jean-Claude Eloy, Billy Jim Layton, Edwin Dugger, and Arnold Franchetti. He studied theory with David Lewin, criticism with Joseph Kerman, and computer music with John Chowning.

Prior to joining the faculty at Columbia University he had previously been assistant professor at the Oberlin Conservatory, director of undergraduate composition at Yale University, and director of electronic music at the University of Cincinnati.

His catalogue of compositions includes pieces scored for orchestra, chamber ensemble, clarinet, piano, harpsichord, and percussion, as well as works for theater and multi-media. Some of his earlier conceptual compositions feature such provocative titles as Ten Toy Pianos, Six Clarinets, and One Famous Composer, You, Too, Can be a Composer and For Broken Piano, Truck, Shaving Cream, Fruit Salas, Toilet, Wife, San Francisco and Color TV. Five compositions, ranging from the Damstadt-influenced Music for Piano, Number 3 (1968), to the proto-post-minimalist Renascence for clarinet and tape (1974) which limits pitch content to only 6 notes but achieves development through increasing sonic density, to the lush Musica Pro Musica for orchestra (1987), are collected on a CD devoted to Kramer’s music released on Leonarda. Other works are recorded on the Advance, Orion, Opus One, and Grenadilla labels and several are published by G. Schirmer and MMB.

Kramer had been recognized with a Barlow Endowment Commission, the Ohio Governor’s Award for Individual Artists, and received fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the New York Foundation for the Arts, among other organizations.

His music has been played by such ensembles as the London Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony, Seattle Symphony, American Composers Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic, Cleveland Chamber Symphony, New York New Music Ensemble, Speculum Musicae, and Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and by performers such as Richard Stoltzman, Andre-Michel Schub, Aleck Karis, Geoffrey Madge, Roger Smalley, Fred Sherry, James Preiss, Gerard Schwarz, Jesus Lopez-Cobos, Michael Gielen, Harold Farberman, Gerhard Samuel, and Theodore Antoniou, among others.

During his career, Kramer wrote program notes for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, and Pittsburgh Symphony—some of which were collected into a book, Listen to the Music. He was the Cincinnati Symphony’s composer-in-residence and new music advisor from 1984 to 1992.

Kramer had published a number of books and articles and delivered papers and appeared as a guest lecturer internationally. In addition to his duties on the AMC board, he was vice president of the International Society for the Study of Time and had served on the Publications and Program Committees of the Society for Music Theory. He was on the editorial board of Perspectives of New Music and was regional co-editor for the United States of Contemporary Music Review. He wrote The Time of Music (Schirmer Books) and edited Time in Contemporary Musical Thought (Gordon and Breach).

Jonathan Kramer is survived by his wife, Deborah Bradley, former wife Norma Kramer, 34-year-old son Zachary, 31-year-old daughter Stephanie and 96-year-old father Maxwell Kramer. There will be a memorial service for Jonathan Kramer on Sunday, June 6, at 1:00 p.m. at the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, 630 Amsterdam Ave. (at 91st St.), New York. Speakers at the service will include composer Martin Bresnick.