Obituary: Chris Patton

Chris Patton
Composer Chris Patton joined by Northwestern High School students performing the world premiere of his Many Voices, One World on May 21, 2004.
Photo by Stan Barouh

“Good art is difficult, time consuming, and risky,” Chris Patton noted in his profile on the American Composers Forum website. Patton, 57, passed away peacefully last week after a sudden illness at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

He was managing director of 21st Century Consort for the past several years, handling the details of running a small arts organization with competence and obvious élan.

As a composer, Patton has a long list of compositions and performances to his credit, with special affinities for opera, theater, choral, and chamber music. Patton delighted in incorporating extra musical elements into his works. The acclaimed 2005 site-specific piece “Out of Darkness” incorporated the natural twilight of a Washington summer evening, theatrical lighting, and spatial effects with the 21st Century Consort chamber ensemble inside the majestic Washington National Cathedral. Consort artistic director Christopher Kendall notes that this work was typical of Patton’s penchant for creative collaboration and represented a high point in his compositional career.

Patton was born in New York City, received a BA in music and theater from Goddard College, studied experimental music at Wesleyan University, jazz at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and earned his DMA in composition at the University of Maryland. Since coming to the Washington area in 1979, Patton composed and directed music for dozens of professional theater productions and films.

At 21st Century Consort performances and around the University of Maryland, where he was in a residency working with high school students creating new opera theatre works, Patton is remembered as a man of extraordinary heart, humor, intelligence, and talent. “He had a real impact on the community through his creative work and his indefatigable support of others,” says Kendall, “He brought boundless enthusiasm and passion into everything he did—particularly his music.”

Just prior to his hospitalization in March, Patton was in a recording studio playing saxophone on some of his jazz compositions. The family intends to complete the recordings for release later this year. Patton leaves behind his wife, Vivienne, two sons, Alec and Andrew, and brother Hank.