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NEELY BRUCE (b. 1944), Professor of Music and American Studies at Wesleyan University, is a composer, conductor, pianist and scholar of American music. His undergraduate degree is from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa; he received his DMA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His principal teachers were Ben Johnston, Hubert Kessler, J. F. Goossen, Lara Hoggard, Charles Hamm, Byrnell Figler, Roy McAllister, Soulima Stravinsky and Sophia Rosoff. He has been visiting professor and artist-in-residence at Middlebury College, Bucknell University, the University of Michigan, and at Brooklyn College. He is the chorus director for Connecticut Opera, and, with his wife Phyllis, co-director of music at South Congregational Church in Middletown, Connecticut. For a complete catalogue of his work, see compositions.

His largest work is entitled CONVERGENCE. [STEPPIN' OUT, Continental Harmony, Charles Ives Newsletter - Here’s to Ives, Commissioned by the American Composers Forum, as part of its Continental Harmony project, this composition received its premiere on June 18, 2000 as part of the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas. CONVERGENCE, a series of three composed parades with auxiliary musical events of a stationary nature, is scored for multiple marching bands, multiple choruses, three or more organs, fife and drum corps, bagpipes, two orchestras, jazz band, West African drumming ensemble, Native American ensemble, Javanese gamelan, West Indian steel drums, and two solo trumpets. On August 18, 2002 Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors presented a revised and expanded performance of this piece, enthusiastically received by an audience of 10,000. A new production of CONVERGENCE has been proposed in Danbury, Connecticut (birthplace of Charles Ives).

Bruce’s opera Hansel and Gretel, commissioned by Connecticut Opera, received its first performances as a chamber work for children (soloists with piano and/or small ensemble) in 1997. The full-scale work (adding dancers, chorus and orchestra) premiered in March of 1998 at The Bushnell in Hartford. In December 2002 Trinity College of Music, London, presented the first student production of this opera, the composer conducting. Hansel and Gretel will be presented on tour in the Netherlands by the Max Tak Orchestra in December 2005.

In July 2003 he composed the score for Benedict Arnold: A Brave Revenge by John Basinger. Produced by Connecticut Outdoor Historic Drama, Inc., this epic was presented in Washington Park, Groton, Connecticut, on the spot where British troops mustered prior to the Battle of Groton Heights, the very conflict enacted at the climax of the play. The score, for fiddle, flutes, percussion and key-board, uses traditional tunes, military music, original material and special effects to evoke the spirit of the 1770s and 1780s. It is the most recent of Bruce’s works to draw on historical American sources.

Other works for the stage include an allegorical opera of the American Revolution, Americana, or, A New Tale of the Genii (libretto by Tony Connor). This full-length work was begun on a fellow-ship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Produced in a semi-staged concert version by the American Music/Theatre Group and Orchestra New England, it awaits its first completely staged production. Americana is the first of a projected trilogy of operas which treat the political history of the United States as mythology. His three one-act musicals entitled Cousins, Brothers and Sisters and Parents (libretti by Phyllis Bruce, based on the New Testament), were premiered 1999-2001 at South Church, Middletown, with a large cast (ranging in age from four to eighty), dancers, gamelan and a six-piece band. A revised, expanded version of Cousins was produced in March 2004.

Bruce has also composed two one-act operas, five concerti, other orchestral compositions, keyboard works, over 250 solo songs, a series of Grand Duos for various solo instruments and piano, pieces for tape with and without live performance, and large-scale chamber works. Commissions received include works for Donald Nally and the Bridge Ensemble, the Claude Kipnis Mime Troupe, Stuart Dempster, Richard Biles, James Fulkerson, Larry Palmer, and Sandra Kopell. Two of Bruce’s major works, the oratorio Hugomotion and the Second Violin Concerto, were commissioned by the late Ruth Steinkraus Cohen. His Perfumes and Meanings for sixteen solo voices was commissioned by the London Sinfonietta and premiered at Queen Elizabeth Hall by London Voices, conducted by William Brooks.

On April 13, 1993, the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson, his composition for male chorus entitled Young T. J. was heard at Monticello, the Jefferson Memorial (with President and Mrs. Clinton in attendance), at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, and broadcast on the NBC Today show, NPR’s Performance Today, and Voice of America. Young T. J. was commissioned by the Virginia Glee Club, John Liepold, director.

The Pond for chorus and orchestra (text by Louise Glück), was commissioned for the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Indian Springs School. It was first performed on May 30, 2002 by the ISS Concert Choir and the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Tim Thomas. (Bruce is one of many distinguished recipients of the ISS Outstanding Alumus Award.) Other commissions include Leon’s Invasion for soloists and six theremins, commissioned by Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors; and Tunes ‘n’ Timbres ‘n’ Time: A History of Western Music for the Organ, a sixteen-movement work commissioned by St. Bartholomew’s Church, New York City, and premiered by William Trafka.

His “rock phantasmagoria” for four voices and tape, The Plague: A Commentary on the Work of the Fourth Horseman, was commissioned by Electric Phoenix and performed many times in the United States, Europe, and at festivals in Huddersfield and Newcastle (UK). The Plague, and Bruce’s other works for this virtuoso ensemble—Eight Ghosts (Michael McClure) and The Dream of the Other Dreamers (Walt Whitman)—have been released on CD by Mode. Five of the Eight Ghosts were performed by Electric Phoenix at IRCAM in Paris. Other important performances include the premiere in Amsterdam of Paul Goodman Settings, sung by Charles Van Tassel; three movements of Orion Rising: First Album for Orchestra played by the Hartford Symphony; Pink Music: First Album for Organ, played by Wesleyan University organist Ronald Ebrecht; Wild Oysters II for electric cello, played by Jeffrey Krieger; and 4 + 1 for string quartet and piano, performed in Holland, Canada and the United States by the Mondriaan Quartet, with the composer at the keyboard.

Bruce composed original music for three documentaries directed by Rocky Collins and produced for National Public Television’s The American Experience. He has composed and arranged the scores for two documentaries about African Americans in Connecticut, produced by Connecticut Public Television and directed by Karyl Evans. His score for Nook Farm: Mark Twain’s Neighbor-hood, directed by Roynn Lisa Simmons, first aired in January 2002 on CPTV.

Bruce has worked indefatigably to promote American music of all periods. He was on the Editorial Committee of New World Records and was the first chairman of the New England Sacred Harp Singing. He is one of nineteen living composers represented in The Sacred Harp, and music in this style is an important part of his output. In June of 1997 Larry Gordon conducted Village Harmony, an inter-generational choir of shaped note singers, in a touring program devoted to Bruce’s music in shaped note style. Gordon’s recording of these choruses was released in 2000. In 2003 Bruce, along with Peter Amidon and Larry Siegel, conducted the choral group Festival Harmony in pieces from their shaped-note œuvre. Festival Harmony plans a complete performance of Emily’s Flowers in the summer of 2004.

He has conducted new works by over sixty composers, including major premieres of Christian Wolff, Pauline Oliveros, Gerald Shapiro, David Borden, Ronald Kuivila and Henry Brant. In recent years he has worked extensively with Brant; he obtained for Brant a commission from Wesleyan University in honor of the school’s sesquicentennial, and was the coordinator of two major works commissioned by Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors; 500: Hidden Hemisphere, and Dormant Craters. In March of 2003 Bruce conducted the American premiere of Brant’s Ghosts and Gargoyles, played by members of the New York Flute Club, with soloist Robert Aitkin.

Long associated with the works of the late John Cage, principally as a performer in HPSCHD and Song Books, in1988 Bruce planned and executed a major symposium about Cage and his cultural influence entitled John Cage at Wesleyan. In 1996 he and his wife, along with Linda Hirst, produced Cage’s Europeras 3, 4 and 5 for the Dartington International School of the Arts in Totnes, England.

Bruce sponsored and arranged the first American tour of the Ricciotti Ensemble, Holland’s youth street orchestra. The composer of four works for this remarkable group, Bruce has guest-conducted the Ricciotti on tour in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

As a pianist Bruce is best known for his recordings of American music, which include popular piano pieces of the nineteenth century, works of Anthony Philip Heinrich, and The Time Curve Preludes by William Duckworth. After decades of devoting himself almost exclusively to performing the music of the United States, in 1993 he began to relearn and perform the standard repertory of his youth — the Chopin etudes, the Schubert C minor Sonata, the Brahms “Paganini” variations, sonatas by Beethoven, both volumes of The Well-Tempered Clavier and many other works. He played two all-Chopin concerts in June of 1999, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the composer’s death.

Predictably, all of this pianistic activity has lead to the composition of new works for the instrument, including Chopin Jam, Forty Times Forty, The Blue Box: Modal Music in Twelve Movements, Homage to Seb, and a collection of thirty-six Geographical Preludes. On April 12, 2003 at the Bushnell the Connecticut Dance Alliance Statewide Festival presented a dance choreographed to many of these preludes. In January of 1994, to celebrate his fiftieth birthday, he performed his principal original works for piano in a series of three recitals at Wesleyan. He performed an expanded series (his “complete works” for solo piano) in and around Birmingham, Alabama in May 2004.

Since 1998 Bruce has worked intensively with Sophia Rosoff, director of the Abby Whiteside Foundation and piano pedagogue extraordinaire. He is authorized to teach according to the methods of Abby Whiteside: see for details.