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Sun, Dec 03


Institute for the Musical Arts

Robin Holcomb

Robin Holcomb (piano, voice)

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Robin Holcomb
Robin Holcomb

Time & Location

Dec 03, 2023, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM

Institute for the Musical Arts, 165 Cape St, Goshen, MA 01096, USA

About The Event

Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1954, Robin Holcomb grew up in and around the South Bay – in Santa Cruz, Salinas, San Jose, and Bonny Doon. She began playing the piano at the age of 6 and studied classically throughout her teens. At age 17 she moved to North Carolina where she sharecropped tobacco for two years and wrote many of the poems that were the foundation of her earliest songs. Returning to Santa Cruz in 1974, she studied music and writing at Cabrillo College and UCSC. Holcomb’s primary focus was ethnomusicology, Sundanese Gamelan music and, at the piano, improvisation. In 1977 she moved with her partner, composer Wayne Horvitz, to New York City. During this time, she worked with a wide variety of musicians including drummer Denis Charles (Cecil Taylor), Alva Rogers, Jearlyn Steele Arto Lindsay, Syd Straw, Marty Ehrlich, John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Lee Renaldo, and Butch Morris among others. After a decade in New York, Holcomb moved to Seattle where she still lives today.

In October 2021 her composition Paradise, commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, was premiered by TPO in three consecutive performances conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Previous works for orchestra include No Thing Lives to Itself, premiered by the Portland Symphony Orchestra in January 2020 and All the While premiered by the Naples Philharmonic (FL) in 2016.

Recordings include The Point of It All and Solos (Songlines), and John Brown’s Body (Tzadik). The Big Time, Little Three, Rockabye and Robin Holcomb are four critically acclaimed recordings of Ms. Holcomb’s songs and instrumental compositions on the Nonesuch label. Other recordings include Larks, They Crazy (Sound Aspects), Things About Comin’ My Way: A Tribute to the Music of the Mississippi Sheiks (Red Hen), Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys and Son of Rogue’s Gallery(Anti), The Anthology of American Folk Music: Revisited (Shout Factory), Burt Bacharach and Serge Gainsbourg tribute compilations (Tzadik), and Bill Frisell’s Nashville (Nonesuch).

Ms. Holcomb is a founder and co-director of The New York Composers Orchestra and WACO (The Washington Composers Orchestra), for which she is also conductor, pianist, and a principal composer. Other current performing ensembles include a longstanding duo with cellist Peggy Lee, and The Robin Holcomb Band. Composing instrumental and vocal music for a wide variety of chamber ensembles and soloists, Ms. Holcomb has been commissioned to create scores for dance, film, and theatre including PBS documentaries, The Joe Goode Performance Group, Bebe Miller Company, Annex Theatre Company, and House of Dames. Compositions for silent films include two films by Mikio Naruse, released on the Criterion Eclipse series, and a score for Yasujiro Ozu’s That Night’s Wife premiered at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place, NYC.

Her most recent song cycle We Are All Failing Them, a sidewise regard of the Donner Party saga with film and magical objects, premiered at Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum in 2013. An earlier song cycle with film, The Utopia Project, premiered at Mass MoCA, was based on histories and artifacts from utopian communities thriving in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1800s. Angels at the Four Corners, a song cycle reflecting the composer’s experiences sharecropping tobacco in North Carolina, and O, Say a Sunset, regarding the life of American environmentalist and author Rachel Carson, both toured the United States, presented at The Flynn, DTW, Walker Arts Center, and On the Boards.

Ms. Holcomb collaborated with composer Wayne Horvitz as both a librettist and composer to create Smokestack Arias, a song cycle concerning the Everett Massacre that premiered in 2012 at ACT Theatre in Seattle. Previous collaborations with Wayne Horvitz include The Heartsong of Charging Elk (inspired by the novel by James Welch) and Joe Hill: Sixteen Actions for Orchestra, Voices, and Soloist.

Ms. Holcomb has created several works for large youth ensembles based on historic themes including Come! Behold! Enjoy! a suite celebrating the legacy of Washington Hall in Seattle, home to activists and entertainers of all sorts since 1908. The work was premiered by 220 Washington Middle School musicians in the historic venue in June 2014. Up On Hitt’s Hill, a suite for combined orchestra and concert band, reflected the history of the Hitt’s Fireworks Factory in Seattle.

Her work has been supported with grants and fellowships from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, the MAP Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, 4Culture, Artist Trust, the National Performance Network, the League of American Orchestras, the American Composers Orchestra, and the Office of Cultural Affairs CityArtist program. Ms. Holcomb has performed in venues throughout the world, including Carnegie Hall, The Kitchen, The Meltdown Festival, the United Nations, Teatro Manzoni, Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, the Moers Music Festival, the Festival of Perth, the Hong Kong International Arts Festival, Arts at St. Ann’s, Roulette, and the Guimarães Jazz Festival.

Her two-volume set of recordings for solo piano and voice, entitled One Way or Another, was released in October 2022 on the Westerlies Records label.


“Achingly painful and suddenly tender, Robin Holcomb’s songs mirror a beguiling, bewildering world.”

Wif Stegner, Rolling Stone

“…bringing together the disparate terrain of our American musical landscape, from folk tunes to free jazz, with a thin yet haunting voice that evokes the real spirit of country music - the oral tradition.”

Kiki Mason, Vanity Fair

“…this fascinatingly eclectic pianist, composer, and singer has few qualms about mingling folk, jazz, chamber music, and points between and beyond in arresting original music.”

The New Yorker

“Hers is an unsettling, utterly original vision.”

Entertainment Weekly


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