From as early as I can remember, I was deeply involved with music from the second I discovered my parents' classical music recordings in their Verona, New Jersey home. Avid music lovers and concert-goers, my parents also sang in the workers' choruses of the 30s and 40s labor movement. Their repertoire included labor songs as well as classical music, old and new, including Earl Robinson's “Ballad for Americans” (Robinson was a Black composer whose works were once widely performed).
I played violin in my grade school orchestra led by a crank teacher/composer who complained his musicals had been stolen and turned into hits on Broadway. His love of music was infectious, and inspired me to compose duets to perform with my flautist sister. Paradoxically, I went on to attend Antioch College, intending to become an electronics engineer, but it was short lived: I quickly discovered my love of theater and eventually got a drama degree.
I went on to co-found and serve as artistic director for a local indie theater before going on to be artistic director and playwright for the October Theater in Cleveland. (Fun Fact: During my Cleveland days, I opened for psychedelic rockers Iron Butterfly, playing fiddle for the eclectic Tiny Alice.) Then came the war. And a new mission. I left the arts to work full time for the anti-Vietnam War movement. When the war ended I moved to New York City, attended the many opera and concert performances there and had a vision to compose music.
I served my musical apprenticeship with private lessons from Fu Yuan Soong, an award-winning composer and Walter Hilse, a renowned organist, composer and faculty member of Manhattan School of Music; they taught me to make music that is entertaining as well as artful. I found that my theater background served me especially well in this regard as well as my familiarity with the music of many classical composers. Between 1986 and the present, I have composed hundreds of substantial works, including full length operas which have been performed by a variety of organizations including the Center for Contemporary Opera, New Camerata opera (New York City), Opera on the Edge (Cambridge. MA) and the Players Ring in Portsmouth, NH. My non operatic work has also been performed by various groups in New York, Boston, New Hampshire, Slovakia and Kiev. My works have gained critical praise: “…a developing talent...” - New York Times, “gorgeous and rewarding”- New York Daily News, "...music that in the words of Beethoven ‘goes from heart to heart’” - Fanfare. Incredibly, The Center for Contemporary Opera credited my opera “Faustus” with putting them on the map! (It was the organization's first world premiere and gained it long-sought recognition by mainstream New York media.)
Another first: I wrote the music for “Grace” (based on a play by Ed Langlois and John Carmichael), which is credited as the first full-length opera concerning AIDS; it premiered at the Durrell Theater in Cambridge, MA.
My large repertoire of vocal, chamber and symphonic works reflect my reaction to war, corporate greed, destruction of the biosphere, social injustice and poverty. I have compiled these works in an opus named (after a famous Goya print), The Nightmare of Reason. My recording "State of the Union" (2005) was praised by Fanfare ("Masterful") and JR Reviews ("About the only demonstrable good to come out of George W. Bush’s war on terror”) and my comic opera, "The Devil and George Bush", which debuted on the Internet in 2008, was deemed "hilarious" by Red Dog Radio.
Several of my recordings were submitted for Grammy awards as well as the Pulitzer prize for music. I won the Masterworks of the New Era award twice and during 2009-10 was composer-in-residence at South Church in Portsmouth, NH. Additional recordings include: “Blues for New Orleans”, a double concerto for clarinet and piano on the MMC label featuring world-renowned clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, "State of the Union" on MMC, “String Quartet No. 5” and “Piano Trio No. 2” on ERM and “Symphony No.2” and “We Do Not Torture” on the NOR label.
Throughout my career, my talent as a composer has gained praise from audiences and industry luminaries, alike. The masterpiece quality of my compositions could be best summed up by Grammy Recording Academy member and widely-acclaimed composer and recording engineer Gary Gray, who wrote, “Roger will, I predict, live on through his music well into the future, and will be known for his care and passion, his craft and his knowledge, his keen awareness and his undying wit. The world is now discovering this modern day genius, musically gifted with one foot planted firmly in the tradition of legendary greats, and one foot dancing in the playground of the uncharted future - forging a new sound, a new vocabulary of melodic and harmonic expression born deep within his soul, connecting with emotional impact to those of a wider and wider audience around the world.”
In the works is my four opera cycle "Faustus", an updating of Goethe and Marlowe's character to our own times in which Faust is portrayed as a Trump-like American entrepreneur/con man.I began the project - likely the only four opera cycle outside of Wagner's Ring – in the 80s, when Trump was mostly just known as a controversial real estate mogul. Decades later, following Trump’s electoral victory, I created a “Trump the Opera”-themed YouTube channel, which featured episodes chronicling the “very stable genius” in the White House. How many people do you suppose tuned into a new operatic work on the Internet? Answer: over two hundred thousand. (This audience size dwarfs the best attended opera by Phillip Glass or John Adams and is a harbinger of new things to come.)
I have embraced Internet technologies and publishing outlets as a unique way to reach people who have had no prior exposure to modern opera and classical music. My podcast “The Nightmare of Reason - musings on art, music and society” [https://rogerrudenstein.substack.com] has thousands of listeners. The podcast addresses the decline of classical music ( "What Happened to Classical Music", for example) along with important historic and unknown treasures in the music world. My Jango Internet Radio music has amassed over 100,000 worldwide listens
In conjunction with NOR Music I am set to release a new work for orchestra and choir called “An American Requiem” in 2022. Also expected in 2023, I. will release a new recording of my opera “Ulysses”, based on James Joyce's novel whose libretto consists solely of Joyce's words. Scenes from “Ulysses” have already been performed at Bloomsday on Broadway. The entire work was workshopped at Portsmouth’s the Players Ring in sold out performances and garnered critical acclaim (”his music mirrors the profundity of Joyce’s words” - Portsmouth Herald).
Through my music I hope to make a case for contemporary classical opera, symphonic and chamber music as an expressive and artistic medium that can connect with today's concerns and lives as well as communicate fully at the musical level to audiences young and old.