“Original and inviting. Een is a conjuring compositional alchemist.”
Daniel Buckley, TUCSON CITIZEN
“Robert Een is a fiercely inventive composer”
Robert Een is a singer, cellist and composer writing for the concert stage, dance, theater and film. His music is noted for soaring melody, rhythmic vitality as well as heart and humor. With vocals that explore not just western singing but extended techniques and an array of unusual instrumental combinations, Een creates music suggestive of many places and times, and is simultaneously rooted in the 21st century.
Born and raised in small town Minnesota, Een began studying the cello at the age of ten and sang with school and church choirs from an even younger age. An award-winning teenage musician, he performed as a soloist with the Minnesota All-State Orchestra and All-State Choir. He moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota where he began studying dance after a high school career as an all-conference basketball player.
Robert Een, Japan, 2010
Immersing himself in music and dance he began presenting his innovative music/movement/theater pieces at venues such as the Walker Art Center and Guthrie Theater. He received a Minnesota State Arts Board grant for this work. Of significance in his artistic development was a summer as a foreign exchange student in Japan studying the No Theater.
Robert Een, New York, 1986/Photo by Bob Shamis
Een first saw Meredith Monk when the Walker Art Center brought her “Education of the Girl Child” to Minneapolis. Upon graduating with honors from the University of Minnesota with a double major in music and dance, Een moved to New York City and began his long association with Meredith Monk, creating and performing leading roles in such important pieces as Dolmen Music, Recent Ruins, Ellis Island, Specimen Days, Turtle Dreams, Book of Days, Atlas, appearing as a soloist at Carnegie Hall, and culminating with the co-creation of their evening-length dance/theater piece Facing North.
Meredith Monk & Robert Een, Munich, 1984
In New York Een studied music composition with Julius Eastman, voice with John Devers, and continued investigating extended vocal techniques. His experimentation with overtone singing was given a push when he heard the subharmonic and harmonic chanting of Buddhists monks on a visit to Lhasa, Tibet in 1985. He has subsequently integrated solo and ensemble overtone singing in numerous compositions.
Concurrent to working with Meredith Monk, Een’s concert music and staged dance/theater pieces - Blue Earth, Heimlich Maneuver, Baltic Avenue - were produced in New York, around the country and abroad. He received a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for this work.
“Robert Een turned the theater into a brilliant, charged space for Blue Earthenriched by deep organ-like music.”
Burt Supree, VILLAGE VOICE
He formed the production and publishing company Buzzbox with his wife Karin Levitas whom he first met on the film set of Meredith Monk’s “Book of Days” shot in the south of France. They soon became artistic collaborators. Karin’s breadth of experience in dance, theater, film and writing has been instrumental in Een’s development.
Een’s background in music, dance and theater has informed his compositions and made him a natural collaborator and composer for dance, theater and film. Grants from Meet the Composer, New Music America, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust and Pew Charitable Trusts have helped fund commissions and collaborations with award-winning artists (MacArthur, Prix de Rome, Guggenheim, Academy Awards, Caldicott, etc.), including: Gregory Colbert, Liz Lerman, David Greenspan, Dan Hurlin, Meredith Monk, and Brian Selznick, to name but a few.
Ruth fuglistaller & Robert Een in Baltic Avenue, NYC, 1987
Photo by Rubbie Levesque
Leading the band Big Joe - with original members Carter Burwell and Hearn Gadbois - was an important period for Een. His work with this hybrid ensemble of cello, reeds, two accordions, dumbeks and percussion was recognized with a grant from the Committee for Art Development of New York City.
Big Joe, Hearn Gadbois, Steve Elson, Carter Burwell & Robert Een, NYC, 1994
Photo by Robyn Holland
Also at this time he began scoring feature films, notably “Mr Jealousy”, directed by Noah Baumbach, “Trouble on the Corner” starring Tony Goldwyn, Edie Falco and Debi Mazur and the Emmy Award-winning “ My Horrible Year” directed by Eric Stoltz.
Een first traveled to India in 1997. At the ashram of Meher Baba he had the opportunity to compose and perform and experienced a seminal moment when he met Baba’s close disciple Eruch Jessawalla. In response to a question from Robert, Eruch replied to him, “Remember, your life is not your own”. The very next day Een composed a piece with that title dedicated to Eruch, and upon returning to New York wrote and recorded his first solo album, “Your Life is Not Your Own”.
Een received a New York Dance and Performance Award (Bessie) in 1998 for music for Yoshiko Chuma’s “Unfinished Symphony,” for which he also served as music director touring Japan, Estonia, Lithuania, Denmark, Poland, Czech, Hungary, Russia, Slovakia, Macedonia and the United States.
Yoshiko Chuma & Robert Een, Stocholm, 1997
From 1999 to 2002 Een worked closely with Liz Lerman, noted choreographer, author and teacher. As music director and composer-in-residence for the Hallelujah Project he composed, performed and produced music for eight different evening- length works, one of which was “Fertile Fields”. The Hallelujah Project was presented in over twenty cities across the country.
Een received a second New York Dance and Performance Award (Bessie) in 2000, this one for sustained achievement.
“Expanding Universe” his score for Yin Mei Dance commissioned with support from the Rockefeller Foundation was presented in New York and across the country to rave reviews.
“Intriguingly textured music played to haunting effect,” the Chicago Sun-Times wrote.“Stunning. What colors these various segments most vividly is Robert Een’s score. [His] cello swells with the warm fullness of loss at some points or combines with wordless singing to create the feeling of a cool, sharp wind,” said The Los Angeles Times.
In 2003 his eighth album “Mystery Dances” was released on Starkland Records. Selections from the album and an interview with Liane Hanson were featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition. The Tucson Citizen put the album on its top ten list of the year saying, “Original and inviting. Robert Een is a conjuring compositional alchemist.”
“The incredible music by Robert Een mixes jazz, Asian, vocal and instrumental music in moving and melodious ways.”
In 2005, as in 1999 and 2002, Een was invited to present his music in concert as part of the inaugural season of the World Festival of Sacred Music - Los Angeles. Joining Een were world renowned musicians from Japan, Greece, Israel, Iran, France and the United States. Een has been featured in every subsequent World Festival of Sacred Music.
Een’s overtone singing and cello playing with treatments by Michael Brook are featured in Gregory Colbert’s film and photographic installation, “Ashes and Snow” -ashesandsnow.com- presented in the traveling Nomadic Museum in New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City and Shanghai between 2005 and 2009.
The award-winning “Hugo” author and illustrator Brian Selznick commissioned a score, with support from the Henson Foundation, in 2006 for his “Live Oak with Moss” a toy puppet/theater performance based on the verse of Walt Whitman. Een composed “Subtle Electric Fire”, a suite of eight songs for voice and cello using Whitman poems.
For the Bates College Dance Festival’s 25th Anniversary in 2007 he was commissioned, with funds from the New England Foundation for the Arts, to score Sara Pearson and Patrik Widrig’s (www.pearsonwidrig.org) site piece “Paradise Pond”. It premiered August 9, 2007 on the campus of Bates College, with live music performed by an ensemble of eighteen vocalists and seven instrumentalists.
With support from the Asian Cultural Council Een returned to Japan for three months in 2008 investigating a wide range of vocal forms of expression used in Japanese music and theater. His concerts in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto and Hayama marked his seventh time in Japan to study and perform.
The concert version of Een’s opera “The Escape Artist” (2008 ver.) was given a performance September 24, 2008 at the REDCAT Theater in Los Angeles to a sold out audience.
Dance scores were commissioned by Victoria Marks, Lionel Popkin, Risa Jaroslaw and Kristen Smiarnowski during this time. In 2012 St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota commissioned a new string trio from Een and invited him to presented two evenings of his music.
Recent film projects include music for Andrea Simon’s “Emma Lazarus; Poet of Exiles” commissioned by the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, the score for Chen-Chieh Yu’s “A Good Person”, the score for producer David Gere’s “Through Positive Eyes” directed by Gideon Mendel, as well as new music for Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer’s film and choreography “Voyeur”.
“The Escape Artist” (2012 ver.) was presented in concert at Roulette in New York City April 11, 2012. John Schaefer featured selections on his WNYC radio program “New Sounds”. In February 2013 Een and his wife Karin were invited by the Meherabad Theater Festival, Pune, India to present a fully staged version of “The Escape Artist”. Cast and crew from sixteen countries were involved in the creation and performance that played to a sold out theater.
Een has continued to work with a host of celebrated contemporary choreographers and noted film directors (Download full list of colaborators.pdf). He has led ensembles performing his music featuring virtuoso musicians (Download full list of of musicians.pdf) from around the globe. Performance venues have been wide ranging and diverse; Pushkin Theater in St Petersburg, Russia; Ellora Caves, India; Wuppertal Opera House, Germany; Fringe Club, Hong Kong; Ford Amphitheater and the Mark Taper Auditorium, Los Angeles; El Presidente Theater, San Salvador; Shinto Shrine in Tsurugi, Japan; Lincoln Center, Roulette, Whitney Museum and Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.
“Robert Een created music of soaring musicality and intricate rhythms.”
PHILADELPHIA CITY PAPER
A committed educator, Een has taught extensively throughout his career, offering classes in music composition, composer/choreographer collaboration and voice, as well as movement/theater. Since his first teaching assignment as an artist-in-residence in the St. Paul Public Schools, he has continued to share his expertise as teacher and mentor with graduate and undergraduate students at theater and music schools in North America, Europe and Asia, as well as serving on the faculty of UCLA, New York University, University of California-Santa Barbara and Naropa University (Download full teaching career.pdf)
Photo by Simeon Den, 2012