Timothy Kramer has long been admired as a composer of exceptionally well-crafted music. By the time I came to know him as a colleague at Trinity University, in the early 2000s, he was known equally to students as a gifted teacher of both music theory and composition. A native of the Pacific Northwest, Kramer (b. 1959) attended Pacific Lutheran University, where his dual interests in music theory and composition manifested early, combined with keyboard studies on the organ. He played bass guitar in jazz ensembles and with friends in bands; for recreation he played jazz piano. He went on to attend the University of Michigan for his masters and doctorate degrees. Important influences on him as a musician were his composition teachers, including David Robbins, William Albright, Leslie Bassett, and William Bolcolm, and his first organ professor David Dahl, along with harpsichordist Edward Parmentier. His German heritage inspired him to study on a Fulbright program with Martin Redel at the Hochschüle für Musik in Detmold, Germany, in 1989. The meticulous nature of his later compositional voice emerged from these tributaries. He was hired at Trinity University immediately after the completion of his doctoral studies in 1991.
In San Antonio TX he established the city’s first-ever composer’s collective, the Composers Alliance of San Antonio, to foster friendships and collaborations between the region’s composers. His cordial good cheer and record of professional accomplishment made him a guiding spirit for that group. Since 2010, he has been on the faculty of Illinois College, having left Trinity after 19 years to help strengthen a music program at the small liberal arts college in central Illinois. As a composer, Kramer received accolades and honors from the start, including an ASCAP Young Composer’s Grant for his earliest orchestral work, Sentinels of the Dance (1986) (a work heard on this album) a National Endowment for the Arts grant (Concerto for Organ and String Orchestra, 1994), a Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, and a residency at the MacDowell Colony.
Looking back over his career, Kramer has come to see Sentinels of the Dance as a guiding metaphor for the path his orchestral writing would go on to follow. Most of his commissions have been for smaller ensembles or soloists, enjoying numerous repeat performances. Sentinels stands as a marker at the beginning of his career; in different ways each of his later orchestral scores returns to its principles, suggesting an abstract, circular pattern to the growth of his style characterized by different expressions of an inwardly consistent temperament. Two of the works on this album were commissions from community orchestras, reinforcing his commitment to be able to compose music for any ensemble. Other recent commissions have come from the Utah Arts Festival, the Detroit Chamber Winds, and the San Francisco Choral Artists.
— Carl Leafstedt, Trinity University
The following notes were provided by the composer himself for the works on this album:
Symphony B-A-C-H (2007), the largest work on this recording, initially began as a series of essays all drawn from the name of Bach. Each movement explores a different aspect of musical texture, beginning with polyphony, then moving to monophony, homophony, and cacophony. The whole work is symphonic in scope. Two louder movements surround an interior scherzo (Schizo-Scherzo) and slow movement (Meditation CHorale). The first and last movements were premiered in 2000 and 2007, respectively, by the San Antonio Symphony.
For the first movement, BACH meets EsCHeR, I was thinking about the concepts of polyphony, and I could not ignore the overwhelming influence of J.S. Bach's music. I was also intrigued by the connections made by Douglas Hofstadter in his book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. The graphic designs of M.C. Escher became a kind of visual impetus for this work, dictating clear rhythmic gestures with independent parts that reveal a larger organic structure. I decided, therefore, to base the first essay on the names of Bach and Escher. After a slow beginning based on the musical pitches in their names (the “R” in EsCHeR is the syllable “re” in solfège terms), a faster central section takes the BACH motive and builds different polyphonic textures which transform themselves into chords. This leads to a fugue, where BACH and EsCHeR meet again as subject and countersubject.
Schizo-Scherzo is a single line orchestrated to point out rhythmic and textural development. It relies primarily upon the winds, with a delicate Trio section, and uses small quotations of scherzos by Beethoven and Mahler that are buried within its texture.
Meditation CHorale is a very slow movement that focuses on two pitches: C and B natural. These two pitches are present throughout the entire movement —in every measure— while the homophonic chorale moves above and below, gaining strength and power and increasing in register. This movement relies primarily upon the strings.
Party Favors uses noise sounds and a blending of musics at different speeds to create a variety of surprising textures. The percussion section takes control while many of the other instruments play in a percussive manner using the chromatic collection of BACH to build cacophonous sounds in an ironic homage. Here the four-note motive is worked into a variety of vernacular rhythms and short melodies infused with elements of swing, funk, and salsa. These episodes or “party favors” each become wildly exaggerated and take us back to the opening material.
A Fivescore Festival (1990) was commissioned by the City of Kent WA in celebration of their Centennial and written specifically for and premiered by the Rainier Symphony Orchestra. Because this was a commission using community funds, the City was fairly specific as to the type of work they wanted. The work was to be "festive, uplifting, and accessible to the general public, celebrating the settlement of the valley and the city." The piece is a series of four preludes and a rondo. Although each prelude has a different character, they are all designed to lead to and prepare the rondo theme: D,E,Bb,A,G. This theme is overtaken in the rondo by a chorale taken from the first prelude and then treated in a fast coda. The piece reflects the strength and diversity of a community moving by generations toward a common goal.
Written with few limitations, Sentinels of the Dance (1986) is perhaps the "wildest" of my earlier works and my first orchestral work. Rhythmically influenced by jazz and rock, the opening section breaks up the orchestra in different combinations of attacks much like a gigantic trap set in which the conductor plays each member of the set in spontaneous, syncopated rhythms. In the second section, a kaleidoscope of colors sets the stage for the central dance in which both fast and slow music is heard simultaneously. The work was premiered by the University of Michigan’s University Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gustav Meier, in February 1986.
All in Golden Measure (2013) was commissioned and premiered by the Jacksonville Symphony Society in Jacksonville IL to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their Symphony Orchestra. As I thought about what kind of piece to write for this occasion, I knew right away that I wanted to use material that the orchestra and audience would associate with Jacksonville. Because the orchestra started 50 years ago at MacMurray College and now performs at Illinois College, I thought it would be appropriate to base the piece on the Alma Maters from those institutions. I also thought the piece could unfold in golden proportions, where the themes are interwoven to create a rich texture. Finally, I wanted to add special sounds: the noise of train whistles that permeate all parts of Jacksonville, the sounds of cicadas that occur in regular cycles here, and the sound of the racetrack that resonates in the air on summer evenings.
— Tim Kramer