Eric Salzman: Composer, Author, Music Theater Innovator


New Releasings

Labor Records in collaboration with Naxos is releasing a series of recordings of my work covering more than half a century! The most recent release is "Jukebox in the Tavern of Love" paired with a new work by Meredith Monk. "The Nude Paper Sermon" and "Wiretap" is a double album containing no fewer than five works; see below for details. "Civilization & its Discontents" is a words-and-music collaboration with Michael Sahl. More information, reviews and ordering (physical or digital editions) is available below or by going to Labor Records.

Jukebox in the Tavern of Love Nude Paper Sermon - Wiretap Civilization Discontents

“Big Jim” at Faison Firehouse Theater

The staged workshop or ‘atelier’ of “Big Jim & the Small-time Investors” took place on March 11 at the George Faison Firehouse Theater in Harlem under the auspices of the Center for Contemporary Opera. The first-rate cast included Vale Rideout at Jim, Aaron Theno as his assistant Stan, Colette Boudreaux as his wife Kim and Darynn Zimmer as his Mom, a chorus of eight, an instrumental ensemble featuring Bill Schimmel (accordion), Paula Kimper (sound design and electronics) and Peter Fancovic (piano), all directed by the excellent Steve Crawford. Although everyone was on book, there was a surprisingly effective amount of staging by Andrew Eggert.  “Big Jim” is based on a libretto by Ned Jackson with a score by Eric Salzman. It’s a story about an L.A. con man who purports to have invented a virtual-reality machine that makes its users believe that their wildest fantasies are coming true. The character of Jim appears on screen or as a live hologram for most of the piece and the musical form is somewhere between music-theater and what we might call theater opera. The March 11th performance was a big step forward for this large-scale work which is edging its way towards a full production.

Date Posted // March 17, 2014
In Categories // Big Jim and the Small-Time Investors, Events, Music Theater, News, Works and Productions

“Big Jim & the Small-time Investors” in staged reading

“Big Jim & the Small-time Investors”, Eric Salzman’s new music theater (or ‘theater opera’) work — libretto by Salzman and Ned Jackson — will have a staged reading on Tuesday, March 11, at 8 pm, at the George Faison Firehouse Theater, 6 Hancock Place in Manhattan. The following is the press release sent out by the producers: Scott Joiner and the Center for Contemporary Opera:

Trailblazing company brings cutting-edge opera to Harlem theater: CCO presents Big Jim & the Small-Time Investors at the Faison Firehouse Theater.

On Tuesday night at 8pm, the Center for Contemporary Opera (CCO) will present a semistaged performance of Eric Salzman’s cutting-edge opera, Big Jim & the Small-Time Investors, as part of their Development Series at Harlem’s Faison Firehouse Theater. The story of an L.A. Con-man who lures investors into his alternative reality technology scheme, this performance marks CCO’s first appearance in Harlem.

On Tuesday night (March 11) at 8pm, the Center for Contemporary Opera (CCO) will present a semi-staged performance of Eric Salzman’s cutting-edge opera, Big Jim & the Small-Time Investors, as part of their
Development Series at Harlem’s Faison Firehouse Theater.
“I’m really excited and happy to be pioneering the use of a theater in Harlem,” says Salzman, CCO’s Composer-in-Residence. Many of CCO’s recent performances have been at distinguished venues in Lower
Manhattan, Grammercy and the Upper West Side, making Tuesday’s performance at the Faison Firehouse new ground for the 32-year-old arts organization. As a founder of the New Music Theater movement, Salzman’s
works have been performed nationally and internationally by organizations like the New York Philharmonic, the American Music Theater Festival, La MaMa Experimental Theater, Theater for a New City, and have been
broadcast on NPR, BBC, WNYC and Channel 13.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to be bringing this kind of work to the Firehouse,” says the theater’s founder, Tony and Emmy Award-winning choreographer, dancer and director, George Faison. “This is emblematic of our
commitment to bringing contemporary performing arts to Harlem audiences.” Faison and Salzman met in Philadelphia on a production for the American Music Theater Festival (which Salzman co-founded) in the late
80’s. According to an article in the Daily News, Faison bought the abandoned firehouse in 1999 on Hancock Place off 125th St., renovated it over time and inaugurated the theater in 2007.

‘Big Jim’ King, the title character in Tuesday night’s performance, claims to have invented a virtual reality machine which allows users to experience their own wildest fantasies. The character, who appears to his
followers via digital projection, walks the line between con-man and cult leader, luring investors into his operation. His plan spirals out of control threatening to ruin the Investors and promising disaster for Jim’s wife,
Kim, and his assistant, Stan. In this digital world, Big Jim’s story resonates now more than ever.

Composer Eric Salzman has brought this dramatic character to life with the help of librettist, Edgar Jackson. Andrew Eggert directs and Metropolitan Opera veteran Steven Crawford conducts an all-star cast featuring
Vale Rideout, Aaron Theno, Colette Boudreaux, and Darynn Zimmer in addition to an ensemble featuring world-renowned accordionist Bill Schimmel.

Looking for the Faison Firehouse Theater? Take the A,B,C or D train to 125th St., walk south one block on Manhattan Avenue and turn right on W. 124th Street. 6 Hancock Place is on the left just after the junction of W.
124th and Hancock.

WHAT: Big Jim & the Small-Time Investors
WHEN: Tuesday, March 11th at 8pm.
WHERE: Faison Firehouse Theater – 6 Hancock Place, New York, NY 10027

For more information call the Faison Firehouse at (212) 665-7716.
Tickets are $20, and will be available at the door or at:

Contact Information
Center for Contemporary Opera
Center for Contemporary Opera


Date Posted // March 10, 2014
In Categories // Big Jim and the Small-Time Investors, Events, Music Theater, News, Works and Productions

Western Wind recording of madrigal comedy is ready!

“Jukebox in the Tavern of Love” is the title of a modern madrigal comedy commissioned by the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble — a contemporary take on a 16th century music-theater form. The text is by Valeria Vasilevski and the music by Eric Salzman. Six New Yorkers — a bartender, a dancer, a rabbi, a nun, a Con Ed worker and a poet — find themselves trapped in a bar during a raging thunderstorm and blackout and they pass the time telling their personal stories about love until the lights come back on. The Western Wind gave the premiere and has performed the work at Bargemusic, the Flea Theater and Tenri Cultural Institute in New York. They have now recorded the work for Labor/Naxos and it is scheduled for release early next year together with the premiere recording of “Basket Rondo”, a new work by Meredith Monk, also commissioned by the ensemble. This will be the third in the series of recordings of Salzman’s work; the earlier releases were “Civilization & Its Discontents” (with Michael Sahl), “The Nude Paper Sermon” and the four works that make up “Wiretap” in a double album.

new review of Nude Paper Sermon & Wiretap

Here is a new review by Dustin Mallory of “The Nude Paper Sermon” and “Wiretap” from the current (April/May) issue of Cadence. More information, listening excerpts, etc. are at <>

“The career of Eric Salzman includes the titles of music critic, author, educator, academic, and producer. His work in these areas frequently overshadows his wonderful gifts as a composer and a visionary of the future of musical theatre. This two-disc release reissues the late ‘60s and early ‘70s performances of his musical drama “Wiretap,” and probably his most famous composition, “The Nude Paper Sermon.” Both pieces are very difficult to perform, but the ensembles successfully handle the undertaking.

“The Nude Paper Sermon” blurs the lines of time and genre by mixing the sounds of a Renaissance consort and The New York Motet Singers, with a modern inclusion of electronic sounds and an actor/narrator. The actor positions himself as a media/cultural voice that frequently dates the performance to the late ‘60s with references to segregation, Pete Seeger, and Martha Graham. The collage of sounds personifies the second half of the 20th Century as an intricate and often overwhelming experience of overstimulation and complication.

“Wiretap” is the slightly lesserknown collection of four movements on American life. Each subject seeks to “tap” into the mind of the listener to discover an awareness of the self and its multifarious relationships with the world. Spatial existence, discomfort, manifestation, struggle, fantasy, and reality are all explored using musical sensibilities. Philosophically, the piece seems to suggest that music is not the “art in life,” but rather that music, social interactions, and media as an entire experience, are the “art of life.” From a musical perspective, innovative techniques in vocalization, electro-acoustic textures, and instrumentation are explored. Silverman’s guitar plays a fascinating role juxtaposed against Ross’s voice. Nagrin’s voiced sounds seem to symbolize
the haunting and longing nature of the human spirit for something unknown. The real interest here will be how this compressed psychosomatic journey will affect the twenty-first century listener.”

A new production of Brecht

I am writing this from Montreal where a new production of the Bertolt Brecht “Good Person of Sechuan” (“La Bonne Ame de Setchouan” in French) is taking place tonight (the dress rehearsal was last night and there is a preview this afternoon). The production is by Antoine Laprise who directed a previous production at the Theatre du Trident in Quebec City a few years using my newly commissioned score. My Brecht Suite was fashioned out of that music and this was subsequently performed by Laila Salins with accordionist Bill Schimmel and the New Tango Project at the Southampton Cultural Center, as part of the Accord/Discord program produced by the Center for Contemporary Opera at the cell in the Chelsea district of NYC and then on tour in Eastern Europe. Now the score has been re-adapted for this new production at the theater school of the College Lionel-Groulx in Sainte-Therese in the outskirts of Montreal (perhaps the major theater school in Quebec, equivalent to Yale Drama or Juilliard).

This is indeed a new production — completely reimagined by Antoine with this excellent cast of young performers. To give a small idea of the differences: the gods of the original are now three goddesses who come down to earth to look for a good woman but also to go shopping. Instead of a tobacco store, the heroine runs a shopping mart filled with cheap consumer goods. The Opium Song is still there along with a bit of the Brechtian revolutionary fervor but the whole social-political aspect of the work comes into sharper focus. Instead of the violins and accordion of the earlier production, there is a rock band with guitars, keyboard and drums so the music now has more swing (although that was already in the original version) and, on many occasions, a strong rock feeling (not there before). It was all a bit startling but thought-provoking and a lot of fun.

Date Posted // March 13, 2013
In Categories // Events, La Bonne Ame de Setchouan, Music Theater, News, Works and Productions