Pianist/Composer

Video interview with Robert Avalon (1986)

Born in San Antonio, Texas in 1955, to parents who were public school teachers, Robert Avalon grew up in an environment that nurtured creativity. He started playing the piano at age 5, and began formal studies at age 7. After high school, he moved to St. Louis and improvised for modern dance classes. His teacher in St. Louis, the revelatory pianist Etsko Tazaki, set him on fire. His passion was unleashed, and music became and remained the central ritual of his life, through whose language he found the greatest expression.

Avalon performed his own compositions, was an expert improviser, and also traversed a large segment of the traditional classical repertoire. In 1981 and again in 1988, he presented concerts encompassing the entire series of 48 Preludes and Fugues from Bach's monumental Well-Tempered Clavier, for which he had a special affinity. In addition to his many performances in Texas and elsewhere, he directed a well-received festival of chamber music concerts at the Pablo Casals Museum in Puerto Rico.

Avalon composed works in almost all genres including orchestral, operatic, chamber, and choral compositions, songs, and instrumental solo works. Bilingual in English and Spanish, he also composed to texts in Latin, Greek, and Japanese, absorbing other cultures through their poetry. He received commissions for important works from the Casals Museum, the Institute of Texan Cultures, and the San Antonio Festival, among others. His music began to make an impact on the international music scene with the critically acclaimed 1999 release of his first chamber music CD (Centaur Records), which included his chamber work sonatas for violin and for flute as well as the Sextet to Julia de Burgos with soprano and chamber ensemble. The 2001 Centaur release of his orchestral music (piano concerto and flute and harp concerto) was also well received by the critics, and a full evening of his music was presented to enthusiastic acclaim at London's Wigmore Hall in 2002. He was also interviewed by and performed his music live on London's BBC Radio.

As Artistic Director of the Foundation for Modern Music beginning in 1998, Avalon initiated several important new projects including an annual series of Houston concerts devoted to the music of today, and a competition for young composers. His influence extended to teaching as well. He was an inspiration to many young musicians who benefited from his guidance and care, including three of Juilliard's top piano graduates.

Robert Avalon died unexpectedly and tragically on April 30,2004. His intensity and his enthusiastic embrace of life and art in all its forms will long be missed.

-- Adapted from the introduction in Arias from Carlota by Robert Avalon. Gary Chamness, ed. Press Excalibur, 2004.