Bruce Craig Roter was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Hauppauge, a Long Island suburb. He began composing music at the age of twelve, writing mostly chamber pieces for family gatherings at which his brother and grandfather played cello and violin. He began his formal music studies in 1979 at the preparatory division of The Juilliard School under Craig Shuller and Bruce Adolphe. At the Eastman School of Music, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, he studied composition with Joseph Schwantner and Samuel Adler, as well as orchestration with Christopher Rouse. He went on to earn an M.A. in musicology at Yale in 1984, another master’s degree in composition from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1987, and a Ph.D. in composition and music theory from Rutgers University in 1992.
The conductor David Alan Miller has observed that Roter has found a niche for himself by exploring American heritage in his music. Indeed, many of his works are related to or inspired by American landscapes or historical incidents, political and social issues, and world events. These include Spiritscapes—A South Dakota Cantata, on a millennium commission from the American Composers Forum and the National Endowment for the Arts in 1999 (a Continental Harmony commission that was documented by PBS); TR: A “Bully” Portrait for narrator and orchestra, which, following its world premiere, was performed at a special concert at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota; With Courage and Compassion: A Salute to First Responders; and The Days of Struggle and Discovery, celebrating the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition of the Louisiana Territory initiated by President Thomas Jefferson following the purchase from France of the area then known as the Louisiana Purchase. Other works include By Time Expatriated from My Youth, for symphony orchestra; a “Fanfare” for wind ensemble; a sonata for double bass; and Fantasy and Pas de Deux, for two clarinets and piano, commissioned by the acclaimed clarinetists Stanley Drucker and Naomi Drucker.
Roter has also addressed Jewish themes and liturgy in a number of works. In addition to the settings of poems by Judah al Ha’rizzi recorded for the Milken Archive, he has written a setting of Psalm 46 in its original Hebrew, Elohim lanu; a wedding processional for string quartet; and A Camp David Overture (Prayer for Peace), a piece inspired by the spirit of hopefulness surrounding the signing of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt.
Roter’s music has been described as stylistically eclectic, with a tonal palette derived from a variety of sources. A prominent feature of many of his works is the exploitation of contrapuntal textures.
“We express our need for community in so many ways,” Roter has written. “I happen to express that need through music. Through my music, I reach out to others, and in my reaching out, I am gratified that my music has touched so many people.” A passionate advocate for contemporary music, he lectures frequently on radio, television, and at preconcert forums. He has taught at Rutgers University, Linfield College, and Skidmore College and is currently on the faculty of the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York.
By: Neil W. Levin