Robert L. Stern, a native of Paterson, New Jersey, received his bachelor of arts from the University of Rochester in 1955 and his master’s and doctoral degrees from the Eastman School of Music; and he was a University Fellow at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1958–59. In 1964 he joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and taught there until his retirement, in 2006. In addition to composition awards and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities, and ASCAP, he has benefited from fellowships at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. His teachers have included Kent Kennan, Bernard Rogers, Louis Mennini, Lukas Foss, and Howard Hanson.
Stern’s music has been performed throughout the United States as well as in Europe, China, South America, Japan, and Israel, by such prominent ensembles and artists as the Beaux Arts String Quartet, Collage, the Da Capo Chamber Players, the Contemporary Chamber Players at the University of Chicago, the Eastman Musica Nova, Yehudi Wyner, Joel Smirnoff, Gilbert Kalish, Marni Nixon, Jan Opalach, Joel Krosnick, and the Gregg Smith Singers. Various works have also been programmed on the Musica Viva concert series in Tel Aviv, on Lukas Foss’s Meet the Moderns series, and at the Festival of American Music at Eastman, the Camden Festival in England, the Fromm Contemporary Music Series at Harvard, the Aspen Music Festival, and the Ravinia Festival. Commissions have come from the Library of Congress (McKim Fund), the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, the Chamber Music Series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Manchester International Cello Festival.
Jewish themes, subjects, and literature have informed an important part of Stern’s work in pieces such as Hazkarah, for cello and piano; two Hebrew songs, Al tifg’i bi and Rad halaila (included in the recording Treasures of Jewish American Art Song on the Spectrum and Centaur labels); In Memoriam Abraham for string orchestra; Rhapsody on Peace (Prelude on Oseh Shalom); Terezin, for soprano, cello, and piano (recorded on the CRI label); Yam hamelakh, awarded the 18th International Competition for Symphonic Composition prize (Premio Musicale Città di Trieste) in 1979; Voices from Terezin; A Rushing of New Waters, a cantata based on the Book of Ruth; and Shofar, an oratorio.
Among his other significant works are Blood and Milk Songs, for mezzo-soprano and instrumental ensemble; 16 Folksongs arranged for classical guitar; Adventures for One, music for percussion; Ultima Fantasia, for wind ensemble; Three Chinese Poems, for double women’s chorus, viola, piano/celesta, percussion, and magnetic tape; Carom, for orchestra and magnetic tape, commissioned by the Springfield (Massachusetts) Symphony Orchestra; and Fantasy Etude, for solo violin.