Matti Kovler (pronounced Mah-tee Kovler) is a Russian-born Israeli-American composer, pianist, singer, and creator of new music theatre works.
Described as “a potentially estimable operatic composer in the making,” (New York Times) Matti is the grandson of the Russian operatic tenor and Yiddish singer Leonid Kovler. Kovler’s music has been commissioned by the Tanglewood Music Center, the Carnegie Hall and the Israel Festival. His orchestral works have been performed worldwide by the Israel Philharmonic, the Fox Studios Symphony (Los Angeles), the Metropole Orchestra (Amsterdam), the American Composers Orchestra (New York), the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and others. Matti was a fellow at the Tanglewood, Aspen and Academia Chigiana Festivals, a winner of two consecutive ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers Awards, and of the Theodor Presser Award in Composition.
Kovler has mastered a range of styles from folk and jazz to those steeped in the classical tradition, and brings these together in works of considerable dramatic scope, by turns comic, mystical, warm, and searing. His musical influences include Jewish folklore, improvisation, Broadway musical theater and the cult writings of the French theatre philosopher Antonin Artaud.
Somewhat reactionary to his Soviet upbringing, Kovler’s interest in bringing sacred texts or melodies from the Jewish tradition in a music theatre context, was ignited by his teacher, the late Israeli composer André Hajdu. In 2011 Matti founded JMT, an online network dedicated to extending jewish musical theatre beyond fiddler-on-the-roof. In 2014, while in residence with the Elie Wiesel Center at the Boston University, he launched Floating Tower. With a modular make-up of 27 multi-national actors/musicians, Floating Tower operates as a producer, creator and educator developing innovative content along new avenues of cross-cultural engagement. Floating Tower’s productions have been seen at venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to the Underground Collector (a thousand sq. feet art-loft in Moscow).
Matti’s recent works include:
The Drumf and the Rhinegold, an operatic apocalypse. The exceedingly short opera was the centerpiece of an immersive installation offering audiences a window into the decadence and absurdity of Trump’s world against the backdrop of a 7,000 sq.ft. condemned space in a Manhattan tower.
Ami and Tami a musical fable for children and grown-ups, Ami and Tami is a contemporary twist on Hansel and Gretel. World premiere of the recent orchestral version of the musical (with Landmarks Orchestra) took place on July 19, 2015 as the closing event of the Outside The Box Festival at the Boston Commons.
The Seekers of Light — a collaboration with Theodor Tezhik. Featuring musicians from Iran and Israel, in December 2014 excerpts from the opera were premiered at the Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in front of a rotating crowd of 2500 people.
Born in Moscow and educated in Jerusalem, Siena and Boston, Matti holds a doctorate from the New England Conservatory in Boston. He is now based in Brooklyn, New York.
American Composers Orchestra, George Manahan (cond.) Miller Theater, NY – May 2010
Mr. Kovler’s “Unsung Serenade,” in which a gloom akin to Ravel’s pregnant murk in “La Valse” gave birth to brighter sonorities, had an emotive potency that suggested, of all things, a potentially estimable operatic composer in the making.
The Drumf and the Rhinegold
an operatic apocalypse
With 10 ensembles offering their work, the most memorable came from Floating Tower buoyed by Juventas New Music. It was the New England premiere of The Drumf and the Rhinegold by Matti Kovler. It offered Wagner’s rheinmaidens in a Trumpian universe where a dwarf named The Drumf has newly stolen the rheingold. The maidens, Melania (Ariadne Grief), Marla (Sophie Delphis), and Ivana (Casey Keenan), bewail its loss in full operatic gusto, with Marla and Ivana sporting in mermaid-like tails and bustiers enhanced with vast cones.
Melania, fearful that she will soon age out as a wife, sings a surprising heartfelt aria listing all the things she likes about being espoused to The Drumf, while lamenting that no one knows how difficult her life has been (…)
The piece could be dismissed as adolescent wit suitable for this adolescent election season were it not for the striking music. Kovler draws as readily from Sondheim as from Wagner, but melds those two its own. With no shortage of winks and nods, he has created something several cuts above pastiche. He appears to be contemplating the fork in the road that divides opera from musical theater. But in the few minutes spent with his Drumf it would seem that that he is not averse to looking for ways to blend the two. Someone to watch—which, ultimately, is the point of new music festivals.
Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose (cond.) Jordan Hall, Boston – January 2009
A setting of a Jerome Rothenberg poem that surreally evokes the experience of Eastern European immigrants in America…the music was notable for its pacing and the bold colors of the orchestration.
Selected from the BMOP/NEC composition competition, “A Jew Among the Indians (Cokboy)” was a setting of Jerome Rothenberg’s poem and movingly captured the anxiety and placelessness of the immigrant transported to a new world and finding himself among other disenfranchised peoples. The orchestra provides a wandering backdrop to the poem’s narration, performed Saturday night by the piece’s composer Matti Kovler. Tonal displacement predominates through much of the work, interrupted only by a G major chord corresponding to a vision of the sunrise and again when the music fades into a Hassidic delivery of Psalm 139 (“Where can I go from your Spirit?”). Overall, an intensely moving piece about immigrant experiences in America.
Here Comes Messiah!
Carnegie Hall Upshaw/Golijov Workshop, Allan Pierson (cond.) Tehila Goldstein (soprano)
Matti Kovler’s “Here Comes Messiah!” — a monodrama, in some onomatopoetic detail, about giving birth — was sung, spoken, whispered and breathed, heavily, by Tehila Goldstein, an agile soprano. It, too, had a folk touch: its ending is a graceful setting of “Peliah,” a Hasidic song based on a Psalm text.
(…) Most memorable for me was Matti Kovler’s three-part song cycle Here Comes Messiah! In remarks before the performance, Kovler said he completely changed his conception of the work after hearing the remarkable soprano Tehila Goldstein, who is at least as much an actor as she is a singer. Sure enough, Goldstein whistled, keened and grunted through the poetic and religious texts, while Kovler looked on from the piano. His music bore a close resemblance to Bernstein’s, filled with all the same joy and wonder: “Where can I escape from Your spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend up to heaven You are there, if I descend into the netherworld, You are there. Such knowledge is too wondrous; I cannot attain it.” (Psalms 139) How these performers (who were led by Alarm Will Sound’s Alan Pierson) pulled off such warm, technically sound performances of brand new works with less than a week’s rehearsal time is a mystery, if not a miracle. Almost as much as the songs themselves.
…It is not surprising that I felt a particularly strong connection to Matti’s piece: I was there namely as part of his retinue. I am also familiar with his compositional idiom, and Here Comes Messiah! was clearly marked with the Kovler stamp. Matti’s instruments are not merely textural tools, but characters themselves. As the piece began, the breaths and physical movements of his solo singer, Tehila Goldstein (see picture with Matti), were echoed and magnified by the ensemble. From this point, there was no question that we were not watching a poem with orchestral accompaniment, but instead the group effort of a large cast of players – in which extraordinary poet-translator, Janice Silverman Rebibo unambiguously belongs. It was particularly in the second part of the piece that this group dynamic gained a strong hold over the audience’s attention. In the climax before the third and final part, the performers’ grip on the room was visceral, tangible, in a series of fortissimo pulses (labor pangs) from the instrumentalists, and exclamations from Tehila Goldstein. Here the expressivity she had already demonstrated earlier intensified exponentially, in her face, her stance, the timbre of her voice. Matti was at the piano, and he brilliantly made use of it in this passage, as both a harmonic and percussive instrument, driving the sound of the others around him. Although his part in Here Comes Messiah! is less central than in his Cokboy (performed earlier this year in Boston), and the work revolves around a woman’s experience in child birth, it is, nonetheless, entirely an extension of Matti himself. He is wholly present in his music, and not simply because of his compositional language or aesthetic. The audience does not need to be introduced to the composer, or his thought process, to become privy to his internal world – he wills us to come in.