Ratner is a Boston based composer, teacher and pianist. His teachers
include John Lessard (composition)
at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Menahem Pressler (piano), for whom he was the teaching
assistant at Indiana University for many years. He has served as a member of the piano faculty at the
Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University, taught piano at the Conservatoires of Montbelliard
and Belfort in France, and been a chamber music coach at Boston Conservatory. His compositions
have been performed across the U.S. by groups including the Avanti Ensemble, Solomania, Luminus, and the
Bavarde Quartet. Venues include Boston’s Jordan Hall, the Plymouth (Massachusetts) Chamber Music Festival,
Musica Viva in Blacksburg, Virginia, and The Schubert Club in St Paul, Minnesota, which commissioned A Song
for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687 for soprano Dinah Bryant and pianist Daniel Blumenthal. In February, 2011 his Andante
for Strings premiered at the Kennedy Center and was done a week later at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm.
It has since enjoyed numerous performances across the US. In summer, 2012, his Todesfuge premiered in Prague’s Dvorak Hall.
Many have gotten accustomed to the idea that educated musicians scoff at something like my Andante for Strings because it employs tonal vocabulary and was written a few years ago. Music is simply frequencies impinging on the listener's eardrums. Music's function, like that of all art, is to move the perceiver through its beauty, feeling, meaning, emotion, novelty, etc. How wonderful it is that we have the capacity to be moved, to receive meaning, from sounds which, unlike words, refer to nothing. The time of composition is irrelevant to the function of music. Either a piece is capable of moving a listener or it isn't, and a listener who refuses to be moved due only to something other than the impinging frequencies is the loser.
Tonality is a language. Over the course of many centuries it has developed a rich and complex vocabulary of pitch relationships that has meaning for a great number of people. This vocabulary derives primarily from the consonant or dissonant qualities of intervals that are themselves likely products of the overtone series, and is capable of imparting meaning over a wide variety of time spans. The suggestion that the language of tonality is stale is exactly as silly as making that statement about any other language, e.g. English. If music is hackneyed or trite, it's not the fault of the language. The blame lies with the composer - it's simply bad music.
The reason that new concert music has floundered in the last few decades is because the pernicious idea that it can move a listener without audible pitch organization has persisted although serialism, which introduced this idea, is thankfully all but dead. It is important to note that atonality, via exploitation of, among other things, the very same consonance/dissonance relationships present in all intervals that tonality exploits, is capable of moving a listener similarly, but it is much more difficult to accomplish, being the product of the intuition of the composer and his hope that a listener will "get" his message, rather than of an established system.
Finally, my belief is that music is remembered first and foremost for strong, memorable, relatively short and well-defined themes. Composers who spend their time inventing "systems" or "concepts" do so primarily because, whatever other compositional skills they may have mastered, they are unable to invent great themes and hope that that fact will be masked in the music generated by their "system".
It is so sad when a listener assumes that fresh, new music cannot move him to a degree similar to that achievable by old music. I am doing my best to change that perception.