Nolan Gasser

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Nolan Gasser
Nolan Gasser2.jpg
Born (1964-11-10) November 10, 1964 (age 53)
La Mirada, California
Occupation Composer, musicologist, pianist, artistic director

Nolan Ira Gasser (born November 10, 1964) is an American composer, pianist, and musicologist. He is the chief musicologist for Pandora Media, Inc. and the architect of the Music Genome Project,[1][2] the proprietary musical analysis system that underlies the popular Internet radio service. His classical compositions have been performed by orchestras, chamber ensembles, and soloists around the world, in such venues as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the Rose Bowl.

Gasser's book, Why You Like It: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste (Macmillan Publishing) will be released in late 2015. He recently scored his first film soundtrack, for Lance Kinsey's comedy All-Stars (starring Fred Willard and John Goodman), to be released in October 2014. Gasser will be the subject of a forthcoming documentary as part of the series on prominent data collectors / purveyors by Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight via ESPN Films.

Gasser is the Artistic Director of Classical Archives,[3] a leading online classical musical service. He received his Ph.D. in musicology from Stanford University, where he has been adjunct professor in Medieval-Renaissance music history. He frequently performs as well as lectures around the United States – on music, and the relationship between music and science. He is also working with the Chicago-based company Mission Metrics, to help develop an Impact Genome Project, on behalf of social impact program measurement across all social sectors (education, food security, poverty, culture and identity, health, etc.).


Gasser began playing piano at age 4, and was composing by age 8. His professional career began at age 11, when he became the weekend pianist at the newly built La Mirada Mall – for which he credits his eclectic musical identity, being fluent in pop, rock, jazz, Broadway, and classical styles.

Gasser received a Bachelor's degree from California State University, Northridge (1988), where he studied composition with Aurelio de la Vega, and piano with Charles Fierro; this was followed by a two-year sojourn in Paris, where he studied privately with Betsy Jolas and at Fontainebleau with Jolas, Gilbert Amy, and Tristan Murail. While in Paris, he began a fascination with Renaissance music (especially the music of Josquin des Prez), spawning an interest in musicology.

Upon returning to the States, he earned a Masters in composition at New York University (1991), studying with Todd Brief and Menachem Zur; and a Ph.D. in musicology from Stanford University (2001), with his dissertation, "The Marian Motet Cycles of the Gaffurius Codices: A Musical and Liturgico-Devotional Study".

In March 2000, Gasser was hired by Savage Beast Technologies (today Pandora Media, Inc.), where he helped flesh out the Music Genome Project. He is the Chief Musicologist at Pandora, and is the architect of all five Music Genomes (Pop/Rock, Jazz, Hip-hop/Electronica; World Music; Classical); he also helped design the means of analysis and training by which the company continues to this day, as the hugely successful Pandora Radio service.

In April 2003, Gasser became the Artistic Director of the Classical Archives website, which in May 2009 re-launched as a streaming and download service with classical content from most labels. Gasser designed for the site a proprietary database to properly categorize and display classical recordings, and runs the editorial operation – including conducting interviews with classical artists and composers such as Renée Fleming, Hilary Hahn, Alan Gilbert, Hélène Grimaud, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Jeremy Denk, Daniel Hope, David Lang, Eric Whitacre, and John Corigliano.[4]

Gasser is active as a pianist and bandleader, especially in jazz and popular styles – including with the San Francisco Jazz Quartet;[5] he occasionally teaches musicology, including as an Adjunct Professor at Stanford; he also gives periodical lectures – such as at the 2010 Carmel Authors and Ideas Festival.[6] and at a recent joint meeting of the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Department of Health and Human Services in Washington D.C., regarding arts education. He visited UC Santa Barbara in February 2011. Gasser is in the early stages of a book on the inter-relationship between music and science.

He lives in Petaluma, California, with his wife Lynn (since 1994) and their two children, Camille (born 1995) and Preston (born 2001).


Gasser's shift in focus to musicology, beginning in 1991, led to an extended disruption in his compositional output, with only a handful of works written before his graduation from Stanford in 2001. Since 2003, however, composition has become a principal focus of his career.

Among his substantial works include American Festivals – a four-movement work with poetry by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.; each movement is dedicated to a distinct and quintessential American holiday: "Oration on July 4th" (2004), "Black Suite Blues" (for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; 2005); "Memorial Day" (2006); and "Thanksgiving" (2007). The work has been performed – in part and whole – numerous times by several orchestras (e.g., Charleston, Memphis, Arkansas, and Oakland East Bay Symphonies), including a complete performance at the 2008 IMG Festival del sole (Napa Valley, CA.).[7]

Gasser's most ambitious composition project in recent years has been a pair of works written in conjunction with NASA's Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope (formerly GLAST) – launched June 8, 2008. The first work, the GLAST Prelude, for brass quintet (2007), was recorded by the American Brass Quintet, and presented at a pre-launch party in Cocoa Beach,[8] the live premiere took place on November 2, 2009 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and the work was released on the ABQ's 50th Anniversary CD on Summit Records.

The same Kennedy Center concert also saw the premiere of the second Fermi-related work, the narrated symphony Cosmic Reflection, with narration by Pierre Schwob and physicist Lawrence Krauss that tells the full history of the Universe.[9] The work was recorded by the Baltimore Symphony under Marin Alsop, and will be subsequently released as a full-feature DVD.

Among other serious works include his World Cello for Cello and Orchestra (2008), which was premiered by cellist Maya Beiser and the Oakland East Bay Symphony under Michael Morgan, along with three "world" soloists: Jiebing Chen, erhu; Aruna Narayan, sarangi; and Bassam Saba, oud.[10] His 3 Jazz Preludes (2007) were performed at Carnegie Hall by pianist Kimball Gallagher in March 2008. His opera The Secret Garden, commissioned by the San Francisco Opera, premiered on 1 March 2013; the opera was also performed at Opera Theater of Weston (Vermont) in January 2015. Gasser wrote the opening movement of the choral song cycle Tyler's Suite, about the tragic story of Tyler Clementi (with other movements by Stephen Schwartz, John Corigliano, and Jake Heggie, among others), which was premiered in March 2014 by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, and which will be performed subsequently in Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York. His song cycle Repast: An Oratorio, about the life and career of civil rights figure Booker Wright, with text by Kevin Young, will be premiered on October 26, 2014 by bass-baritone Justin Hopkins at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium in Oxford, Mississippi.

Discography and media[edit]


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