top of page

Robert Ashley

The visionary composer Robert Ashley is Nathan's other major influence, next to our Deggi Daaj International festival collaborator Doudou Ndiaye Rose. Nathan has realized vocal and instrumental performances of many of his works, including premieres. Mr. Ashley passed away recently, and Nathan posted this statement some days later, from Dakar:


Hi. Several of you have inboxed me asking what the story is. Thanks. The bewilderment has dissolved and I'm getting my thoughts in line...


I didn't have the NYC intel that Robert Ashley's transition was becoming imminent so it came as a true shock. I've spent these nights with a candle and his music, and spent the days rereading our email dialogues.


Bob's work changed my life. He has been by far the biggest influence on me, alongside fellow shamanic 1930er Doudou Ndiaye Rose in more recent years, since I first wrote to him enthusiastically in 2002, asking if he could imagine other people performing/reinventing his works. His enchanted YES made it my full-time passion... I visited his home in NYC in 2003 for a conversation which seemed to transcend its temporal reality of a single afternoon, and subsequently put together festival residencies celebrating Robert Ashley in Holland in 2004 with Reinier van Houdt & Alex Waterman (in partnership with the Royal Conservatory of The Hague), and Switzerland in 2006 with Felix Profos and the Dutch MAE Ensemble (in collaboration with the Zürich University of the Arts)— with premieres of old scores, commissions of new ones, and most preciously: much conversational downtime on trains and in hotels with Bob, who was soaking the whole experience up fabulously. My heart will forever smile at the memory of those impromptu 'teachings'... every shared chat leaving me elated with inspiration at the end of the day <3


We've kept in touch over the years as I did performances of his works in Berlin and later in Mexico. If he hadn't minimized his traveling, I would have brought him to Senegal. I last saw him in 2011 in NYC. We last corresponded 2 months ago. He charmingly described his new opera Crash, to be premiered in April at the Whitney Biennale — "Crash is about being old. It's not too jolly. I'm definitely retiring after this year." 


I was looking forward to showing him my ideas next month in NYC to reinvent his once-infamous piece The Wolfman. And I was looking forward to letting him meet my wife.


Luckiness > sadness > deep gratitude. And we are left with sooo much.... These are two pieces of his which galvanized me. It may be different for you ; )


The Backyard (this version)


Automatic Writing (excerpt)



Thanks to those mentioned above, and to Joel Ryan and Sam Ashley.


— NF, March 2014

Dakar, Senegal

Dear Nathan,


Thank you for the wonderful letter. I will have to wait a while before answering.


I just got back from three weeks in Burma and Cambodia. Actually, I'm not back yet. The body is here, but whatever that other thing is hasn't arrived yet. In the two days since we got back I have sometimes wished that whatever that other thing is will never get here. You've done this many times, I know, but this was a first for me. I have been many places, but I have always taken myself with me and brought it back intact. This is different. There is a place where nobody knows who you are or cares. A terrific load I didn't know existed was lifted. We can speak about this later.


I'll write more when I recover.


Very warmest,


— Robert Ashley, February 2005



Dear Nathan,


Thanks again for your incomparable help in Zurich. I couldn't and wouldn't have done it without you. I must admit that the "retrospective" occasion is getting to be sort of a chore, in spite of the amazing preparation that you put into it.


I guess the accumulated knowledge of how those piece are to be played is being accumulated in you. Probably the fervor will die down in the near future, only to be resumed briefly when I am no longer available. So, you might be asked to do it again. There is nothing immediately in the future, but I'm sure something will come up.


Your "Tap Dancing..." gets better all the time. You can take more liberties as you feel it, if the occasion arises again. You have a wonderful sense of what can be done with English.


Thanks again.



I would write more, except that I came home to a fierce amount of e-mail that I am struggling with. The ride home, though uneventful, was unusually tiring. I guess I have just been in too many airplanes. Very best.


—  Robert Ashley, April 2006

Performing Robert Ashley's The Backyard,

Berlin 2016

" The speaker Nathan Fuhr was the one responsible for the highlights of the evenings. His intimacy to Ashley’s music was revealed in the stunningly many-voiced solo Yes, But Is It Edible? and the suggestive She Was A Visitor. Continuing with the theme of language and its musical exploration, Tap Dancing In The Sand was the central piece of the following day’s concert. In this well over 20-minute piece, the speech rhythm of the speaker is picked up by the instruments and compacted into an elaborately patterned sound-tapestry, which was brought into full hypnotic effect by the MAE Ensemble. "



 — "Language and Ritual", Neue Züricher Zeitung, April 2006

Live premiere, in the presence of the composer.

Nathan Fuhr with Ensemble MAE, Bimhuis Amsterdam, 2004

Performing Robert Ashley's Yellow Man with Heart with Wings,

Berlin 2016

Live, in the presence of the composer.

Nathan Fuhr solo, Kunstraum Walcheturm Zurich, 2006

Released on the Unsounds Label.

Nathan Fuhr with Ensemble MAE, 2007

Performing Robert Ashley's The Wolfman, with public Q&A,

Berlin 2014

Performing Robert Ashley's Waiting Room, Zurich 2006

Conducting Robert Ashley's Outcome Inevitable, Zurich 2006

(on the rightthe composer)

bottom of page