Alan Theisen, Musician

Photo credit: Courtney Ruckman

Alan Theisen (b. 4 October 1981) is a composer, saxophonist, music theorist, and educator. His philosophy of creating and sharing new music with joyously unrestrained enthusiasm is evident in Theisen’s multiple artistic endeavors. Inspired while reading a biography of Leonard Bernstein in high school, Theisen decided to likewise forge his unconventional career of comprehensive musicianship not by choosing between composing, performance, scholarship, conducting, advocacy, and pedagogy but by tirelessly combining those paths.

Theisen's compositions encompass a wide array of genres and instrumentation including chamber music, art song, solo piano, concerti, jazz, symphonies, and more. An autodidact, his works have been praised by composer Dimitri Terzakis as being "the product of a unique talent" and are frequently commissioned/performed by professional musicians around the world. Though Theisen's catalogue of over fifty pieces is stylistically diverse, all of his compositions exhibit unabashed emotional sincerity, memorable melodic ideas, sensuous yet complex harmony, and intricate formal designs—characteristics that inspire enthusiastic audience response and repeat performances. Some recent premieres of Theisen's music have occurred at National Sawdust (Brooklyn), New Music Gathering (Peabody Conservatory), and the World Saxophone Congress (Strasbourg, France).

An active saxophonist, Theisen concertizes in classical recitals, gigs with jazz bands and musical theater productions, directs multiple ensembles, and premieres/records the music of fellow contemporary composers. National appearances as a classical saxophonist include performances at the 39th Festival of New American Music, at the U.S. Navy International Saxophone Symposium, and as guest recitalist at the Wichita State University New Voices Festival. His voice/saxophone duo, Megan Ihnen & Alan Theisen present..., performs curated programs of contemporary music across the United States to audience acclaim. To extend his mission as a collaborative performer, he also founded the Resonance Saxophone Orchestra and the Asheville Modern Big Band.

In academia, Theisen specializes in the analysis and pedagogy of post-1900 classical music, presenting award-winning research on these topics at national and regional academic conferences. He has served on the executive and editorial boards of the South Central Society for Music Theory, Music Theory Southeast, and the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy (online division). Theisen received his Ph.D. in music theory and composition from Florida State University and degrees (B.M. Music History and M.M. Music Theory) from the University of Southern Mississippi. He is currently working on a book analyzing the later music of Dutch composer Tristan Keuris. 

Theisen is Associate Professor of Music at Mars Hill University where he has coordinated the music theory/composition curriculum since 2011. Previously he was Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. A native of Michigan, he has spent the majority of his life in the Deep South of the United States and currently resides near Asheville, North Carolina.

Alan Theisen is a truly an extraordinarily talented and prolific composer of contemporary music. In works such as Noir Fantasy and Con Tristezza, one senses a young master with both superlative technical and expressive skills and powers at his command. More important, this is a composer with something important to say in music. I feel assured that his fertile imagination... will continue to produce stunningly beautiful and well-wrought pieces such as these in the coming years...
— Stephen Dankner, composer
[Theisen’s compositions] demonstrate a special way of understanding the score as a process of creating music. On one hand we receive precise information about interpretation, yet on the other hand we receive inspired descriptions of musical gestures which offer to the musician the possibility of transmitting a personal perspective. [His instrumental music] is written in an elastic and intensely expressive manner which also could be imagined to represent a human voice - and this is the secret of musical communication.
— Violeta Dinescu, composer, Universität Oldenburg
Alan Theisen is the current Kevin Bacon of new music. Everyone I know has worked with him.
— Matt Schoendorff, composer
Alan Theisen is undoubtedly a first-rate composer. I was immediately impressed by his musical ideas and craftsmanship in Noir Fantasy which enabled me to build a wonderful program around this piece. I highly recommend his music and look forward to performing more of it in the years to come.
— Matthew Troy, conductor
Alan Theisen is among those rare musicians whom I revere for their excellence as composer/performer or performer/composer; however, in Alan’s case, which should come first, composer or performer, and if one could determine that much... what genre would come first - jazz or classical?
— Clare Shore, composer