Both the work and the life of composer and violinist David Handler are distinguished by striking dualities.
His life followed the traditional path of the classical musician, marked by rigorous training and conservatory studies in violin and composition, before he decided to pursue a riskier, more entrepreneurial approach to music. He became a creative disruptor, co-founding (Le) Poisson Rouge (LPR), a boundary-breaking venue in New York, NY that has opened doors for his fellow performers and connected audiences with unheard music. As a composer, Handler has collaborated with leading classical performers and popular artists alike, and has received premieres and commissions from Central Park’s Naumburg Orchestral Concerts, BAM and Lincoln Center.
In Handler’s earliest memories of music — his parents’ record collection and car radio — he could always identify and focus on the violin, no matter the arrangement. Concerned about the pressure of performance training at a young age but unable to ignore his uncanny ear, Handler’s parents sent him for violin lessons at the age of three. He attended the Professional Children’s School where he introduced his fellow students and friends to classical music by connecting it to other genres — Stravinsky for metalheads, French Impressionists for jazzers, minimalists for club kids — before enrolling at the Manhattan School of Music where he earned a bachelor’s degree, studying violin and viola performance, composition and conducting.
Handler composes acoustic and electronic music that has been described by The New York Times as “eerie and superbly wrought…exploring polarities of light and dark, the sacred and the profane.” His beautifully broken sound juxtaposes seemingly dissonant elements: the acoustic with the electronic (“Lullaby for Piano and Electronics”) and the soothingly pastoral with the strikingly percussive (“Sun-Bled Sky”). For Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival he was commissioned to create an arrangement for orchestra and voice of Riceboy Sleeps, an album-length ambient electronic piece, written and performed on disc by Sigur Rós vocalist Jón Pór “Jónsi” Birgisson and his partner Alex Somers. Handler succeeded brilliantly in reimagining this “bedroom recording” work for a major public performance, enhancing its depth and beauty. Similarly, on his own “Smile,” Handler deconstructs the classic Charlie Chaplin tune into something more portentous and broken in feel; the piece finds hopeful snatches of the familiar melody rising to the disquieting surface.
In 2007, disillusioned with the conservatory setting — and recognizing the art world’s need for popularity and nightlife’s need for substance — Handler founded LPR with Justin Kantor, a former conservatory classmate. The basement space occupies the prior site of venerable Bleecker Street jazz club The Village Gate. The venue has been credited with reviving the symbiotic relationship between art and revelry, reinvigorating the musical landscape for a wide variety of artists and audiences. Among many iconic artists and emerging talents, LPR has hosted performances by Thom Yorke, Paul Simon, Yo-Yo Ma, Lady Gaga, Iggy Pop, Lorde, Beck and Philip Glass.
Handler believed that packaging, more than content, had dissociated younger listeners from the arts, and from classical music specifically, so with LPR he revived the concept of the salon, a traditional but often forgotten environment for classical music that strips away pretension for a more intimate connection between artist and listener. The New Yorker has described Handler as the “Ian Schrager of the music scene” while The New York Times has called LPR a “forward-thinking venue that seeks to showcase disparate music styles under one roof” and the “coolest place to hear contemporary music.” The Los Angeles Times has said of LPR, the “place isn’t merely cool… the venue is a downright musical marvel.”
LPR programming has expanded to include LPR Presents, a trailblazing booking and promotion company that has presented unique and unforgettable live performances at a wide range of venues across New York City, including Union Pool, C’mon Everybody, Knockdown Center, The Town Hall, Brooklyn Masonic Temple, Prospect Park Bandshell, The Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, Beacon Theatre and Apollo Theater.
Handler is the Founding Artistic and Executive Director of Ensemble LPR, an orchestral collective that varies in size from string quartet to symphony orchestra and personifies the venue's commitment to aesthetic diversity and artistic excellence. The group has worked with esteemed classical musicians, conductors and composers, including Lara St. John, Simone Dinnerstein, Jennifer Koh, Daniel Hope, André de Ridder, Christopher Rountree and Max Richter, as well as prominent artists from non-classical backgrounds such as Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead), David Longstreth (Dirty Projectors), Bryce Dessner (The National), Oscar-nominated composer Mica Levi, John Lurie and San Fermin.
Handler is the creator and host of the online radio show “Music to Live By” and has spoken on the subject of creativity and entrepreneurship at The North American Critics Alliance at Lincoln Center, University of Missouri – Kansas City, New York University, Syracuse University, Hunter College, The New School and The Manhattan School of Music. Handler joins Philip Glass, Nico Muhly, and Rufus Wainwright on the roster of St Rose management.
Ten years on, LPR continues to thrive and Handler’s own artistry has been deepened by his role as a creative disruptor, the doors he has opened for fellow performances, and the unheard music he has introduced to audiences. As Handler returns full-time to his work as a composer, it’s clear that his best is yet to come.
Handler is a citizen of the United States and Ireland, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and children.
Eerie and superbly wrought...exploring polarities of light and dark, the sacred and
New York Times