Now approaching his 70th birth year, Poul Ruders has cemented his place among a handful of the world's leading symphonic and operatic composers. Born in Ringsted, Denmark, Ruders trained as a pianist and organist, and was known early on for his extravagant organ improvisations in the churches of Denmark. His first compositions date from his late teens.
Ruders has produced an impressive catalog that features five operas, five numbered symphonies, and more than one hundred symphonic, chamber, solo and vocal works. His best known opera is "The Handmaid's Tale" (1996-98), based on Margaret Atwood's dystopic novel (produced in Copenhagen, London, Toronto, Minnesota). His most recent opera is "The Thirteenth Child" (2014-2016), a fairytale opera based on a story by The Brothers Grimm (first production 2019). Between those operas Ruders composed "Selma Jezková" (2007), based on Lars von Trier’s film "Dancer in the Dark". "Selma" has been produced in the USA, Germany, Sweden, and Denmark.
Ruders's music has been the subject of considerable analysis and was recently the subject of a 439-page book, "Acoustical Canvases, The Music of Poul Ruders", but his art is not easily pigeon-holed, and seems to defy those who would label it with clearly definable boundaries. Critic Stephen Johnson wrote that: “Ruders can be gloriously, explosively extrovert one minute-withdrawn, haunted, intently inward-looking the next." If anything might be a constant in his work, it is the desire and ability to make the unexpected choice.
Ruders has composed works for dozens of orchestras throughout Europe, North America,and Asia, including the Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the Royal Danish Opera. He is presently completing an accordion concerto commissioned by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and the Victoria Symphony (Canada) and has a steady stream of recordings appearing on the DaCapo and Bridge label.
Writing about Ruders's latest opera production in the New York Times:
"Mr. Ruders is a prodigiously skilled and daringly imaginative craftsman, and "Kafka's Trial" is a brilliant achievement: a grotesquely comic, bitterly satirical and, ultimately, deeply moving work that hooks you for two onrushing and uninterrupted hours."
- Anthony Tommasini
Writing about Ruders's opera "The Handmaid's Tale" in the Minnesota Opera production in USA Today:
"Thickly clouded, ominous harmonies give way to poignant minimalist tonality as Offred recalls her lost happiness with her lover and child from the Time Before. Terrifying orchestral swells segue into silence, while the tune of Amazing Grace is threaded through the score in distortions that musically mirror Gilead's own enforced perversion. Ruders' idiosyncratic style draws on many sources, not as a postmodern hodge-podge but as a refined technique to differentiate the story's psychological polarities."
- Thomas May
"...His orchestrations hallucinate and illuminate in amazing ways. Hear him. Now."
- Edward Seckerson, The Independent