Dennis Tobenski is a composer, singer, and die-hard advocate for living composers. As a composer and performer, he embraces emotional complexity and honesty, and never shies away from vulgarity or a good laugh (no polite chuckles, please). Whether he’s behind the microphone as the host of the Music Publishing Podcast or working as the creator and driving force behind the NewMusicShelf Anthologies of New Music, he lifts his colleagues up, and works to build structures and communities that he wished he’d had as a young musician. Dennis lives in NYC with his husband Darien Shulman and their cat Pistachio.
Dennis Tobenski is a composer of acoustic new music whose work has been described by Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times as “distinctive and engaging”. He is also a vocalist and a strong advocate for new music and for the interests of living composers.
Dennis’s Only Air, a 20-minute work for high voice and orchestra memorializing the gay teenagers who have taken their own lives in recent years, was commissioned and premiered by the Illinois State University Symphony Orchestra. A chamber version of the piece was commissioned and premiered by The Secret Opera, based in NYC. The chamber version received its West Coast premiere by members of the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony as a part of the American Psychiatric Association’s annual Institute on Psychiatric Services.
Called a “dynamic vocalist” by Mr. Tommasini, and “a skillful and sensitive singer who shapes phrases and renders text with expert care” by Gregory Berg of Journal of Singing, Dennis’s focus as a vocalist is primarily on the works of the 21st and late 20th centuries. He has premiered works by David Del Tredici, Chester Biscardi, Ricky Ian Gordon, Darien Shulman, and Hadar Noiberg, among others.
He frequently collaborates with pianist Marc Peloquin, and together the duo released their first album together, a disc of 19 art songs by living American composers. The album, titled And He’ll Be Mine features works by David Del Tredici, Chester Biscardi, Zachary Wadsworth, Darien Shulman, and Dennis Tobenski.
In 2010, Dennis founded NewMusicShelf, an online marketplace for independently-published composers to sell digital editions of their scores. In 2018, he expanded the scope of the business into publishing, and created the NewMusicShelf Anthologies of New Music. The inaugural volumes are four voice type-specific collections of art songs: 80 songs by 63 composers from around the world, curated by professional singers. The Anthologies expanded into instrumental music in 2019. The mission of the Anthologies is to bring new and unknown composers and repertoire to the awareness of both student and professional performers, and to foster a stronger new music community through collaboration. In 2021, NewMusicShelf became the first publisher in the world to release a collection of vocal works specifically for trans and nonbinary singers.
From 2006 to 2010, Dennis co-directed the Tobenski-Algera Concert Series with composer Jeff Algera. The Series premiered over two dozen works, and was dedicated to presenting and promoting works by young and emerging composers.
Dennis also has also hosted two music business-centered podcasts aimed at helping composers and performers to learn more about the practical aspects of their careers: the Music Publishing Podcast, a weekly, hour-long conversation with other professionals in the field of concert music, and The Composer’s Guide to Doing Business, where he answers questions and discusses current issues the new music community. The podcasts came out of a blog series that he wrote from 2012 to 2015, also titled The Composer’s Guide to Doing Business, which can be read on Dennis’ website.
Dennis received his B.Mus. in Vocal Performance and Music Theory & Composition in 2004 from Illinois State University, and his M.A. in Music Composition from The City College of New York in 2009. His principal teachers have included David Del Tredici, Chester Biscardi, and David Feurzeig. He has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Prairie Center of the Arts, the Ucross Foundation, and the Staunton Music Festival. He a member of the Board of Advisors of Composers Now, and the Board of Directors for the KeyedUp MusicProject, and New Music Recordings, Inc. In 2022, he also joined the Board of Directors of the Music Publishers Association of the United States.
He is the first recipient of the Wonsook Kim School of Music at Illinois State University’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award.
Dennis lives in New York City with his husband Darien Scott Shulman and their cat Pistachio.