After focusing primarily on contemporary compositions for a number of years (performing with DC/Baltimore groups such as the Great Noise Ensemble and Mobtown Modern), Nathan Bontrager began to merge this modernist aesthetic with his abilities as a skilled improviser. The result is a constantly evolving sound in conversation with both historical and current voices. Bontrager most frequently performs with the chamber improvisation/new music trio Broadcloth (with Anne Rhodes and Adam Matlock) as well as solo shows of original works. He also collaborates frequently with composers and performers such as Carl Testa, James Ilgenfritz, Al Margolis, and others. Bontrager has also performed with Anthony Braxton, Michael Moore, the Tri-Centric Orchestra, Taylor Ho Bynum, Kyoko Kitamura, Hugues Vincent, and many others in venues such as the Stone, Roulette, Zaal 100, and Bab-ilo.
Recognizing that all modern music has some connection to folk music, Bontrager is also active in adapting music from oral traditions from many global voices to the cello. With the ensemble Dr. Caterwauls Cadre of Clairvoyant Claptraps (with Brian Slattery, Adam Matlock, and Micheal Paolucci), he explores everything from old-time American fiddle tunes to Zimbabwean mbira music to Finnish tangos. This pursuit has helped Bontrager to establish a real versatility as a cellist with an ability to move quickly from rhythmic bass lines to rhetorical melodies across a variety of genres. Dr. Caterwauls has performed on bills with groups such as the David Wax Museum and the Fishtank Ensemble and frequently acts as a backing band for various artists.
Bontrager is also active as a performer of early music on Baroque cello and viola da gamba. With the early music trio Entwyned, he plays throughout the Northeast including at the Boston Early Music Fringe Festival. His teachers have included Kenneth Slowik, Martha McGaughey, Phoebe Carrai, and Myron Lutzke. Bontrager has collaborated with NYC-based empire viols, Arthur Haas, the American Baroque Orchestra, and others. Future plans include post-graduate study on Baroque cello in Europe as well as continued efforts to bring the viol into the world of experimental improvisation.
In addition to performing, Bontrager is a committed educator for students of all ages. He has a large private studio in New Haven and is on the teaching faculty at the Foote School and New Haven Academy. In addition to private instruction, he also coaches various chamber ensembles and teaches string orchestra and concert band and is the choir director and organist and St. Peter's Episcopal Church of Milford, CT.