Nicola Melville, Piano
1. Soirée Macabre: with demons on the dance floor 3:46 Carter Pann
2. Tango Gardél 4:44 Stacy Garrop
Hommage ą trois Mark Olivieri
3. Luca’s Swell
(Hommage ą Copland) 4:26
(Hommage ą Takemitsu) 2:36
5. Funk for Nikki
(Hommage ą James Brown) 3:47
6. Appalachian Breakdown 4:35 Phillip Rhodes
7. Explosions 3:57 Stephen Paulus
8. Barcarola Latinoamericana 5:02 Gabriela Lena Frank
9. Night on the Prairies 3:49 Alex Freeman
10. Love Twitters 3:13 Augusta Read Thomas
3 preludes to missing the point Doug Opel
11. It Gets Complicated 4:01
12. Gospel 1:13
13. Eine Kinda Bachmusik, pt. 2 2:59
14. Etude No. 2: Defensive Chili 4:35 Marc Mellits
15. Hitchin’ - a travellin’ groove 3:25 Judith Lang Zaimont
16. Sourpuss 6:27 Kevin Beavers
17. I remember the 60’s…or was it the 70’s? 4:37 Phil Fried
Nicola Melville, a native of New Zealand, has lived and worked in the United States since 1990. She has been described as having “an original and intelligent musical mind” (Waikato Times), “…the sort of advocate any composer would love.” (Dominion Post, New Zealand). She has been a prizewinner in several competitions in the U.S., and has appeared throughout the country as a recitalist, concerto soloist and chamber musician, with live appearances broadcast on Canadian, U.S. and Chinese National Radios. She has also appeared in concert in Canada, England and France, and has toured New Zealand regularly. Nicola has won both the National Concerto Competition and the Auckland Star Concerto Competition in New Zealand. She attended Victoria University School of Music, Wellington, then earned Masters and Doctoral degrees from the Eastman School of Music in New York, where she was awarded the Lizzie T. Mason prize for Outstanding Graduate Pianist, and the prestigious Performer's Certificate.
Nicola has a particular affinity for contemporary music, having commissioned and premiered many works in the U.S. and in New Zealand. She was a founding member of The Gerstl Ensemble, is a current member of the Renegade Ensemble in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St Paul, and is a founding member of the new cross-cultural chamber group, Intersection. She was won grants from such organizations as Meet the Composer, Creative New Zealand, the Argosy Fund for Contemporary Music, the Ohio Arts Council, the Southeast Minnesota Arts Council, and the Jerome Composers Commissioning Program for the commissioning, performing and recording of new music. Nicola is Assistant Professor at Carleton College, Minnesota, and is on the resident faculty of the Chautauqua Summer Festival, New York.
Throughout my life as a musician, my most transformative experiences continue to be those that involve collaborating with a composer on a new work. I first experienced programming and performing new works by living composers alongside traditional works as a student pianist in New Zealand. I remember vividly what a revelation it was to work with these composers in real time, how liberating it was to be able to ask things we will never be able to ask the great composers of past times: “I can’t stretch this chord, would you rather I leave out a note or spread it?”; “this passage seems to need rubato – what do you think?” As a performer it is a thrill to be a part of two phases of the life of a composition: its creation and its realization. My musical life has been much the richer for it.
The significance of these experiences inspired me to find a way to share this privileged perspective on music-making with the students at Carleton College, Minnesota. I wanted my students to learn new pieces with me, to meet the challenge of dissecting an unrecorded score, to find their own voice in these new notes – notes rich with possibility but without the familiar and sometimes comfortable burden of tradition and expectation. And so this commissioning project was born. I gave this project’s esteemed collective of composers some very specific directives – an aurally recognizable style of the Americas, suitable for an advanced high school or liberal arts student, readily approachable and accessible. They came back to me with the wonderful kaleidoscope of sounds you hear on this recording. The talent and vision of these composers speaks so clearly – directives that had I had feared might seem restrictive were cajoled and molded to provide an authentic and compelling vehicle for each of their individual voices.
The thirteen composers featured in this project have been just as inspired, generous, and supportive as I could have wished, and my hope is that our collaborative efforts will bring some wonderful new pieces into the lives of young performing musicians and concert audiences around the world.
– Nicola Melville
1. Soirée Macabre
Soirée Macabre is a piece of haunted salon music. Imagine a cadaverous Vincent Price playing this ghost-waltz to an audience of zombie socialites milling about at the grand escalier. A monstrous old chandelier hanging sentinel above the fray. The harmonies are blood-soaked and often imbued with hidden malevolence, mixing extravagance with the sinister.
Carter Pann has had performances around the world, including the London, Vancouver, National Repertory, Budapest, Polish National, Swedish Radio, Finnish Radio, and Berlin Radio Symphonies. In 2000 his Piano Concerto was nominated for a Grammy Award, and in 2001 he was a finalist at the International Masterprize Competition in London. As a pianist he has written many works for the instrument, and is currently working on a Second Piano Concerto with Winds for 20 universities around the country.
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2. Tango Gardél
Carlos Gardél (1890-1935) was the most famous Argentine tango singer of his time. He had already an established performing career when in 1917 he began experimenting with the tango, which was at that time simply an instrumental form. He created the “tango-canciones” or tango songs, in which he fashioned text to music. Audiences went wild over this new development of the tango, and Gardél spent much of the rest of his career composing and performing tango-canciones. Typically, subject matter of these songs consisted of mournful, longing ballads of love. Gardél’s life was tragically cut short in a plane crash when he was at the height of his career; his untimely death catapulted him to the status of legend in Buenos Aires and beyond.
Tango Gardél is a tribute to Carlos. Amid dramatic flourishes, you hear Carlos’s voice, represented by a singing solo played mid-range on the piano as the music rapidly migrates through moments of rage, loneliness, and tenderness.
Stacy Garrop has received several awards and grants including the 2006/07 Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble’s 2006/07 Harvey Gaul Competition, the 2005 Raymond and Beverly Sackler Music Composition Prize, and 2005 and 2001 Barlow Endowment commissions. She has attended many residencies, including Aspen Music Festival, Banff Centre for the Arts, MacDowell Colony, Oxford Summer Institute, and Yaddo. Dr. Garrop is an Associate Professor in Composition at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. www.garrop.com
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3-5. Hommage ą trois
When I was asked to write a piece for this project, I thought back to my experience as a young musician taking piano lessons and picking out repertoire with my teacher. I would always ask for more “current” pieces along with the list of usual suspects – Bach, Beethoven, Brahms – just about any composer whose last name started with a “B”.
I decided to write a trio of homages to three musicians who were very influential early on in my pursuit toward a career in music: Aaron Copland, Toru Takemitsu, and James Brown. The first Copland piece I remember learning was his Four Piano Blues, a series of four short piano pieces that all had a distinctive blues rhetoric. I was in high school the first time I played Toru Takemitsu’s Litany for Piano; a score he wrote in memory of his pianist friend Michael Vyner. The gestural language and pacing of this piece was very attractive to me. Finally, I spent much of my time in high school transcribing jazz solos and working out funk tunes while I should have been practicing the aforementioned “holy trinity”. As a result, this music has always remained with me, and continues to find ways of seeping into less derivative works that I write in a seemingly unconscious and organic way.
Mark Olivieri has been Composer in Residence in the Department of Dance at SUNY Brockport since 2000. He has played and composed for the dance companies of luminaries like the Jose Limon, Sean Curran, Lar Lubovitch, Doug Varone, and Shapiro and Smith Dance Companies. As a pianist, Olivieri performs regularly with choreographer and dance icon Bill Evans. Olivieri is the founder and co-artistic director of the Vision of Sound New Music and Dance Festival.
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6. Appalachian Breakdown
The source material for Appalachian Breakdown comes from an old Appalachian banjo tune called “Cluck Ol’ Hen” (also variously known as “Cluckin’ Hen” and “Cacklin’ Hen”). There are, of course, as many variants of this famous tune as there are musicians who play it. This particular version of the tune comes from the family of Sheila K. Adams of Madison County, North Carolina.
In its original state, the first half of the tune is traditional pentatonic (D-F-G-A-C-D) and implies, more or less, the key of D-minor. With the appearance of F-sharp in the refrain, D-major comes to mind, but in conjunction with C-natural, the Mixolydian mode on D is brought into play. For the sake of variety – and just for the fun of it – I have added to the other scales an octatonic scale on D, which creates a very different-sounding pitch region (D-E-F-G-Ab-Bb-B-C#-D). I like to think that my approach to this music from my particular region of the United States is akin to Bartok’s use of Hungarian folk music in his work.
When these pieces were played by traditional string bands (most often for dances), each player in turn took a “break,” providing imaginative variations for the seemingly endless repeats of the tune. Instrumental pieces grounded in these techniques and styles of playing – idiomatic, imaginative and virtuosic – eventually come to be called “breakdowns” in Bluegrass music. Perhaps the most famous example of this genre is Flatt and Scruggs’ “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” The Appalachian Breakdown was commissioned by and is dedicated to Nicola Melville.
Phillip Rhodes (b. 1940) is Emeritus Composer-in-Residence and Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Carleton College where he taught from 1974 to 2006. He received degrees from Duke University and the Yale University School of Music; he has been the recipient of numerous commissions and awards including grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, a Bush Foundation Fellowship for Artists, two McKnight Fellowships, and two Fromm Foundation Commissions.
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Explosions is one of only a few works that I have written for solo piano. Having studied piano for around 12 years, I have always steered clear of writing solo works for “my” instrument and found this to be the case with numerous composer colleagues of mine as well. I am grateful, though, for the opportunity to write this work for Nicola Melville. It employs mixed meter, and splashes of tonality interspersed with dissonances that add flavor to the work. My intent was to create, in 4 minutes, a work that would traverse a range of emotions through the flexible use of meter, range, dynamics and pitches. The somewhat eruptive nature of the piece suggested the title “Explosions” to me.
Stephen Paulus received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota where he studied with Dr. Paul Fetler. He has been the recipient of Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships and is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from Macalester College. Paulus has been a Composer In Residence for the Minnesota Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Annapolis Symphony, the Tucson Symphony and the Dale Warland Singers. He is a member of the ASCAP Board of Directors, and is a Co-Founder of the American Composers Forum. www.stephenpaulus.com
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8. Barcarola Latinoamericana
Barcarola Latinoamericana (2007) for solo piano is a folkloric piece inspired by the vital folk-fusion musical culture in Latin America today. It is not uncommon nowadays to encounter Andean panpipe ensembles infused with the drumbeats of Colombian cumbia, Central American marimba music spiced with South American sesquiáltera (“changing sixes”) rhythms, or Mexican mariachi bands that also play Venezuelan joropos, albeit with a rather brassy flair. It is in this spirit that Barcarola Latinoamerican was composed, drawing on harmonies, rhythms, and tremolos common to a number of different guitar-playing genres of Latin America. The characteristic lyricism of vocal music is also evoked, such as in the use of sudden changes in dynamics and registers.
A member of G. Schirmer’s roster of artists, Gabriela Lena Frank has been hailed as representing “the next generation of American composers.” Her work has been elected to Chamber Music America’s list of “Top One Hundred and One Great American Ensemble Works” and incorporate Latino/Latin American mythology, archeology, art, poetry, and folk music into western classical forms, reflecting her Peruvian-Jewish heritage. Born in Berkeley in 1972, Gabriela freelances fulltime and makes her home in the San Francisco Bay Area, traveling frequently in Latin America.
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9. Night on the Prairies
Night on the Prairies was composed for Nicola Melville shortly after I moved to Northfield, Minn. My recent orchestral and choral work, The River Between, contains Whitman’s Night on the Prairies and served as an inspiration for this piano composition. As I had never actually lived on the prairie before moving to Minnesota to teach, I felt a new connection to that text after many walks through Carleton College’s beautiful and expansive arboretum. This short piece attempts to evoke something of the purity of those natural surroundings, while also giving allusion to a kind of simple campfire tune that perhaps Whitman’s “wearied emigrants” might have sung or whistled as “the fire on the ground burns low”.
Alex Freeman (b. 1972) grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. He holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music, Boston University and the Juilliard School, where his major teachers were Samuel Adler, Warren Benson, Joseph Schwantner, David Liptak, Christopher Rouse, Charles Fussell and Richard Cornell. The recipient of a Fulbright Full Fellowship, he moved to Helsinki in 2001 to research Sibelius’s sketches and study composition with Eero Hämeenniemi at the Sibelius Academy. Dr. Freeman is Assistant Professor of Music at Carleton College.
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10. Love Twitters
When Nicola Melville asked me to compose a piece for solo piano that was musically recognizable as an American-style work, the result was my Love Twitters, which uses Irving Berlin’s “They Say it’s Wonderful” as its basis.
Love Twitters is a jittery, twittering, energized, fun, spirited work. The pianist is asked to accentuate the jittery rhythms throughout making a clear difference between different rhythmic blocks (2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, 6s, 7s, etc.). The fermatas are meant to add to the “stop/start” changeable moods; likewise, the grace notes are meant to throw the beat off, making the pulse less stable. Love Twitters should be played as fast as possible.
Augusta Read Thomas (b. 1964) is one of America’s leading composers, her works having been performed to acclaim throughout the world. In 2007, her Astral Canticle was one of the two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Music.
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11-13. 3 Preludes to Missing the Point
Three preludes to missing the point is my contribution to this ambitious project created by my friend Nicola Melville. For this piece, Nikki stated a preference for music that would clearly reflect a popular American style or styles. In that spirit, I chose three popular styles for 3 short character pieces: a funk feel couched in a reduced theme and variations form for It Gets Complicated; an improvisational keyboard style with a Southern Baptist Church feel for Gospel, and for Eine Kinda Bachmusik, pt.2; a dark and smoky, jazz-style variation on portions of J.S. Bach’s Fugue No. 22 in B-flat minor, BWV867 from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I.
The title comes from Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth, which I was reading at the time of composition. Toward the end of the story, Roth uses the phrase - “prelude to missing the point” - to describe how the main character views the numerous mistakes he has made throughout his life. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to draw a musical parallel for my own purposes, taking prelude to mean a musical introduction and also using it as a metaphor for the current cultural, spiritual and political state of the world and here in the U.S. This work is funded by the American Composers Forum's Jerome Composers Commissioning Program.
Doug Opel is a native of Richmond, Indiana, and now resides on New York’s Long Island. His music explores amalgamations of contemporary chamber/orchestral, rock, jazz, pop and electronic influences to develop a compositional language that is at once dark and humorous, controlled and chaotic, classical and contemporary. His music has been performed in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S., with commissions by such artists and ensembles as bass-baritone Timothy Jones, the MATA Micro-Orchestra and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. A recipient of the 2003-04 Aaron Copland Award, he holds degrees from Ball State University, the University of Michigan and Indiana University.
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14. Etude No. 2: Defensive Chili
Writing music for me always starts with a seed, usually one chord, or one sound. An entire composition will then be built from this one starting point. Etude No. 2: Defensive Chili has an opening chord in the right hand which is this germinating seed. Thus, the entire composition is built from this opening sound. All of the harmonic structures and melodic material are derived from this initial sound, always keeping motivic cohesion in the work. Therefore, the opening chord dictates all the musical material throughout the work. It is turned upside down, on its side and arpeggiated, dismantled and recombined to form melodic material, and stretched out to form an overall harmonic scheme. Repetitive motivic patterns spanning across this harmonic landscape are all built from this same seed.
One can go to a competitive chili cook-off and taste many different chilis, which are all built from the same building blocks. Mine would be defensive.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Marc Mellits has studied at the Eastman School of Music, Yale School of Music, Cornell University, and Tanglewood. Mellits is one of the leading American composers of his generation, enjoying many performances throughout the United States and Canada, as well as in Europe. Mellits has received many awards for his music, including, in 2004, the prestigious Foundation for Contemporary Arts Award. Mellits’ most recent commissions include pieces for internationally acclaimed artists such as the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Kronos String Quartet and Bang On A Can All-Stars.
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15. Hitchin’ – a travellin’ groove
There’s something about hitching a ride – you’re standing right beside the roadway, thumb up and out, expectations high! Hitchin’ – a travellin’ groove builds that same sense of adventure, balancing musically between the known and the unknown.
A single rhythmic cell becomes the jumping-off point to explore the piano: hands close together or widely spaced, in several registers; dynamics at many levels, including very soft and very loud – sometimes gradually increasing or decreasing, sometimes shifting quite suddenly; using the pedal to hold together complex sonorities built up over several beats; articulations at times crisp, at times smooth. And the beat always travels, but in phrases of varying length, from two bars to three, to four – or even one. (Do you hear the word hitchin’ in the basic rhythm?) Finally this trip, like any other, comes to its close, disappearing first to the keyboard’s top in dry filigree, then braking to a full stop.
Judith Lang Zaimont’s music is internationally acclaimed for its expressive strength and dynamism. Her composition awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, commission grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and American Composers Forum, a 2003 Aaron Copland Award and a 2005 Bush Foundation Fellowship. Her works are widely published and recorded, extensively researched, and have served as competition repertoire for international piano and conducting competitions. www.jzaimont.com
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At some point in time I had a strange affliction: an addiction to overly pretty sounds that threaten to make my music timid and saccharine. Like the flu that wouldn’t leave the body, the lurid appeal of these sounds was difficult to shake. Thankfully, the delightfully debauched and degenerate character that is my friend Sourpuss came along and helped me out of the rut. He’s been a terrific muse. He has an affinity for music, but he’s too cramped and reclusive for the opera, and too bad-mannered for the symphony. He’s better found in the dark corners of dirty cafés in Berlin or former New Orleans fretting away his tunes on worn-out pianos. He’s a blues man of dark – even black – moods, a knower of the pained soul of jazz, a quirky dancer with what some believe to be a soft spot hidden somewhere under impenetrably thick skin. I sat down after my last encounter with him to record to music my recollections.
Sourpuss is divided into five tableaux: ‘waking Sourpuss,’ ‘boorish behavior,’ ‘Sourpuss dancing,’ ‘Sourpuss the romantic,’ and ‘loose and saucy.’ The first, ‘waking Sourpuss’ takes on the beginnings of his day, half asleep, humming his gruff, bluesy tune, and is followed by ‘boorish behavior’ when he becomes finally, fully awake, animated, and most exceedingly grumpy. But, as he settles down, he begins ‘Sourpuss dancing,’ a strange left-footed dance more inspired by thumbsy Thelonious Monk than smooth Ellington. Dancing brings out ‘Sourpuss the romantic,’ and his tune becomes elongated with deep-throated mellowness. He imagines himself as Sinatra, but nobody else would ever see it that way. Intoxicated, he jumps into the finale, a ‘loose and saucy’ number. He’s thought about scoring the last little bit for a big band, but he thinks better of it. Better, he thinks to himself, to hammer away at it by his very lonely self in this very lonesome corner of this very lonely nowhere.
Kevin Beavers (b. 1971, Medellín, Colombia) has degrees from West Virginia University (BM) and the University of Michigan (MM and DMA) and he has studied at Tanglewood and in Amsterdam. Beavers has taught at the Interlochen Arts Camp and the University of Texas in Austin. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and commissions including the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Centennial Composition Competition and the ASCAP Nissim Prize.
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17. I remember the 60’s…or was it the 1970’s?
This work fits into my educational/satirical works, which are generally tonal and fun, expressing a time and a place. When Nikki asked me to write a solo piano work in a popular style I resisted at first; most of my work to date in this vein was vocal because text makes the satire apparent. Then I thought about the many years I spent as a rock and roll musician performing in such places as CBGB’s and realized — I had a legacy to preserve! This piano work is based on a song I started to write when I was 15. I reverse-engineered a riff to go with my original ideas, and there you have it!!
Phil Fried (b. 1955) grew up in Greenwich Village, New York City. As a composer he has had performances and residencies with The Minnesota Orchestra, the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France; The Tanglewood Music Festival, The Festival at Sandpoint, June in Buffalo, Music of Our Time, and Centre Acanthes in Avignon, France. Awards include a Creative Connections grant from Meet the Composer, a Fromm Foundation Commission Grant, the American Composers’ Forum Commissioning Grant, and many ASCAP awards, including a Bernstein Grant. Phil can be heard around the Twin Cities performing free jazz.
All notes by the composers
Recorded in the Carleton College Concert Hall, November 20 and 21, 2007
Recording and editing engineer: John Scherf
Piano technician: Mark Humphrey
Producer: Nicola Melville
Production assistant: Jill Dawe
Art works created and photographed by: Kelly Connole, www.kellyconnole.com
Melville photo: Marie Cornuelle,
The Chautauquan Daily
Funding for commissioning and recording provided by: The Argosy Contemporary Music Fund, The Jerome Composer Commissioning Program, The Southeast Minnesota Arts Council, Carleton College Office of the Dean of the College, and a Hewlett Presidential Grant.
innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.
Philip Blackburn, director, design
Chris Campbell, operations manager