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Program for Lee Alan Nolan – From Rags to Mystics

Friday, July 22, 2022 at 8 pm

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From Rags to Mystics

Lee Alan Nolan, piano


Lubomyr Melnyk (b. 1948)
Pockets of Light (2013)

Scott Joplin (c.1867–1917)
Reflection Rag (1908)
Palm Leaf Rag (1903)

Bruce Christian Bennett (b. 1968)
Schematic Nocturne (1997)
for Lee Alan Nolan; 25th anniversary

May Aufderheide (1888–1972)
The Thriller! (1909)

Vera Ivanova (b. 1977)
Three Studies in Uneven Meters (2011)
Canon á la Piazzolla

Alexander Scriabin (1872–1915)
Sonata No. 7, ‘White Mass’ (1911)

Irene Giblin (1888–1974)
Chicken Chowder (1905)

About the music

Lubomyr Melnyk (b. 1948) is a composer and pianist of Ukrainian origin. Melnyk is noted for his Continuous Music, a piano technique based on extremely rapid notes and complex note-series, usually with the sustain (damper) pedal held down to generate harmonic overtones and sympathetic resonances. A portion of the statement Melnyk issues in his printed score of Pockets of Light and other pieces: “This music offers you a new dimension of your own self that you did not know existed … a delightful place where you feel the total freedom of the music opening up before you, a vast plain where you can sail and frolic freely anywhere you wish to go …”. He cites that Pockets of Light is an example of “pure Continuous Music”, which indicates that it uses an alternate notation to convey a partially improvised element: it is often up to the performer when the next harmonic shift occurs. He writes: “The piano part of Pockets of Light was originally conceived as a ‘study’ for beginners wishing to learn the Continuous Technique. I used this piece as the basis for my first collaboration with Peter Broderick on the album Corollaries.”

Scott Joplin (c.1867–1917) was the son of a freed slave, the “King of Ragtime”, and probably the first widely famous African American composer. Ragtime was a musical style borne out of the Black community at that time, evolving from the playing of so-called honky-tonk pianists along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in the late 1800s. There were influences on ragtime from syncopated cakewalk rhythms, stylings from the banjo (originally an African instrument), and minstrel show music. Joplin’s exact date of birth is lost, undoubtedly because of careless or nonexistent record-keeping for the offspring of freed slaves, which his father, Giles Joplin, was. Available documents point to Scott Joplin’s birth being between June 1867 and mid-January 1868. Interestingly, Wikipedia reports “circa November 24, 1868” as his date of birth, which is quite outside the aforementioned time frame. In any case, in his truncated lifespan he composed over 100 ragtime pieces, 2 operas, and a ragtime ballet. Scott Joplin in his compositions elevated the genre of ragtime into an art form, fusing the style with classical training and knowledge he gained through a German piano teacher, Julius Weiss. Starting when Joplin was 11 years old, Weiss gave him lessons in piano, ear training, sight reading, and harmony free of cost. There is a subtlety and complexity in his harmonic and melodic treatment not present in most other ragtime composers. Reflection Rag was apparently started in 1904, and then Joplin circled back and finished composing it in 1908. It has five different sections—one (or two) more than the usual—the fourth of which is particularly Classical in its counterpoint and texture. Palm Leaf Rag was composed earlier, in 1903, and one historian accounts that possibly while in Chicago submitted it to rag-centric publisher Victor Kremer. Palm Leaf Rag was a favorite with ragtime orchestras even over a century later.

Bruce Christian Bennett (b. 1968) is a native of Seattle and is currently residing in San Francisco. He received his Ph.D. in music composition from the University of California, Berkeley in 1999 where he studied composition with Richard Felciano and computer music with David Wessel. He received his M.M. in composition from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1993, where he studied composition with Andrew Imbrie, David Conte, and Elinor Armer; he received his B.A. in music from Reed College in 1990 where he was a student of David Schiff. He has received several honors, in addition to grants from meet the composer, he was awarded a commission from the Fromm Foundation in 2003 and the Prix Maurice Ravel in 1993. Schematic Nocturne was composed during the winter of 1996/1997 and was commissioned by pianist, Lee Alan Nolan. The piece explores a series of harmonic fields modeled after frequency modulation synthesis generated spectra. Several distinct types of music (fast, slow, wide interval leaps, scalar runs, descending dyads, etc.) are associated with specific registers and internal structures of the harmonic fields of the piece. These various types of music, as well as the harmonic fields themselves, are arranged in sequence and occasionally interpenetrate one another. The composition generally follows an overall arch form with a chorale-like coda near the end. The premiere performance was by the dedicatee, Lee Alan Nolan, at his San Francisco Conservatory Alumnus performance in May of 1997, which had a “Nocturne” theme with nocturnes from at least 3 other composers, and thus gave Mr. Bennett the construct, or at least mood and title with which to work and build this expansive single-movement piece. There are flavors of music here which Bennett knew were influences on Nolan as a pianist and musician: the music of Olivier Messiaen; ‘60s/‘70s rock (think Hammond B-3 organ); the Stravinsky/Bartók school during the ostinati; and tri-chords very reminiscent of those composed by Nolan’s mentor, Robert Helps.

May Frances Aufderheide (1988–1972) was born in Indianapolis, and her father was a capable violinist who chose a career in banking. His sister, May’s aunt May Kolmer was a talented pianist who had played public concerts with the Indianapolis Symphony, and later taught at the Metropolitan School of Music. Aufderheide took classical piano lessons from her aunt while in her teens, but always felt a lure to ragtime and popular music. A possible catalyst for her inspiration may have been when her cousin Frieda Aufderheide had The Flyer Rag published. By the summer of 1909, her father’s company was successful enough to purchase column space in the American Musician and Art Journal and declared Aufderheide to be “a composer with a future”, which mentioned two upcoming pieces of hers that were sure to be hits. They were Buzzer Rag and The Thriller!, the latter of which would become her best known work.

Vera Ivanova (b. 1977) teaches at Chapman University (Associate Professor of Music, Music Theory and Composition Department). She graduated from Moscow Conservatory (BM and MM), Guildhall School in London (MM), and Eastman School (Ph.D.) with degrees in music composition. Her compositions have been performed worldwide and received many national and international awards. Dr. Ivanova is a recipient of the Sproull Fellowship at Eastman, the Gwyn Ellis Bequest Scholarship at Guildhall School, Moscow Culture Committee and American Composers Forum Subito grants, the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers Award, and the André Chevillion-Yvonne Bonnaud Composition Prize at the 8th International Piano Competition at Orléans (France). Her Three Studies in Uneven Meters were composed in the Spring of 2011, and garnered her position of being the 2013 Earplay Donald Aird Composers Competition winner. This set of etudes is dedicated to several 20th‐century composers, who influenced my music in the past and whose compositional techniques are referenced in these three pieces. The first study (BartoKagel, and a little bit of Stravinsky), joins together personalities of three composers: Béla Bartók, Mauricio Kagel and Igor Stravinsky. All three composers were influenced by Eastern European and Russian folk music and, in their own turn, influenced each other’s music (Stravinsky influenced Bartók, and Bartók influenced Kagel). Second in this set is Canon à la Piazzolla, descending canon with all voices sustained. The theme of this canon is in the time signature of 5/16 and is reminiscent of some irregularities in the rhythmic pattern of a tango. The canon builds up as the voices are added and sustained, creating an accumulative effect that destroys the recognizable at first melodic motif. The last study (Scriabinesque, fleeting cycles) explores the harmonic world of Alexander Scriabin, restricted to its own rules of horizontal and vertical sonorities. Even though this study does not reproduce Scriabin’s harmonies, it makes use of interval “cycles” (chain of repeated intervals of the same type). Due to the sameness of interval cycles, the harmonic and vertical sonorities in this piece are locked (or “fixed”) and thus reference some of Scriabin’s etudes.

Alexander Scriabin (1872–1915) was born on Jan. 6, 1872, which was Christmas Day in the Old Style, before Russia started using the Gregorian calendar. Scriabin was trained as a soldier at the Moscow Cadet School from 1882 to 1889 but studied music at the same time and took piano lessons. In 1888 he entered the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied the piano with V. I. Safonov and composition with Sergey Taneyev and Anton Arensky. According to the Scriabin Society, “no one was more famous during his lifetime, and few were more quickly ignored after his death.” Although immediately upon Scriabin’s death, Sergei Rachmaninoff toured Russia in a series of all-Scriabin recitals. It was the first time he played music other than his own in public. Scriabin’s early style is reminiscent of Chopin, a composer Scriabin idolized. As he matured though, particularly around 1908–1909 when he lived in Brussels, his music became more and more mystical, egocentric, and insular. His harmonic language became vague and pushed towards what we could call atonality. By this time, he was no longer thinking in terms of music alone; he was looking forward to an all-embracing “Mystery.” Describing himself as a synesthetic (one who experiences the crossing of the senses), he invented the first notation for lights and colors based on his scale of Synesthetic Colors. His symphony Prometheus: The Poem of Fire (1909) was the first composition in history to have this notation, and employed use the Color Organ invented by Preston Millar. It also almost entirely was composed from the pitch matrix A D# G C# F# & B, which became known as the ‘mystic chord’. Scriabin declared that when he practiced and played his own late Sonatas, especially no. 7, the White Mass, and no. 9, the Black Mass, he was practicing sorcery. He stated that Sonata No. 7 was “an exorcism against the darkness of the sixth sonata”, subtitling the work White Mass in order to reflect its supernatural power. He intended the mood of the piece to be ecstatic, evoking images of winged flight, voluptuous rapture and overwhelming forces. The work is also rhythmically complex, including tuplets of 11s and many polyrhythms, especially 5 against 3, sometimes in the same hand.

Irene Giblin (1888–1974) was born in St. Louis, Missouri and was the oldest of six children. Having shown a natural talent for piano in her adolescence, she was first employed at the age of 14 as a music demonstrator by composers Eddie Dustin and Charles N. Daniels (aka Neil Morét) at the Grand Leader department store in St. Louis. Giblin was hired to play all of the latest hits from the Whitney-Warner (later the Jerome H. Remick) catalog. After a couple of years, she started composing her own music. From 1905–1911 Giblin published ten pieces, most of them piano rags, and most issued by Remick. Among them, Sleepy Lou and The Aviator Rag were substantial sellers. However, it was the straightforward Chicken Chowder that became her runaway hit. Composed before Giblin reached the age of 17, Chicken Chowder is neatly crafted with the same chromatic scale tying the A and C sections together, with the C section being in the subdominant key. The B section offers a slight contrast omitting the chromatic run, but really delivers with catchy riffs and discernible chicken-like gestures.

About the musician

Lee Alan Nolan received his Master of Music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and his Bachelor of Music degree from the University of South Florida in Tampa. His principal professors were Peggy Salkind in San Francisco and Robert Helps in Tampa and San Francisco. While studying with his great mentor, composer/pianist Robert Helps, Mr. Nolan discovered his facility for learning and performing contemporary classical works, and like his mentor before him, gave acclaimed premiere performances of works by William Susman, David Del Tredici, Helps, and many others. In 1995 he recorded his debut CD Mendocino Suite by David Wurts, and it was released on Wild Iris Productions. While residing in San Francisco, he performed at Cowell Theater, City Hall, Herbst Theater, and Davies Symphony Hall. In 1997 Nolan commissioned Bruce Christian Bennett to compose Schematic Nocturne for him, which he premiered. In 1999–2001 he toured Switzerland, Germany, and Italy as pianist for the Singing Waiters, a Los Angeles-based vocal group. It was near the end of 1999 on one such tour that Mr. Nolan found himself playing ragtime piano for the entertainment of legendary pop star Sting at the Dolder Grand Hotel.

Lee Alan Nolan had taught himself to read music by the age of 4, although did not begin piano lessons until the age of 8. While growing up in Florida, Mr. Nolan began winning many awards for his performances, including the Music Teacher’s Association Community Service Award—received for giving over a thousand public performances (including clogging) by the age of 17; the piano scholarship at USF, the Zbar Award; and Grand Prize of the Florida Orchestra Young Artist Concerto Competition, for which he performed Ravel’s Concerto in G Major with the Florida Orchestra.

Since relocating to Portland, Oregon in 2018, Mr. Nolan has been accompanist for the choirs at Portland Community College Rock Creek, and is also Professor for piano and theory classes there. He teaches piano, guitar, banjo, and vocal coaches privately and with Five Star Guitars; he was accompanist for the Oregon Chorale from 2018–2020; in 2019 he embarked on music tours as accompanist and singer with PCC Chamber Singers to Vancouver, B.C., and to Eastern Oregon with the Oregon Chorale. He is currently and has been organist and choir accompanist at Savage Memorial Presbyterian Church in SE Portland since 2018. Before his move from Ridgecrest, California, he was Music Director and Pianist for Cabaret in 2010, pianist and vocalist for RMES’ Classic Autumn in 2011 and Broadway Nights in 2013. His numerous solo concerts in recent years have been invariably received with standing ovations, including more recently his 2015 French-influenced program Sacré Bleu! and his 2016 one-man show Across the Genre-ations. He also received special recognition for his accompanying work for the 2016 Ridgecrest Opera Guild Prima Voce and Troubadours concerts.

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