Berklee today

JUN 2015

Berklee today is the official alumni publication of Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. It is a forum for contemporary music and musicians.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 14 of 44

New Music for Heart Mind By Mark Small For composers of contemporary concert music, receiv- ing a prolonged standing ovation and repeated calls to the stage for bows after the world premiere of a new opus is quite rare. But in late March Michael Gandolf received both after the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) premiered his piece Ascending Light. The emo- tionally charged work (which he characterizes as an organ symphony rather than a concerto) received four performances by BSO conductor Andris Nelsons and French organ virtuoso Olivier Latry with the identical audience reaction each time. Many factors contributed to the overwhelming- ly positive reception. First, Gandolf has a unique gift for writing music that is accessible and affecting yet thoroughly modern in its conception. Ascending Light was commissioned to honor the late BSO organist Berj Zamkochian, an Armenian-American, and to commemo- rate the 100-year anniversary of the Armenian genocide that claimed more than 1 million lives. Consequently, Gandolf crafted a 29-minute work representing the vitality of Armenian culture and a refection on its tragic episode by integrating original thematic material with melodies from an Armenian lullaby and hymn tune. Imaginative writing for the organ and orchestration highlighting clanging tubular bells, insistent tympani, poignant double reed themes, ravishing string passages, and rhythmic brass jabs, evoked musical chiaroscuro. Gandolf's music has attracted the attention of top conductors and commissioning patrons. His substantial catalog runs the gamut from works for solo instruments to chamber ensembles to orchestra to wind bands. In his search to fnd his musical voice, Gandolf abandoned his original jazz and rock roots for a time to concentrate on the abstract sounds and techniques of 20th-century clas- sical music. When he decided to bring all of his musical infuences into the tent, he lost the interest of some who had championed his music, but quickly found new advo- cates. In addition to the BSO, other groups commission- ing and premiering Gandolf's works include the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; Memphis Symphony Orchestra; the Boston Modern Orchestra Project; the Los Angeles, St. Paul, and Orpheus chamber orchestras; the President's Own United States Marine Band, San Francisco Choral Artists, the National Flute Association, and many more. His works are performed throughout America and Europe. Growing up north of Boston, Gandolf played guitar in a garage band unraveling the basics of rock and jazz while his two sisters played Bach and Mozart on the liv- ing room piano. Inspired by fusion artists such as John McLaughlin, Allan Holdsworth, Chick Corea and others, he entered Berklee during the mid-1970s, at 17. Pat Metheny, John LaPorta, and John Bavicchi were some of his teach- ers. After amassing three years of credits in an acceler- ated track, his burgeoning interest in composing led him to transfer to New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) where his classical works could be performed and he could study with composers Tom McKinley and Donald Martino. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in composition at NEC and now chairs the school's composi- tion department. Gandolf has an unusual talent for interpreting aspects of science, history, literature, and the visual arts and then colorfully conveying his take on them through Western classical instruments. Notwithstanding the heady concepts that frequently underpin his works, Gandolf is no ivory-tower intellectual. He remains in touch with his original musical impulses. At a recent per- formance of a work for solo harp, he explained that his choice for stipulating the harp's low strings be tuned to the key of E-fat was inspired by the low-tuning of guitars in heavy metal. His prelude, "Glasgow Shuffe" for wind quintet, has rhythmic ties to the blues. He accomplish- es his musical goals with artistic integrity and stylistic breadth, never by artifce or gimmicks. The result is new music for the heart and the mind that resonates with a widening audience. & 12 Berklee today

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Berklee today - JUN 2015