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Alex Shapiro, composer email

 

ARCANA

 


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ARCANA cover

Alex Shapiro

Alex Shapiro, composer

 

From a fiery, unexpectedly uplifting elegy, to a somber and despairing childhood flashback;


From the bleakness of the Mexican desert, to the lilt of kelp strands along the San Juan Island shoreline;


From homages to R. Schumann and L.V. Beethoven, to affirmations of the fragile power of healing herbs;


From lyrical angularity, to frenzied comedy.


This is ARCANA; a complete collection of solo piano works spanning two decades by Alex Shapiro.

 

Adam Marks

Adam Marks, pianist

ARCANA back cover spark
 

 

The past twenty years have seen Shapiro's voice broaden from solo and chamber works to those for large ensembles, and from purely acoustic pieces to works that seamlessly meld complex digital audio tracks with soloists, choir, orchestra, and symphonic wind band.


At a moment when Alex is probably best known for her many unusual and significant contributions to the other end of the sonic spectrum the electroacoustic wind band world here is ARCANA: a world of intimacy, small scale with big emotion, and a return to the roots.

 

 

 

ARCANA

The Solo Piano Works of ALEX SHAPIRO

Performed by ADAM MARKS

Twilight, from the composer's home on San Juan Island, WA.

 

Enjoy Adam Marks performing the first track on ARCANA, titled SPARK, on the Tribeca New Music 2018 Festival, December 9, at Nancy Manocherian's - The Cell theater in New York City:

 

 

 

 

SPARK

(2011; Duration: 6:57)

Bright, exciting, sweet, lyrical.

Listen to audio clips
of Spark

1. hear
 
2. hear

Purchase this score

Score available for $12.00 print, $8 digital, from Activist Music.

 

 


Spark was inspired by the life, love, energy, and heart of Dale Mara Bershad, a gifted musician who often used her talents to share the joy of expression and wonder with young children. As a mother, teacher, and performer, Mara's remarkable inner light cast an indelible glow. Her essence remains radiant and present: a spark from a life filled with passion and delight, burning brightly, intensely, and without end.



 
 

With fondest appreciation to Sherwin Abrams, who commissioned this work, and to Teresa McCollough, who first brought the spark of these notes to life in November 2011 in concerts in California and New York. A subsequent version of this piece for chamber sextet, using the identical piano part, was recorded by Fifth House Ensemble and appears on their 2014 album titled Excelsior, on Cedille Records.

Click for score excerpts and more info about this piece:

listen

From Alex:

It's not every day that composers have the opportunity to produce an album of their heart's emotional output for the instrument to which they feel the most affinity. I'm a very enthusiastic pianist, but not a particularly gifted one. I began composing when I was nine (trust me, I was no Mozart), and began a decade of private piano study a year later.

Already devoted to composition, I had no desire to become a professional pianist (the penciled admonition, "Don't get loud and bangy!!" was emblazoned in 1977 atop the first page of my tattered score for Bach's Italian Concerto. Not the harbinger of a promising career.) But thanks to the superb repertoire choices made by my patient teacher, the late New York recitalist Marshall Kreisler, I loved to play, and I'm reminded of how he broadened my sonic world every time I sit down to revisit those pieces.

 

SLOWLY, SEARCHING

(2009; Duration: 6:05)

Inward, maniacal, and wisftul.

Listen to audio clips
of Slowly, searching

hear
   
Watch!

video

Purchase this score

Score available for $12.00 print, $8 digital, from Activist Music.


 


Slowly, searching is a modern day homage to the lyricism, melancholy and passion of Robert Schumann. German pianist Susanne Kessel created a project titled Kreisleriana 2010, asking eight composers to choose a movement of Schumann's beloved suite as inspiration for their own voice. I was touched by the fourth, Sehr Langsam, and chose a few notes from it as my point of departure, and later, development. Two hundred years since this great composer's birth, the themes of peacefulness, joy, madness and deep pain remain a human constant.




 
 

With warmest thanks to Susanne Kessel, who premiered and recorded this piece for her beautiful album on the Obst Music label, An Robert Schumann.

Click for score excerpts and more info about this piece:

listen

 

Rainbow, from the composer's home on San Juan Island, WA.

 

ARCANA

(2014; Eight movements; Total Duration: ca. 23:00)

Pensive, jaunty, dark, hopeful.

 

Hear excerpts of any of the eight movements:

   
1. Cradle These Roots
Cradle These Roots excerpt
2. Unfurl
Unfurl excerpt
3. Heal From Within
Heal From Within excerpt
4. Reach To Light
Reach To Light excerpt
5. Branches and Vines
Branches and Vines excerpt
6. Touch It
Touch It excerpt
7. Search
Search excerpt
8. From Earth To Sky
From Earth to Sky excerpt
Watch

video

_________________________

Purchase this score

Score available for $40 print, or $28 digital, from Activist Music.


 

 

 

Arcana explores the painfully fragile and often perilous relationship between humans and the secrets of earth's abundant plant life. The music often does so from the perspective of the plants themselves, with healing herbs as protagonists of a story that begins with a dire warning, and ends with the faith that wisdom and grace shall ultimately triumph.

In the pursuit of better health, a "healing crisis" can occur, during which someone may feel even worse after the start of a curative regime, before they feel better. Accordingly, the eight movements of this suite journey through some very dark and frightening places before arriving to the light. The toxins of conflict are a powerful subject, whether a struggle with one's inner demons, or a battle against outer threats to the wellbeing of our planet.

 

 
 

An everlasting mystery in both examples is the poignant attempt to achieve balance. Renowned herbalists Michael Tierra and his wife Lesley are among those who succeed in this challenge beautifully, as they work to improve the bodies, minds and spirits of others while honoring the natural world, always respectful of its power to harm as well as to heal. Representing their shared passion through the sphere of music has been a passage of joy and discovery for which I'll always be grateful.

As above, so below; as within, so without. Creation is a form of magic. And the world of roots seeking good soil, and leaves turning upward to pure air, is one that we must protect, always.

 

With loving gratitude to Michael and Lesley Tierra.

Click for score excerpts and more info about this piece:

listen

From Alex:

Two of the works on this album—the Piano Suite and the Sonata—represent a pivotal time in my career, when in my later 30s after scoring a film with a chamber orchestra, I realized that my passion had strayed from the commercial media jobs that had been my livelihood for the previous fifteen years, and had made a beeline toward a love of composing chamber music. The seeds of the themes in these two works were written when I was a 19-year-old composition student at Manhattan School of Music.

Nearly two decades later I pulled the yellowed manuscripts from a long-forgotten envelope, placed them on my piano desk to play through, cringed at all the poorly written passages and… noticed a few decent spots. Like a happy little dung beetle coveting used material that's bound to be good for something, I rolled my old ideas into fresh versions of the music, using creative tools acquired from life experience that youth can't provide. These were among the first handful of pieces which launched my gratifying life in the concert music world.

 

PIANO SUITE NO. 1: THE RESONANCE OF CHILDHOOD

(1996; 5 mov'ts; Total Duration: ca. 17:00)

Wistful and melancholic.

 

Hear excerpts of any of the five movements:

   
1. Variations on a Memory
hear
2. On My Mother
hear
3. Quiet Child
hear
4. For My Father
hear
5. Older

hear

Watch!

video

__________________

Purchase this score

Score available for $18.00 print, and $12 digital, from Activist Music.

 

listen

 
 

 

Piano Suite No. 1: The Resonance of Childhood was composed as a set of personal reflections exploring early years, difficult parental relationships and ultimately the acceptance of conflicting emotions. The opening set of variations sets the tone for the entire Suite: searching and hope that are met with the uncomfortable combination of disappointment and acquiescence. Of the five short movements, perhaps the most intimate is the fourth, entitled For My Father, which was written in response to a beloved parent's descent into dementia.

 

 
 

With thanks to Zita Carno and Spaffy Hull for first bringing these notes to audiences.

Click for score excerpts and more info about this piece:

listen

 

Reflection, from the composer's home on San Juan Island, WA.

 

INTERMEZZO

(2000; Duration: 3:39)

Soothing and lyrical.

Listen to an audio clip of Intermezzo
hear
 

Purchase this score

Score available for $10.00 print, $7 digital, from Activist Music.

 


I've spent the great majority of my life living at the water's edge: 21 years on the rivers that embrace Manhattan, 24 on the shore of Pacific-kissed Malibu, and now over a decade, perched on a rock above the lusty Salish Sea that swirls around Washington states's San Juan Island. Many of my pieces reflect this aquatic proximity, from intimate chamber works to grand-scale electroacoustic symphonic ones, and through these pieces I'm able to share my awe with listeners.

 

 
 

This Intermezzo was written in 1998 as a response to the waves of the ocean at my toes, as well as a reflection of the waves of a more introspective, emotional sea. A long and lyrical theme floats above a steady ostinato, perhaps as a lengthy branch of kelp might dance from the force of each coming tide. It's these hypnotic rhythms that lull my muses, and inspire my senses— and perhaps yours.

 

Click for score excerpts and more info about this piece:

listen

From Alex:

I am indebted to each and every pianist who has placed faith in these notes, and in me as a writer. This is a collaborative art, and the intentions of the sounds that rattle in my head are only realized by the efforts of musicians who grasp what it is I'm attempting to communicate.

 

CHORD HISTORY

(2014; Duration: 1:57)

Slow, pensive.

Listen to an excerpt
of Chord History

hear

Purchase this score

Score is available from Editions Musica Ferrum in a beautiful 152 page volume, which includes the first 25 short pieces of the series.


 


 

My friend, the superb pianist Susanne Kessel, shares something significant with one of our mutual muses, Ludwig van Beethoven: they both hail from Bonn, Germany. Eyeing the upcoming occasion of Beethoven's 250th birth year in 2020, Susanne devised a beautiful plan: to shepherd 250 short new pieces of music into the world in the composer's honor, from the hearts of artists who would happily consider themselves among his protégés. If only Beethoven could know the enduring power of his legacy.

 

 
 

So what better way to compose an homage to this giant, than to ask the devoted pianist for whom I was writing the piece what some of her favorite Beethoven piano chords might be? I knew the answer to mine: the iconic, imposing, foreboding, C minor start to Sonata No. 8, Opus 13, the "Pathéthique." My teenage hands passionately played each phrase thousands of times, and while poor Ludwig might have been rolling over in his grave (there's a good reason I chose to compose rather than perform), the influence of his music in my life has been monumental. 

Susanne submitted several fine suggestions, which are found throughout my little offering. And thus Beethoven, Kessel, and Shapiro, have become bound for a brief and touching moment in this Chord History.

 

Dedicated to Susanne Kessel, and Ludwig van Beethoven, for the occasion of the 250th anniversary of his birth, in 2020.

Click for score excerpts and more info about this piece:

listen

 

Skyburst, from the composer's home on San Juan Island, WA.

 

LUVINA

(2007; Duration: 4:57)

Dark, and hauntingly lyrical.

Listen to audio clips
of Luvina

hear
   
Watch!
video

Purchase this score

Score available for $12 print, or $8 digital, from Activist Music.


 

 


"Wherever you look in Luvina, it's a very sad place. You're going there, so you'll find out. I would say it's the place where sadness nests... the breeze that blows there moves it around but never takes it away." Such is the bleak world described in Juan Rulfo's short story, Luvina. When pianist Ana Cervantes asked me to compose a piece in response to the late Mexican author's writing, I had not read any of his work and looked forward to the books that would soon appear in my mailbox.

Sitting in my studio, immersed in the grim desert of dire poverty and hopelessness Rulfo describes in this and other equally moving writings, I cried. Long since finishing the music, my thoughts still return to a landscape that is unspeakably sad and, through Rulfo's words, a place where slow and insistent burdens are met with simple, unquestioning acceptance.

 

 
 

With enduring gratefulness to Ana Cervantes, and with great respect to the memory of Juan Rulfo.

Click for score excerpts and more info about this piece:

listen

Adam writes:

It has been a privilege to live with the works of Alex Shapiro these past few years. To record someone's complete catalog for piano is to live with their history—their ups and downs—and to listen to the world through their ears. Alex's ears have intrigued me since I first played Spark many years ago; it's not often you find an elegiac work that focuses on someone's energy and light. But at the root of all of Alex's works is her stunning relationship to the elements. She's surrounded by water at home, and connected to the earth yet constantly soaring above the clouds in her travels.

 

SONATA FOR PIANO

(1999; 3 mov'ts; Total duration: ca. 16:00)

Dramatic, lyrical, and humorous.

Hear excerpts of any of the three movements:

   
1. Moderato
2. Lento; Andante
hear
3. Scherzo
hear
_________________________

Purchase this score

Score available for $22.00 print, $15 digital, from Activist Music.

 


Sonata for Piano is a three movement work written in the structural tradition of many classical sonatas. Throughout the piece, there's an emphasis on strong melodies and rhythms and a lush use of the keyboard. The first movement, Moderato, explores two themes that are first developed independently and ultimately are interwoven as two parts of a whole. A set of jazz harmonies are implied against more angular melodic lines. The second movement, Lento; Andante, takes the listener on an emotional, dreamlike journey that leads to a passionate outburst, and the final movement, Scherzo, is just that— an impish romp through bitonality that ends with a laugh.


 
 

With appreciation to Barbara Burgan for performing an earlier version of this piece when I shifted my composing career in the late 90s from commercial media to concert music, and with sincere thanks to Teresa McCollough, who included the final version on her debut album, New American Piano Music (Innova 630).

Click for score excerpts and more info about this piece:

listen

 

 

ARCANA- booklet credits

From Alex:

My fondness for Adam Marks is boundless, as is my respect and admiration for him as an exquisite, focused, emotional, exacting, and gifted pianist. His piercingly accurate insights into my most poignant passages made for deeply satisfying rehearsal and recording sessions that occasionally morphed into therapy sessions, which morphed into laughter, which triangulated right back into his amazing interpretations. I'm filled with gratitude for the enthusiasm and love Adam has brought to this project.

 

 

Adam Marks, Alex Shapiro


Day 1 of recording at Yamaha Artist Services,
NYC, January 24, 2018:
Adam playing, and Alex at the laptop running software
that captures the extremely
high resolution MIDI information from the
keys and pedals of the 9' Yamaha DCFX.

 


Adam and Alex, NYC 2018

 

From Adam:

Alex and I first crossed paths when I lived in Chicago, serving as the pianist and Director of Artistic Operations for Fifth House Ensemble. A generous commissioner asked her to write us a piece, and a dectet titled Archipelago landed in our laps. While there wasn't a piano part at the time (due to space constraints at the venue), our friendship blossomed as I helped the ensemble prepare for the premiere.

Shortly thereafter I learned that my brother, composer Craig Marks, had known and respected Alex for years. Our professional lives continued to overlap and intertwine as I relocated back to NYC, her birthplace, and programmed Spark as much as I could. Needless to say, it was an honor to be asked to interpret her other works in this project, and I look forward to discovering what she creates next.

 

Clouds, from the composer's home on San Juan Island, WA.

Adam Marks and Alex Shapiro

 

The recording of ARCANA was a two-step process. After hours of rehearsals with Alex Shapiro in the Yamaha Artist Services studios in New York City, pianist and Yamaha Artist Adam Marks laid down the initial tracks over two multi-day sessions that Alex produced, in January and June 2018.

Yamaha Artist Services in New York City generously contributed the use of their studio helmed by engineer Aaron David Ross, and gave Adam access to the spectacular 9' Yamaha DCFX. The collaboration was a joy in every regard.
Adam Marks and Alex immediately after the final recording session at Yamaha Artst Services in New York City, June 8, 2018.

The instrument is astonishing in its combination of power and gentle response. When Alex returned to New York in Novemeber 2018, the DCFX was transported to the beautiful stage of The American Academy of Arts and Letters, where it was mic'ed in the acoustically superb venue for the final stage of the recording. The extremely high-resolution digital files recorded and edited earlier in the year came to life once again-- this time, with Adam sitting next to Alex backstage, yards away from the piano that played back his beautiful performances!

CLICK to watch a moment of the DCFX magic!


YASI

 

 

Adam Marks, Aaron David Ross, Alex Shapiro


Alex's laptop view as Adam rehearsed at Yamaha Artist Services in NYC.


 

Adam Marks, Aaron David Ross, Alex Shapiro


Adam Marks, Aaron David Ross, and Alex in
Yamaha's control room during a break,
with a sea of gorgeous pianos
on the other side of the glass!


 

micing


The many microphones and lights during the
master recording session on stage at
The American Academy of Arts and Letters,

November 2018.


 

Setting up

Nori Soga, Adam Marks, Jonathan Schultz
and Joe Patrych running cable.

 

Recording

Hands-free recording, while Adam, Alex,
and thte team sat and listened backstage.

 

Backstage


Backstage during recording, nutrition was a priority!


Nori Soga and Adam Marks.

Piano technician Nori Soga and Adam.

 

Nori Soga making adjustments.

Nori Soga fine-tunes the pedal adjustments
as Alex's gratitude looms in the
reflection above him.

 


 

Below are additional commercially released recordings which include several of the above pieces. Click on any disc for more info.

To see the entire Shapiro discography, including chamber works with piano, please click here Discography


Californian Concert
For My Father, from Piano Suite No. 1, is featured on Susanne Kessel's 2006 CD, Californian Concert, on Oehms Classics OC 534.
Notes from the Kelp

For My Father, from Piano Suite No. 1, is featured on the 2007 Innova Recordings CD, Notes from the Kelp (innova 683).

Solo Rumores
Luvina is featured on pianist Ana Cervantes' CD, Solo Rumores (Quindecim Recordings 186).
An Robert Schumann
Slowly, searching is featured on Susanne Kessel's 2010 CD, An Robert Schumann, on Obst Records P330.30.
New American Piano Music
Sonata for Piano is featured on Teresa McCollough's Innova Recordings CD, New American Piano Music (innova 552).
The Dreams of Birds
A version of Intermezzo, for bass flute and harp, is featured on Jenni Olson's 2012 CD, The Dreams of Birds, on Delos Records DE3434.
250 Piano Pieces for Beethoven, Vol. 1
Chord History is featured on Susanne Kessel's 2016 CD, 250 Piano Pieces for Beethoven, Vol. 1, on Obst LC07384.
CD
An adaptation of Spark for chamber sextet, titled Perpetual Spark, was recorded in September 2013 by Fifth House Ensemble, for their Cedille Records 2014 CD, Excelsior, produced by Judith Sherman.

 

 

Sunset, from the composer's home on San Juan Island, WA.

ProQuest

Alex writes,

"This recording project might not have happened had it not been for Elizabeth Etnoyer, a doctoral student at West Virginia University who stumbled upon my music, resonated with it, and decided to make my entire catalog of piano works the sole subject of her 2015 dissertation. I was composing Arcana when Dr. Etnoyer first contacted me, and was especially pleased to have completed this meaningful suite in time for it to be included in her book. Upon the publication of The Keyboard Works of Alex Shapiro, I realized that I wanted to create a unified collection of definitive performances of these very personal offerings."

To read the synopsis and order a pdf or hard copy of the book, please click here. ProQuest

 

Perusal scores are available;
send a request in an email by clicking HERE.

 

Adam Marks
Praised as an "excellent pianist" with "titanic force" (New York Times), Adam Marks is an active soloist, collaborator, music director, curator, and educator based in NYC. He has appeared as soloist with the Mission Chamber Orchestra, Manchester Symphony Orchestra, the National Repertory Orchestra, and at notable venues including Salle Cortot, Carnegie Hall, Miller Theatre, Logan Center for the Arts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Millennium Park, Ravinia, and Davies Symphony Hall.

Recent premieres include playing/conducting Rachel J. Peters' Companionship at Fort Worth Opera, and performing/co-creating Black Queen with Juraj Kojš and Jennifer Beattie in Miami and Copenhagen. He is a laureate of the Orleans Competition for contemporary music in Orleans, France, and his premiere of Holly Harrison's "Lobster Tales and Turtle Soup" with Eighth Blackbird won the Australian Art Music Awards Performance of the Year in 2018. He made is off-Broadway debut in Fiasco Theatre's acclaimed revival of Into The Woods at Roundabout Theatre. Other recent international performances include recitals in Australia, Brazil, Singapore, France, and Croatia.

 

Adam serves as the founding co-director of Artists at Albatross Reach, an arts residency/incubator in Gualala, California. As half of Albatross (his duo with vocalist Jennifer Beattie), he has been an Artist-In-Residence with the Yale College Department of Music Composers' Seminar since 2006. He has held faculty positions at Carthage College and NYU, and was a founding faculty member of both New Music On The Point and the Fresh Inc festival. He has given guest lectures and masterclasses at Yale, The Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, Northwestern, Mannes, SMU, CU Boulder, The Colburn School, the LaSalle School for the Arts in Singapore, and the Zagreb Conservatory. He holds an undergraduate degree from Brandeis University, a Masters from Manhattan School of Music, and a Ph.D. in Piano Performance from New York University with research in works for vocalizing pianist. His teachers include Sara Davis Buechner, Anthony de Mare, Donn-Alexandre Feder, Evan Hirsch, and Lois Banke. Adam proudly plays Yamaha pianos and Schoenhut toy pianos. Learn more at www.adammarks.com.

 

Fog clings to the mud flats of San Juan Island's False Bay.

 

Alex after the final recording session with Adam Marks, at Yamaha Artist Services in NYC.



Alex after the final recording session with Adam Marks
at Yamaha Artist Services in NYC, June 2018.

 

 

 

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Program Bio
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