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Michelle Alvarado | Eric Starr: Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano

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Eric Starr: Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano

by Michelle Alvarado

Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano is a collection of original music written by Eric Starr and performed by pianist Michelle Alvarado.
Genre: Classical: Piano solo
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  Song Share Time Download
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1. The Bell Tower
4:51 $0.99
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2. Waltz No. 1
5:11 $0.99
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3. La boîte à musique
5:58 $0.99
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4. Memories of Olive
4:26 $0.99
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5. Ecossaise
1:55 $0.99
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6. Prelude No. 1 (La Nuit)
4:32 $0.99
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7. Prelude No. 2 (L’Aube)
2:02 $0.99
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8. The Piano Tuner
4:48 $0.99
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9. Prelude No. 3 (Tout Seul)
1:16 $0.99
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10. Ballade
5:20 $0.99
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11. Prelude No. 4 (Le Clown)
2:40 $0.99
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12. Elegy (For MB)
4:54 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.

ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano
By Eric Starr

Michelle Alvarado, piano

Recorded March, 2018 at The Marc A. Scorca Hall
Gurari Studios at The National Opera Center, NYC
Engineered by Jeremy Gerard
Mixed by Nelson Starr at Dark Arts Studio, Buffalo, NY
Produced by Nelson and Eric Starr
Cover Art: Thomas Kegler “Subsiding Storm”
Design Layout: Jeffrey Starr
Dedicated to Iain and Delia Starr
www.ericstarrmusic.com
www.michellealvapiano.com
Copyright © 2018

COMPOSER'S NOTES:

Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano was composed between 2012 and 2016. Originally a modest commission to write a handful of short works, this project quickly became a personal quest--and test of skill--guided by my humble desire to contribute something meaningful to the emerging canon of 21st-century piano repertoire.

The collection was premiered by Michelle Alvarado in March 2018 at Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, NY. This was followed by a second performance at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in October.

ABOUT THE PIECES:

The Bell Tower

Although this piece appears first, it was one of the last pieces I wrote. It is a rumination on old churches, cathedrals, and all things mystical and spiritual.

Waltz No. 1

As I wrote this piece, I found myself thinking about summer fields and verdant landscapes. I often imagine this piece as a watercolor painting.

La Boîte à Musique

I wrote this piece about a faded memory of a windup music box my grandparents owned. I remember being very young and listening intently to it with my brother, Nelson. There was something haunting about the tune the music box played, especially as the tempo slowed to its ultimate and unpredictable end.

Memories of Olive

Olive Thomas was a silent film star best known for her leading role in The Flapper (1920). Her life was tumultuous and ended tragically at the height of her career after drinking mercuric chloride. Her death became one of the earliest Hollywood scandals. Did she commit suicide or was she accidentally poisoned? To this day, her demise remains controversial. A risqué portrait entitled “Memories of Olive” was painted by Peruvian artist, Alberto Vargas, around the time of her death. It is said that her ghost still haunts the New Amsterdam Theatre in Manhattan.

Ecossaise

This piece is a light, whimsical, contemporary version of the 2/4 metered country dance style popularized in the Romantic Era.

Prelude No. 1 (La Nuit)

As the title suggests, this piece conjures up images of nighttime, and with that, darker musical colors. It is the first in a two-part musical narrative.

Prelude No. 2 (L’Aube)

The completion of the story introduced in Prelude No. 1, this piece draws the cycle of night to day to a conclusion, and with that, brings hope for a new beginning.

The Piano Tuner

One summer day, as I was trying to compose, a fellow was tuning my neighbor’s piano. I could hear him striking the note “F” over and over and eventually became so distracted that I gave up for the afternoon and took a nap. As I lay sleeping, with the note “F” still ringing in my head, this piece appeared to me in a dream. The title seemed only fitting.

Prelude No. 3 (Tout Seul)

This is the saddest piece in the collection and among my personal favorites. “All Alone” is about loneliness and heartbreak. An improvisation jotted down one bitterly cold morning in 2015, it is the shortest piece I have ever written.

Ballade

Ballade was the only piece in this program that I was specifically commissioned to write. I was only casually aware of Chopin’s four ballades as well as a handful of other (later) composers’ ballades. But I threw caution to the wind, expanded the idea to include my own harmonic language, and I was off and running.

Prelude No. 4 (Le Clown)

For over a year, I considered this collection to be an 11-piece set. Yet something still felt incomplete. Then I started thinking about silent film comedy stars Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd and all the gags and antics of their era. Suddenly, musical ideas started appearing to me for a 12th piece, almost as if I was writing the soundtrack to a silent movie.

Elegy (For MB)

This is the first work I wrote for the collection. However, it seemed only fitting to place it at the set’s conclusion. It was written for the family of a friend--a loving mother and wife--who passed away tragically due to cancer. I think the piece says the rest.

COMPOSER AND PERFORMER BIOGRAPHIES:

Eric Starr is a third generation musician from Western New York. A multitalented artist, Starr has worked as a composer, percussionist, pianist, author and educator for most of his life.

As a composer, Starr has received four prestigious Meet the Composer grants, a Utah Arts Council grant, NEA Foundation grants and more. In 2007, the premiere of his concerto for saxophone and strings received a standing ovation at The Lighthouse: Poole's Centre for the Arts (Dorset, England).

Starr's band, The Eric Starr Group, has released two critically acclaimed albums and his group has performed at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, among other venues. His albums have received international radio play and rave reviews in Downbeat Magazine, The Jazz Journal, Jazzwise Magazine, the All Music Guide and over a dozen additional publications worldwide. Brian Morton, publisher of the Penguin Guide to Jazz called his album Such Is Life “One of my favorite releases of the year.” Iconic drummer, Bill Bruford, called Eric “an extremely welcome new addition to the club [of percussionist composers]” and famed composer Steve Reich wrote, “I’m impressed with the directness of Eric’s music and the craft with which he has written it. His music would appeal to a wide variety of listeners.”

As an author and educator, Starr has written five books about music for Adams Media, Inc. Two of them have been translated into Spanish. In 2010, Starr was a featured speaker at Loyola University New Orleans' Beiver Guest Lecturer Series. Since 1995, he has also appeared as a guest artist and clinician at many high schools and colleges throughout the country. Starr currently resides in the Hudson Valley.

* * *

Michelle Alvarado is described by jazz journalist and historian Scott Yanow as a “versatile classical pianist” and “a virtuoso who can handle any piece of written music” but at her essence, she is a seeker and purveyor of beauty. Her search for beauty and excellence brought her to New York City where she came in 2013 and has remained ever since.

Recently Alvarado partnered with Hudson Valley composer Eric Starr for the world premiere of his Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano at Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo where she “moved from the delicate to the primal and the sublimely melodic to the cacophonous with finesse and grace.” (Buffalo News) Shortly after the premiere, Alvarado recorded the set at the National Opera Center in Manhattan.

Alvarado will be making her Carnegie Hall debut in October where she will not only perform Twelve Pieces but also give a world premiere of a new piece for piano and cello by Eric Starr performing with cellist Hannah Holman.

Alvarado studied with Pavlina Dokovska, chair of the piano department, at Mannes School of Music when she came to New York. She received her Master’s in piano performance from the University of Iowa where she held a teaching assistantship and studied under Dr. Ksenia Nosikova. In her first semester as a graduate student at Iowa, she was the winner of the University’s concerto competition and performed with the University Chamber Orchestra.

Alvarado is currently working as a collaborative pianist in New York City where she accompanies ballet classes, works with singers and other artists, and is a minister of music at Advent Lutheran Church. She enjoys arranging church music and working with diverse artists in a variety of genres. Alvarado is also a kickboxing, Cake enjoying, Chopin loving, sugar aficionado. She lives with her husband David in Brooklyn, NY.

REVIEWS AND QUOTES:

"Beautiful music and playing! Not only is Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano quite an achievement, but it’s also a great and valuable addition to the piano literature.”

-Andy LaVerne (legendary jazz pianist, composer and author)

* * *

On Eric Starr's Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano

Iconic drummer and composer Bill Bruford has described creativity as "a process that brings experience into meaning."

Bruford might well have been speaking of fellow drummer and composer Eric Starr. Starr’s latest venture—in a career that has seen him man the tubs for a progressive alternative rock band; lead his own jazz ensemble; pen poetry, plays, and pedagogic texts; and work as a music educator—finds him bringing all of that experience into meaning.

With Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano, the sheer diversity of Starr's experience is explored, celebrated, and lamented with equal—and often brutal—honesty.

These Twelve Pieces, which function fully as separate vignettes, are transportative when digested in one sitting. Like Leopold Bloom in James Joyce's Ulysses, the listener is taken on an epic journey through Starr's composing—they embark on a full-sailed adventure, are lured by the sweet song of the sirens only to be dashed upon the rocks of reality, and then finally freed to set off toward a twilight of reconciliation. Which is to suggest that the music takes us somewhere, though we're never asked to leave our seat.

Inspired by the rich pallet of the French impressionist composers, the lyricism of jazz giant Bill Evans, the heart-rending romanticism of Mahler and Rachmaninoff, and the occasional strum und drang associated with rock rhythms, Starr refuses to hedge his bets with these Twelve Pieces. The composer welcomes us into a world that acknowledges heartbreak as much as it celebrates beauty and joy. The result is deeply moving, thoroughly modern music that nonetheless honors what preceded it.

To fully explore the nuances, subtleties, and dramatic arc of Starr's Twelve Pieces, a pianist of considerable merit is necessary. In Michelle Alvarado, Starr has secured just such a musician. During the recent world premiere of Twelve Pieces, at the storied Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, NY, Alvarado moved from the delicate to the primal and the sublimely melodic to the cacophonous with finesse and grace.

Jeff Miers

Music Critic, The Buffalo News

* * *

Eric Starr
Twelve Pieces For Solo Piano

Eric Starr is certainly a multi-talented musician. His excellent 2013 CD Such is Life featured him playing modern jazz as part of a sextet augmented by a string ensemble; Starr performed on drums, vibraphone and keyboards. Twelve Pieces For Solo Piano is quite a bit different for it showcases him as a classical composer.

Starr, who has received numerous grants as a composer (in addition to writing five books on music) enlisted the services of the versatile classical pianist Michelle Alvarado to perform his Twelve Pieces For Solo Piano. She gave the works their world premiere at the Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo and will be performing the pieces later this year at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. In addition to being a virtuoso who can handle any piece of written music, Alvarado infuses each of Starr’s pieces with the emotional sensitivity that they deserve.

The performance begins with “The Bell Tower” which utilizes high notes on the piano to emulate the sound of a bell. The picturesque piece also has lower-register virtuosic runs that accentuate the haunting mood.

“Waltz No. 1” is a pretty if melancholy composition that becomes moodier as it progresses. “La Boîte à Musique” hints at Duke Ellington in some of the chord voicings and is quite episodic, containing many brief themes. “Memories of Olive” is a wistful performance that has both cheerful and downbeat moments. In contrast, “Ecossaise” (which hints at George Gershwin at first) is a playful number built off of a three-note run.

“Prelude No. 1 (La Nuit)” and “Prelude No. 2 (L’Aube)” are both slow and thoughtful, featuring both beautiful chords and a few dramatic moments. “The Piano Tuner” starts with one repeated note, as if the pianist is tuning the piano, before utilizing repetition effectively in its theme, eventually fading out with a repeated note. The brief “Prelude No. 3 (Tout Seul)” consists of some sophisticated chords played at a low volume. The light-hearted “Ballade” is a waltz that concludes with a hint of the opening of “Rhapsody In Blue.” “Prelude No. 4 (Le Clown)” is filled with unexpected melodic outbursts while the final piece, “Elegy (For MB),” is an introspective and quietly emotional ballad.

While Starr’s impressionistic music is entirely written-out, it utilizes some of the harmonic language and spontaneous feeling of jazz. Twelve Pieces For Solo Piano is thought-provoking music that will intrigue and delight a large audience.

Scott Yanow

jazz journalist/historian and author of Jazz On Record 1917-76

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