Recital: "Color Schemes" | Lavell Blackwell '21 DMA, Composition
In the course of completing the Doctor of Musical Arts degree at New England Conservatory, performance majors present not just one, but three full-length recitals, for which they also write program notes. It's an opportunity to observe multiple facets of an emerging artist.
Lavell Blackwell '21 DMA studies Composition with Kati Agócs.
- Lavell Blackwell '21 DMA, recitalist
- Kati Agócs, studio instructor
I’ve titled this performance “Color Schemes,” and I want to assure the reader and listener that I mean for this title to be taken literally and figuratively in every possible way. The concept of color and its connotations and evocations is not only part of my identity as an artist, but also as a person. Additionally, it is essential to the music on this program.|
This recital is thus inspired by and organized around a series of pieces I’ve called “palettes,” and they are indeed schemes I’ve devised using musical color. There are 4 total, and I’ve been working on them since the beginning of my doctoral studies at NEC. I set myself a challenge to write pieces that explore musical color in a purer way. Most of the music on the program is therefore decidedly non-programmatic. There is no attempt to tell a story or signify anything specific. The pieces are just explorations of combined instrumental color and sonic energy—even the music that is not part of the palette series. The two possible exceptions are Locrian Ambulations and Dance of Digression, both of which are inspired by dance forms. I’m so excited to present the entire series for the first time, including two world premieres. I am fortunate to be able to supplement it with other chamber pieces, all played by such fine musicians.
Palette #1 (world premiere)
Palette #1, a short work of 6 minutes 30 seconds, is the first in a series of pieces in which I explore instrumental and harmonic color in an unencumbered way. The instrumentation of each piece in the series varies, and with it the harmonic, textural and rhythmic landscape I explore. Ironically, while this piece is the first I started composing in this series, it is the last to be completed. It also exists in three different versions, due to certain performing restrictions in place during the global pandemic.
This version of Palette #1 is scored for violin, cello, piano and percussion—a unique ensemble. The work is constructed in four sections. The first two sections are playful, an exploration of musical motives and their interplay within the ensemble. The music is both initiative and reactive, and the result is a quirky and energetic display of bright and iridescent sounds. The third section, by contrast, is drier and more static. The fourth section begins slowly, bringing back musical ideas and colors from the first two sections of the piece. Then there is a build of energy that reaches a climax toward the end. The piece combines witty thematic material, piquant rhythms and energetic textures to create a very specific sound world for the players and the listeners.Artists
- Kristy Chen, violin
- Lillian Yim, cello
- Ke Xin Tian, piano
- Taylor Lents, percussion
Although this particular piece was written for the Prelude Premier Project spearheaded by Victor Rosenbaum at NEC in the Spring 2019 semester, Palette #2 is also part of my series of color schemes. Palette #2 is for solo piano and uses as a harmonic base a very loose 12-tone technique like that of the early 20th-century. Using this harmonic palette I create a series of sound constructions, each of which unfolds over several seconds. The listener may notice repetitions of something resembling melodies, but they are only meant to alert the ear to a new sonic event. Form is therefore present, but is merely a means to an end. Focus, dear listener, not on the notes or rhythms, but on the clouds of sound. The piece is about 4 minutes in length.Artists
- Ke Xin Tian, piano
Palette #3, written for a piano trio and about 9 minutes long, explores the boundary between functional and non-functional harmony, and uses clean rhythms and textures suggestive of late Classicism. The sound world is crisp, and elegant, suggesting a palette of cool, wintery colors: mint green, charcoal, cerulean, white. This piece received its world premiere by Trio Gaia in September, 2019.Ensembles
- Trio Gaia
- Grant Houston, violin
- Yi-Mei Templeman, cello
- Andrew Barnwell, piano
Dance of Digression
For his project for the Spring 2020 semester 'The Mazurka Reimagined,' Victor Rosenbaum asked composers to write a new mazurka for his piano students to premier. The Dance of Digression, for solo piano with a length of 5 minutes, takes the form of the mazurka but stretches the straightforward phrase structures in the traditional dance to rather extreme lengths. This particular mazurka is therefore always in danger of becoming something unrecognizable, but (eventually) find its way back to its identity. To create the titular “digressions” I took inspiration from not only Chopin mazurkas, but his other music as well—specifically the denser textures of some of his nocturnes and his “Raindrop” Prelude in D-flat major. This piece is written in a heavily chromatic but essentially tonal harmonic language, and uses barbed melodies and lively rhythms.Artists
- Huiping Cai, piano
Palette #4 is written for string quartet and is a total length of 12 minutes. The work has three sections. The first section begins with an exploration of the lower registers of the instruments. I use a meditative tempo and close, pungent harmonies to enhance the darker and smokier colors of the string ensemble. Over the course of the section, the register gets slowly higher and the rhythms more active, until the second section begins in a light and darting way. Here the tempo is faster and the textures somewhat lighter, but elements and motives from the first section remain audible. The third section returns to the original tempo, but is even denser and more intense, and culminates in a climactic section before settling back down into a new, more luminescent darkness that slowly dissipates at the very end.
Like a number of my more recent compositions, this piece combines stratified textures and inflected melody in equal measure. The texture carries expressive meaning, but its combination with disjunct, yet fluid themes creates a unique aural experience that is both energetic and ruminative.Artists
- Nozomi Murayama and Eunha Kim, violin
- Julian Seney, viola
- Dilshod Narzillaev, cello
Locrian Ambulations (world premiere) - prerecorded audio/video
minuet, pavane, samba
Locrian Ambulations, a 10 minute piece for solo oboe, was commissioned by Nicholas Tisherman, Assistant Principal Oboe for the Colorado Symphony in Denver. For this project, I decided to write a piece in the Locrian mode, a notoriously tricky one for composers. I fashioned a suite of dramatic dance-inspired pieces that explore the melodic and harmonic possibilities of Locrian. There are three sections in total for a combined length of twelve minutes, each of which offer an altered version of a dance form. The first is inspired by the minuet, a light and moderate 18th-century dance. The second section is a take on the pavane, a stately dance popular in the 17th-century. These two more refined dances are followed by a lively and vigorous dance in a samba style that incorporates elements of the first two dances in a sort of whirlwind. Throughout the suite I explore the possible tone colors, articulations, and range of the oboe as well as the dramatic and technical aspects of the elusive Locrian mode. In this way, I am infusing these historic dance forms with a contemporary robustness.Artists
- Nicholas Tisherman, oboe
Connective (world premiere)
Jagged, but Playful
Connective, a brass quintet in three movements with a total length of 10 minutes, focuses on the attempt and sometimes the failure to communicate and synchronize. There is harmony and dissonance, conflict and (perhaps uneasy) resolution. Each movement explores a different mode—and mood—of connection through the juxtaposition of chorale-like homophony and intricate, intersecting counterpoint.
The first movement moves at a leisurely cruising speed, and the musical motives pass between the players with the ease of shorthand between good friends. The movement ends with a chorale-like closing section. The second movement explores pure sound. Long notes held by various players stimulate the other ensemble members to respond in some way. Sometimes the reaction is to imitate the held note, and other times it is to offer a stark pointillistic contrast. The third movement is a fast groove that is also a lively debate. The complex rhythms and syncopation mask a comfort and cohesion in the larger structure of the movement. This may be an argument, but it is also a conversation between those who know each other quite well.Artists
- Cody York and Sarah Heimberg, trumpet
- Tess Reagan, French horn
- Elias Canales, tenor trombone
- James Curto, tuba