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8 pm, Saturday,
October 23, 1999
Britton Recital Hall
For more info all 800-896-7340
William Hugh Albright (1944,
Gary, IN - 1998, Ann Arbor, MI)
American compoers, organist and pianist of
great repute, William Albright began learning the piano at an early age of five.
He progressed quickly in his studies showing immense talent as a performer and composer.
He attended the Juilliard Preparatory Department(1959-62), the Eastman School of
Music(1962-3) and the University of Michigan (1963-70) where his principal teacher
was former department chair Ross Lee Finney. Soon after he received a Fulbright Fellowship
to study composition for a year with Oliver Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory. In
addition to many commissions, he received many honors, including two Koussevitzky
composition Awards, the Queen Marie-Jose Prize (for his Organbook I) and an award
from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1970 he was appointed to teach
at the University of Michigan where, as associate director of the electronic music
studio, he pursued research in live and electronic modification of acoustic instruments,
always "stretching" the boundaries of performance techniques. His compositions
often combine complex rhythmic and non-tonal techniques with elements of American
pop music. Though his works are crafted concisely, he stressed the value of music
as a form of communication and the supremacy of music of intuition, imagination and
beauty of sound. He was a prinipal figure with William Bolcom in the revival of interest
in Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb and other ragtime composers from the turn of the century.
he performed classical ragtime, stride piano and boogie-woogie with great enthusiasm
while writing many of his own works in these styles. His compositions have been performed
around the world while his many organ/sacred works are consistently programmed in
America and Europe.
As a professor of composition he continued the
tradition from his former teacher Ross Lee Finney which has made the department one
of the most recognized and prestigious of its kind in the country today. He paid
very close attention to every students' needs, desires, and problem. His concern
was ever present, his lucidity staggering and his musical intuitiion was tantamount
to his character in lessons. In many instances he would "steer" his students
back on to their own paths without actually taking them there, leaving it up to the
student to find his/her way throughthe solution. Studying with Prof. Albright was
very much akin to meeting with a great soothsayer in the ways of musical thought.
I will always remember him for the wonderful humor with which he could see the little
things in all of us ( I left my lessons crackling most of the time), and the way
he always made me feel like he was right there with me every step...like he was on
"my team". This way of his has made myself and many others feel as if we
have just lost one of our great fathers.
student(Jan '96 - April '97)
Paul Griffiths, in the N.Y. Times caption of Bill Albright's death, reported:
"William Albright, 53, Composer of Ragtime Music for the Organ."
53!! I have always thought of Bill as a young composer, and 53 still seems young
53!! Aaron Copland once remarked that the public seemed to consider him (Copland)
a young composer until he turned 60, at which time he became the Dean of American
Bill was indeed a young composer. Young and blazingly gifted, similar to several
other remarkable young composers who died at even earlier ages: Mozart, Chopin, Schubert,
Pergolesi, Gershwin. Yet Bill would have soon turned 54 , just 3 years younger than
Beethoven. We had hoped that Bill would still be composing at 65, the age of Bach
or older, as with Wagner, or Vaughn-Williams, or Schoenberg, or Haydn, or Ives. Or
still composing at 80, as was Verdi while creating Falstaff, or reach 90, as did
Ross Lee Finney, or Eubie Blake at the century mark.
"Wm. Albright, 53, Composer....."
Ah, yes indeed, certainly COMPOSER. Bill came to us in Ann Arbor as a sophomore and
immediately made his mark as a gloriously talented composer and organist. He produced
extraordinary music, had superb craft and a delightfully innovative imagination.
Each of his works consisted of something special: witty, fun, powerful, unique. He
was interested in many kinds of music. In his early years he performed on the Once
Festivals, and was part of the off-beat "Grate Society." (G-r-a-t-e) He
regularly premiered scores by his friends and colleagues.
"Wm. Albright, 53, Composer of Ragtime Music....."
Yes, he brought new life and vitality to a music fad that had swept the country in
our grandparents' day. Bill thoroughly enjoyed coming up with new rags and performing
old ones, playing stride piano, and building a repertory of his own music that he
could perform on solo concerts. His rags were delightful, especially when played
on the organ. Wm. Albright, 53, Composer of Ragtime Music for the Organ....."
His organ music is brilliant, powerful, unique. He discovered innovations that organists
had never thought about, considered impossible, or avoided as violating the sacred
canon of tradition. He brought new life and joy to a repertory in desperate need.
His rich organ music led directly to a substantial group of non-organ works, such
as Chasm, for orchestra, the lyrical Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, Spheara for
piano and 4-channel computer-generated sound, the Harpsichord Concerto, and the lovely
sacred choral works.
What master! - what a friend and colleague! What a legacy!!!
Unitarian Church, Ann Arbor MI
September 28, 1998
Bill Albright is one of the half-dozen chief composers of the 20th century
for organ, as well as a first-rank contributor to chamber, choral and orchestral
music of our time. His black humor and profundity-in pieces like the 5 Chromatic
Dances for piano-make his work essential and indispensable. I was his friend
for years; together we spearheaded the ragtime revival. I will miss him deeply.
Bill Albright and I knew each other most of our lives, from the summer of
1964 at Tanglewood. He was extraordinarily precocious as a composer and performer,
and he already had a comprehensive knowledge of contemporary music. As colleagues
at Michigan during 1985 to 1991 our friendship deepened.
Bill was an amazingly gifted musician. He did not broadcast his abilities; on the
contrary, he often deprecated them even as he unconsciously conveyed his inner stature.
He was both an imposing musical intellectual and an astonishing performer. Most of
all, he was one of the most talented composers I have known. I admired him enormously
and am grateful for the many beautiful and powerful pieces he created.
My heart always went out to Bill, because beyond his gifts, and beyond his occasional
gruffness, he was a deeply vulnerable and caring human being. I am reminded of a
private moment that confirms something of his inner nature. About ten years ago he
came to my home for a dinner party. Not atypically, he suddenly disappeared. After
awhile I looked for him and found him upstairs, in the dark rocking my two-year-old
daughter Ruthie to sleep, in the sweetest, most tender way. He whispered, "This
is the best!"
Bill Albright was to me and to many of my peers a mentor, teacher, colleague
and friend. As a mentor, he was instrumental in helping to create careers, giving
us opportunities for awards and grants, and showing us a professional level of discourse
through our scores and its music. As a teacher, our lessons were often filled with
probing questions attempting to reveal the center, the core of a composition-in reality,
teaching us how to consider and comprehend our own music. He was, as a colleague,
a stunning pianist and organist as well as a firm supporter and long-time member
of SCI. Here in the vast midwest, he was also a composer who among others helped
to create the Midwest Composers Symposium, a consortium of five universities. Finally,
he was a friend, who shared with me not only compositional problems and solutions,
but possible answers to many of life's uncertainties. In my estimation he was a true
composer: we are full of respect and admiration for his music, for its power of statement,
for its musicality. He will be missed.
Other William Albright events in October
"MICHIGAN COMPOSERS" concert which will be held during the 39th Conference
on Organ Music, Oct. 11, 8 P.M. at Hill.
Music of William Albright:
HALO for Organ and Metal Instruments
TAKE THAT for percussion and
SWEET SIXTEENTHS for Organ.
Other composers will be Theodore Morris, William
Bolcom, Calvin Taylor (UM graduate) and Larry Visser (also a UM graduate.) There
is no charge for this concert.
University of Michigan Percussion Ensemble presents
TAKE THAT for percussion
Brave New Works Concert 8 pm in the Britton Recital Hall
Students and colleagues of William Albright will present new works written in memory
of their teacher and friend at the Kerry town Concert house. 7 pm
Works performed TBA
For more information contact us at :
ALBRIGHT was written in September
of 1997 as a tribute rag to composer William Albright (exactly a year previous to
his death). I remember distinctly the circumstances under which the piece was created.
I came into one of my lessons with a sketch of a tremendously difficult piano rag.
I could barely play it for him. He suggested I start anew at a much slower tempo
in the key of C-sharp minor. I started to plunk out a slow ragtime bass in the key,
but as soon as I wandered to some other tonality he made me stop. "I simply
want you to play a slow drag in C-sharp minor until you cannot take it anymore...and
then KEEP playing in C-sharp minor." The test was extrememly difficult for me.
The lesson, however, was apparent. The rag that finally resulted is not 100% C-sharp
minor (one of the themes is in C-sharp major). All it took was that lesson to understand
the value of a cohesive harmonic structure (as opposed to the tendency of mine to
roam all over the diatonic map...at all times). - Carter Pann
Shadows : Eight Serenades for Solo
Shadows explores and exploits
a wide expressive spectrum. The guitar's capacity for tenderness and intimacy begets
four serenades - the haunting, plaintive "Open", the stark, lonely "Nights",
the sweet, exquisitive "Lullaby" and the ethereal, cathartic "Close"
- while our instrument's ability to lead an aggressive dance gives rise to three
more - the primitive, rite-of-spring-like "Tierra", the colorful, driving
"Days" and the virile, dramatic "Tarantas". "Tarantas",
a flamenco-inspired fantasy, features strums typical of its Spanish musical origin.
A surreal nocturnal jam session of Halloween characters, cackling and giggling as
they pick their guitars and banjos, appears in the remaining "Spirits",
which springs from still one more resource, humor. Like other William Albright compositions
written in the late 1970's, particularly Five Chromatic Dances for solo piano, Shadows
combines tight musical control with direct emotional impact. The title of the eight
serenades point to Shadows' overall architecture, four symetrically placed pairs:
on the outside, "Open" and "Close"; then, going towards the center,
the two with Spanish names, "Tierra" and "Tarants"; next, "Nights"
and "Days"; and, in the center, "Spirits" and "Lullaby."
While the unity and variety encompassed by this scheme makes playing the whole collection
perfect, there is excellence in performing shorter groups or individual serenades.
Commissioned by the University Musical Society, Ann Arbor through a grant from the
Michigan Council for the Arts, William Albright wrote Serenades in 1977 for premier
in 1979. It is his first piece for guitar. On October 15, 1979 in Rackham Auditorium,
Ann Arbor, I gave Shadows its first performance. -Michael Lorimer
Abiding Passions for Woodwind Quintet
(1988) Commissioned by the
Sierra Wind Quintet
The four movements, referred
to as stages, of Abiding Passions for woodwind quintet, relate to many aspects of
life. First, the movements refer to the stages of human relationships from start
to finish; secondly to an imaginary theatrical stage upon which these dramas are
acted out, and; lastly as a metaphor for the four seasons and the powerful effect
they have on human behavior. The Italian word for seasons is, coincidentally, stagione.
Stage One, titled Awakening, relates to spring and is constructed from opposites:
a pastoral chorale against a driven, sometimes savage, pulsed music. Both areas are
obstinately centered on D, a tonality I have often associated with the earth and
natural beauty(c.f., my work Pax in Terra). In the fast portions, I have used all
manner of unison couplings and alliances among the instruments in an attempt to make
the disparate sounds of the ensemble cohere. Ardor(summer) is a simple song with
a tight harmonic range and multiple instrumental overlappings. It is to be played
con amore; the tonality is C. By contrast, the third movement is a romping scherzo,
a playful piece for my favorite season, fall. Its title, Play by Play, is a term
used frequently during autumn's sports broadcasts of college football and professional
baseball. Just as the tonal center for the third 'stage' is dual D-flat/C, the fourth
movement grinds on C and B. The entire work's descent by half-step from d to B from
beginning to end is mirrored in the descending half-steps in the last movement Loss(winter).
Alternating tutti sections with solos for each of the five players, the piece attempts
a passionate yet bitter statement. -- William Albright
for Alto Saxophone and Piano (1984) opens with a 'two-part invention' emphasizing
rapid interchange of material between the two instruments. Concerning the second
movement, the composer writes: "The piece is dedicated to the memory of the
composer George Cacioppo who died unexpectedly on April 8, 1984. Co-founder of the
ONCE Group and mentor to three generations of composers, Cacioppo and his music and
personality rest at the foundation of my thinking. He would very much appreciate
the use of the traditional title 'La Follia (the madness)' in my reincarnation as
'La follia nuova.' Like its Baroque antecedents, the piece is in a chaconne-variation
form, though sometimes the sections are curiously jumbled together, or intersect.
The fact that the key is F sharp minor may be important, or may not be." The
neo-baroque codetta serves as a private, intimate tribute to Cacioppo. The third
movement is a rapid scherzo which rarely rises above the piano dynamic. A lengthy
recitative for saxophone alone introduces the final 'Mad Dance,' which contains references
to American popular styles, including Be-Bop.
for Alto Saxophone and Piano (1984)
La follia nuova: a lament for George Cacioppo
Scherzo "Will o'the wisp"
Recitative and Dance