East Hampton Star

Mr. Wolosoff blends various styles, in this case mostly jazz, blues, and boogie, and even a bit of fiddling for Irish Maude, and he does so in a genuine and individual way. He is a composer who knows what he is doing.

— Thomas Bohlert, The East Hampton Star

(July 15, 2010) "Classical music today is more open than it used to be," Bruce Wolosoff has said. "Influence and inspiration come from so many places." In a program by the composer and pianist at Guild Hall in East Hampton last Thursday, called "Many Worlds," he performed some of his piano music, which melds many worlds of influence into one distinct style.

Mr. Wolosoff, who lives on Shelter Island, began piano lessons at the age of 3, and by 13 was giving lessons to others. In his teens he played in rock, jazz, and fusion bands while at the same time studying classical piano, sowing the seeds of cross- fertilization for the kind of composer he would become.

With degrees from Bard College and the New England Conservatory of Music, as well as private study with the jazz pianist Charlie Banacos, to whom the program was dedicated, in his 20s he was a freelance classical pianist in New York City.

But by age 30 Mr. Wolosoff stopped performing publicly so he could devote himself to composing. He has since had commissions for orchestra, ballet, and string quartet, and from the Smithsonian Institution, and has written for various other mediums.

Mr. Wolosoff is also known on the East End for his Creative Orchestra project at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton, in which he teaches students, even those with little or no musical training, to compose, play, and conduct their own music.

Last Thursday, Mr. Wolosoff said that since he hadn't played publicly in some time and hadn't performed many of his works, he had been looking forward to doing the Guild Hall program. Dressed in a casual dark-gray shirt, he also acknowledged that he had many friends in the audience; it seems he has a well-earned following.

The first piece on the program, "Celestial Ruby," was written at a time when he was reading a lot of mystical literature, and has several traits that run through his work, which he said were lyricism, mysticism, blues, and jazz.

These became very apparent, here and throughout the program, as well as one other big influence, that of Impressionism. One could hear strains of Debussy and the American Impressionist Charles Griffes.

Right from the quiet, suspended-feeling opening, the audience was enchanted, and was won over by its mysteriously cloudy ending. "Four Blues for Piano" came after a dry period of composing, and getting inspiration from listening to boogie-woogie recordings. And inspired they were, with the obligatory heavy, driving bass, more of a pedaled sound of impressionistic harmonies than in traditional blues, and the composer’s own contemporary touches. The third of the set was more like a ballad, with a beautiful lyrical melody.

After being haunted by the melody of the American folk song “Shenandoah,” Mr. Wolosoff wrote a large-scale set of variations on it. In its 20 or so minutes, the tune is put through many twists and turns: jazzy-bluesy touches, open American harmonies reminiscent of Copland, dare I say strains of Philip Glass, many wonderfully delicate moments, and abounding lyricism.

He joked afterward that if he had known he was going to perform his music, he would have made it less difficult. No matter; clearly he is a pianist at home with the instrument technically and is able to exploit it fully as a composer.

After the intermission, Mr. Wolosoff took questions from the audience. When asked about intuition, and whether music comes to him "at once in the night," he said that it rarely comes at once, although that has happened a couple of times. More often, something might come in the night, but he remembers only the atmosphere of it, and then has to work with an intention to hear and coax the rest of the music into a full work.

When asked about accessibility in his music, he answered, "I'm all for it, as long as it’s not pandering." He tries to use the indigenous music of the American people, and produce music that is well made and honest (and indeed he more than succeeds).

Although his music often has an improvisatory feeling, he said that most all of it is notated in painstaking detail.

However, we were treated to one exception: "I have fantasized for years about sitting in front of an audience and improvising. Let’s see how it goes." With elements of spontaneity as well as structure, he improvised beautifully, again with touches of blues, but more soulful and introspective over all.

The six-movement "Many Worlds," after which the evening was named, was written 10 years ago as a "personal requiem" for his teacher and mentor Jaki Byard. Although a requiem, it is not at all sad, but it is mostly meditative and moody, with long, arching lines and expansive crescendos.

Again, it has his trademark of Impressionism, even reaching back to Fauré, this time with some New Age touches. The last movement was dancey, ending with a delightful feature that was heard several times during the evening: a light, subtly humorous, surprise ending, perfectly timed.

For an encore, he played a number with more of a bold jam-session feeling, bringing the evening to a rousing conclusion. He later said in answer to a question that it was an improvisation based on

"Blues for Stravinsky," one of the "Songs Without Words" written for the Carpe Diem String Quartet.

Bruce Wolosoff integrates romantic, modern classical, jazz, and blues music together into an authentic American voice, and he is a composer I want to hear more of. Although he said, "I have no idea if or when I’ll ever do this again," referring to a live solo recital, he does plan to make a recording of his piano music in the fall. More information can be found at brucewolosoff.com.

 
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