Wednesday, November 26, 2014

This is Nick Minicucci writing to you from PARMA’s Licensing Department.  

On a normal day I’m fielding submissions to build up our licensing catalog, reaching out to companies to find placements for our artists’ music in all types of media, fulfilling our client’s creative needs, and snacking on whatever I can find in our kitchen.

However, this past Thursday our recordings team had two sessions with composers
David N. Stewart and Paula Diehl and I had the opportunity to attend both.

After picking David up from the airport at the time I’m usually leaving for work and navigating my way through the madness that is driving in Boston, it was time for some good listening.

From Left: David Stewart, Peter Sulski, Andy Happel, John Weston
And good listening it was – David composed a piece for solo viola entitled “Fantasy.” It’s only a three minute piece but it’s packed with harmonic movement, ascending and descending patterns that span the whole range of the instrument, tempo change, time change, and a mountain of expression.

The performer, Peter Sulski, had a wealth of emotion to give the piece and technique that was a more than efficient conduit for getting it there. Watching the interaction between composer and performer as they talked about specific techniques and where adjustments could be made to enhance playability 
while still maintain the composition’s integrity may have been the most fascinating part for me.

In Paula’s session we were recording three powerful art songs written for piano and baritone – seeing two performers work together for the first time and establish a professional and aesthetic chemistry from the very first note was captivating.

Paula was listening in remotely and our lead producer Andy Happel was on the phone with her at every pause in the session to hear her feedback – his skill for making sure this feedback was translated into the music was sharply demonstrated. It was also impressive to witness our Artist Coordinator, Matt Konrad, following the score in real time and making sure everything stayed on track.

The musicality in that room was substantial and provided a lasting inspiration as I made way to my own gig in Cambridge.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Art and Music, A Natural Pair | Matthew Cusick

Art and music, a natural pair. Both are interpretive and expressive so it makes sense for the two to come together in our package designs. PARMA's Design Department is constantly cultivating new relationships with talented fine artists with hopes to collaborate on album designs. This creates both more unique covers for PARMA's artists and helps to bring the fine artists' work to a new expanded audience.

One such artist we have partnered with is Matthew Cusick. states, "Matthew Cusick is an artist to know, understand and admire. Inspired by topography, he uses vintage map cutouts as a surrogate for paint and creates the most compelling pieces of art. Each image is meticulously pieced together by pasting small map-snippets into either beautiful portraits or wide spatial landscapes."

When it came time to create the cover art for Matthew Malsky's album, GEOGRAPHIES & GEOMETRIES we immediately thought of Cusick's artwork. There was an obvious and immediate connection to the theme of the album, both visually and sonically. We were thrilled to facilitate the collaboration and we are all very proud of the result.

To learn more about Matthew Cusick's artwork please visit:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Composer Lee Actor Chosen for Honored Artists of The American Prize

This year The American Prize, the series of national nonprofit competitions in the performing arts, chose five American composers as the first group of Honored Artists of The American Prize. One of the composers selected is PARMA artist Lee Actor from Monte Sereno CA.

The American Prize website states, "Honored Artists are individuals who have proven themselves to be musicians of 'sustained excellence' over a number of seasons as contestants in the competitions." Actor has been awarded several distinctions from The American Prize, placing second in the 2011 Music for Orchestra division, and as a finalist in the same category in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

After a long and successful career in the video game industry, in 2001 Actor devoted himself full time to composition and conducting. He was named Composer-in-Residence of the Palo Alto Philharmonic in 2002, following his appointment as Assistant Conductor.

In April 2011, Actor released SAXOPHONE CONCERTO on Navona Records. In their review, Gramophone Magazine hails, "... [There is a] consistent level of orchestrational prowess throughout this collection. Instruments, whether solo or in multiples, are always placed in their best light." Audiophile Audition named it as one of their Best of the Year Discs for 2011.

Actor is releasing another album of his orchestral works on Navona entitled PIANO CONCERTO, featuring Maestro Kirk Trevor and the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra, early next year. Stayed tuned for more information regarding its release.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Look Inside Paul Osterfield's SOUND AND FURY

Paul Osterfield
Too rarely are we allowed a glimpse into the inception and development of art as intricate and engaging as that of PARMA composer Paul Osterfield, whose music has been hailed for its colorful, sensual, and dramatic style by listeners, students, and reviewers alike. When such an opportunity arises, we take it upon ourselves to share it with our audience and provide a deeper level of insight into our artists' creative processes.

Recently, Paul sat down with a couple of former students of his at Middle Tennessee State University to discuss his creative process on his latest release, SOUND AND FURY. In the interview, Paul discusses how these works progressed through the composition phase all the way through to their recording and release on his new album. 

You can view the video directly via the YouTube player below. SOUND AND FURY is now available on Navona Records via CD, digital download, and online streaming.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

November Releases out on Navona, Ravello, and Big Round Records

Kathryn Goodson, Randall Hawes, Timothy McAllister, Donald Sinta, Gail Williams

A stroll along the Seine - Notre Dame reflected in the waters below - the Eiffel Tower illuminated in evening skies - bistro conversations echoing in the streets of the Left Bank. Parisian scenes such as these come to mind when listening to the nuances of pianist Kathryn Goodson's debut Navona Records release, BELLE NUIT, a collection of works from the La Belle Époque and beyond, with arrangements for piano and wind instruments. 

Presenting two programs, Sonate et Rhapsodie: 4 Major Works and Romance et Mélodie: 16 Miniatures, this album showcases the refined lyricism of bass trombonist Randall Hawes, saxophonists Timothy McAllister and Donald Sinta, and hornist Gail Williams. Combined with Goodson's colorful pianism, these musicians express the imagery of love, loss, and passion with bel canto phrasing, through works by Debussy, Duparc, Fauré, Franck, Messiaen, and more. Read More

Kate Boyd

On her debut Navona Records album, JOHN CAGE: SONATAS AND INTERLUDES / IN A LANDSCAPE, pianist Kate Boyd performs two pieces by John Cage (1912-1992) that exemplify his range of compositional intuition and invention. Sonatas and Interludes, one of Cage's most substantial works, makes use of prepared piano, a concept created by Cage. Boyd says of the significance of Sonatas and Interludes, "This work bookends the piano as we know it today, grounding itself in a time before its inception and yet looking ahead to the creation of a new instrument and sound aesthetic." A marriage of Baroque form and contemporary techniques as well as of Eastern philosophy and Western musical styles, this work is unique for performers since every performance varies due to the preparation of each instrument. While Sonatas and Interludes augments the piano's sound, In a Landscape seeks to limit it. Influenced by Erik Satie, Cage's latter work predates yet anticipates minimalism with its light, ethereal, and recurring themes. These two works showcase Boyd's scope of technique, emotion, and dexterity on the piano. Read More

Patrick Hawkins


When listening to keyboardist Patrick Hawkins playing an 1831 William Geib square piano on his debut Navona Records release, HAYDN AND THE ENGLISH LADY, one can imagine men and women in elegant silk gowns and suits gathered in an opulently decorated drawing room of an 18th-century English estate. This collection of piano works by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and Maria Hester Park (1760-1813) illustrate the diversity and refinement of Classical repertoire.

Park, who received notable recognition as a pianist and harpsichordist in her teenage years, composed pieces which use skilled keyboard techniques, from the virtuosic 32nd-note passages and three-against-two patterns in Sonata in E-flat Major to the double-dotted rhythms and sighing gestures in A Waltz in E-flat Major. Haydn's Sonata in D Major and Adagio in G Major were written during his second visit to London in 1794-95, the former thought to be written as a gift for Maria Hester Park. Throughout his performances, Hawkins exhibits control and stateliness, presenting these works in a renewed display of sophistication and delicacy. Read More

Michael G. Cunningham

On his latest Navona Records release, PARAGONIA, composer Michael G. Cunningham explores ways in which the orchestra can interact with itself on several levels. Counter Currents presents contrary phrases and themes simultaneously stated while TransActions portrays dimensions of density, emphasizing orchestral blur and presenting gestures and passages that prompt interplay between the sections of the orchestra. In Cunningham's Piano Concerto, the orchestra and piano are equally matched, using elements of stylized jazz and vocal-like passages to structure the themes. Highlighting textural and tonal fragmentation within the orchestra, his Trumpet Concerto demonstrates different conversational techniques among the voices, such as chatter, flippancy, and imitation. Read More

Paul Osterfield

From the serenity of the Smoky Mountains to the abstraction and boldness of Kandinsky's paintings, composer Paul Osterfield's debut solo Navona Records album SOUND AND FURY pulls inspiration from several experiences which the composer translates into refined, stimulating, and expressive chamber pieces. 

Osterfield writes many of his pieces for particular performers and ensembles, giving his music unique personalities that reflect the virtuosic capabilities of the musicians. Sound and Fury, written for the Blakemore Trio, uses ornate passages and driving rhythms with soaring lyrical melodies, while Etudes for Piano, Book 1, written for pianist Caleb Harris, demonstrates various technical faculties such as parallel chords, syncopated rhythms, and blazing strings of notes. Works such as Smoky Mountain Autumn and Kandinsky Images depict the imagery of the natural landscapes of East Tennessee and the intense, often dark, and striking expressions of the painter's pieces. Read More

Gerald Cohen

The clarinet is an essential voice in many genres, from classical and jazz to klezmer and world music, and composer Gerald Cohen calls it one of his favorite instruments: "I love the clarinet for its wide variety of character and dynamics, and its ability to either blend beautifully with other instruments or to stand out in a crowd." Through this affinity, the composer offers new compositions featuring the clarinet in various trio settings on his debut Navona Records release, SEA OF REEDS. 

Cohen's dramatic and lyrical compositions explore the clarinet's colorful personality with his particular blend of classical, Jewish, and jazz influences. Variously Blue is a vibrant group of variations on a twelve-bar blues pattern, highlighting an interplay between jazz and concert music; the title collection Sea of Reeds arranges five of Cohen's Jewish vocal works, turning them into virtuosic clarinet showpieces. Yedid Nefesh, based on a delicate Sephardic song, explores both meditative and exuberant aspects of that melody, while the wide-ranging variations of Grneta Variations take advantage of the wonderful virtuosity and unique musical personalities of the three musicians of the Grneta Ensemble. Read More

Mark Zanter

On his debut Navona Records release, LETTERS TO A YOUNG POET, composer Mark Zanter presents recently commissioned chamber works for strings. The inspiration for the title track comes from Rainer Maria Rilke's letters to Franz Xaver Kappus, a correspondence in which his encouragement to a young poet becomes a vehicle for expressing his thoughts on the creative process and the transcendent qualities of art. 

Guitarist Júlio Alves comments: "In Letters to a Young Poet, Mark Zanter reveals through a complex mosaic of sonorities the correspondence between anguished apprentice Franz Kappus and disquiet Rainer Maria Rilke, a poet still wrestling to find his own artistic identity. The intricacies of the parts, individually and together, indicate that the role of each instrument in this correspondence was purposefully left undecided, allowing both the violin and the guitar to be either 'the apprentice' or 'the poet.'" Read More

Kim Halliday

Composer and musician Kim Halliday is no stranger to the aesthetics of contemporary rock music, having a diverse background in punk, new wave, and ska. While his work in film composition draws on these influences and beyond, Halliday says his music is "designed to comfort and disturb in equal measure" like the moonlight illuminating a path through the forest, yet awakening shadow beings among the trees. 

His latest Ravello Records release, HALFLIGHT, portrays Halliday as a composer of our age, bringing together progressive rock, electronic and ambient music, and film music. Halliday uses a range of instruments at his disposal, from guitar and piano to sound loops and synthesizers to drum machines and narration. These works are entrenched in mystery, suggesting emotions that may be real or delusional. As does a track from a rock album, these pieces are easily self-sustaining and satisfying on their own, but they carry an atmosphere and tone of thrill and complexity which give them the ability to work within a number of film settings. Read More

Christina Rusnak

On her debut Big Round Records release, CHAT CHILL HIGHLINE, composer Christina Rusnak presents works arranged for big band and large jazz ensemble, illustrating manners in which we interact with others and our environments such as conversing, observing, and absorbing. Composed during the rising popularity of internet chatrooms, Chat reflects on the energy and the sounds of movement, the multitude of voices, and the interweaving of conversations created in virtual and real social gatherings. Chill captures the cool ambience of a jazz lounge with an air of relaxation, mixed with lively sections of swinging rhythms and solos, while HighLine emphasizes the expansiveness which outdoor spaces can provide for reflection, contemplation, and wandering. In the hands of a controlled yet nimble large jazz ensemble, Rusnak's works form their own atmospheres by threading intricate dialogues and phrases among the instruments. Read More

Monday, November 10, 2014

PARMA Guest Blogger: David Salvage, "In Praise of Low-Stakes Composition"

In the early 1970s, the composer György Kurtág found himself blocked. His large song cycle, The Sayings of Peter Bornemisza, which some had heralded as a milestone in the history of Hungarian music, was five years behind him, and he was having trouble writing something that could be considered a proper follow-up. At the suggestion of a friend of his—a piano teacher, Kurtág began composing some short piano pieces for her young students. Relieved at not feeling pressured to compose a masterpiece, he found himself enjoying the process. And he also found himself unblocked.

Though I’ve never had composer’s block, my series of Albumleaves has been and still is—despite my having to prioritize bigger projects lately—a refreshing outlet for low-stakes composition. When composing an Albumleaf, I don’t worry about being original: to paraphrase Brahms, any jackass can hear that many of them are derivative. I don’t worry about a piece being “just right”: it’s enough for me that an Albumleaf be momentarily effective—they don’t all need to be equally good. I don’t worry about pleasing this or that audience: I find tonality, atonality, minimalism, and jazz all interesting, and low-stakes composition lets me engage more intensely with these styles and techniques than even attentive listening does. And I don’t worry about being considered a dilettante, or lacking a “musical center” (as one reviewer put it): such criticism gives up a discussion of specific music for a discussion of generalized aesthetic values; talking aesthetics is wonderful, but let’s not pretend we’re making a substantial musical criticism when, noting the composer’s stylistic variety, we call a piece of music amateurish.

When you worry too much, you choke up, and you stop what you’re doing. And it’s critically important that any artist keep making art, no matter what. While we’ve all had the experience of ideas coming to us unbidden when taking a walk or a shower or whatever, nothing readies the imagination for ideas better than actually sitting down with pen and paper and getting to the work of sniffing around for them and trying them out and developing them or putting them aside. The more sitting down to work becomes an anxiety-laden encounter with the pursuit of Originality, Perfection, Audience, or My Musical Center, the more likely you’ll find reasons not to get to work; you’ll write less music, and many perfectly decent ideas—not to mention entire compositions—will have flowed away unnoticed. 

And having an outlet for low-stakes composition makes high-stakes composition more enjoyable. Working over the notes, polishing and perfecting them over the course of a long period of time with the intention of saying something fresh, getting things “just right,” pleasing your likely audience, and creating something that complements your other works becomes a refreshing change of pace; the quick and dirty low-stakes work is left behind for a more leisurely process where you feel more in control of your material. High-stakes composition feels like a privilege. 

In Kurtág’s case, he began publishing his low-stakes work, which now amounts to eight volumes of so-called Játékok (“Games”); and he often mines the Játékok for material for his more serious concert pieces for professionals—yet another potential benefit to low-stakes composition. It may even be that for its best practitioners the distinction between low-stakes and high-stakes composition gets dissolved into a virtuous swirl of steady music making. But for the rest of us, observing the difference is a fruitful way to keep the music going.

R. David Salvage’s Albumleaves are featured on LOCK AND KEY (Navona 5881). He is Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.

Nicolas Kaviani: "Te Deum"

This September, equal parts excited and nervous, I left on my first overseas trip to the Czech Republic for a week of recording sessions with PARMA's production team.  For anyone who hasn't visited, the Czech Republic is a charming country with a rich and deep artistic culture (and great food).

While there, we had the pleasure of working with Los Angeles composer Nicolas Kaviani on the recording of his setting of Te Deum, followed by an a'capella work entitled "Tous les matins du monde," both to be included on an upcoming release through PARMA Recordings.

Olomouc, Czech Republic
Mr. Kaviani's setting of Te Deum is a beautiful and seminal work for full orchestra, chorus, and four vocal soloists.  We spent multiple days in the city of Olomouc, bringing together some of Europe's greatest musicians, to record this monumental piece of music.

It has been over a month since we have returned and captured all of the material that will be included on Mr. Kaviani's upcoming release.  We've been working together diligently on this project and now is your chance to be a part of it.

Nicolas has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help offset some of the financial expenses he had to incur during the production of this project.  He is offering some compelling rewards and as an added bonus, was able to bring along director Alexis Hellot to shoot the entire experience.  You can see a trailer from the forthcoming DVD and listen to an excerpt from his setting of Te Deum below. Learn more about the project and support Nicolas here:  

Help support great projects, music, and the arts if you can!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

CBC Classical Disc of the Week: SIX DEPARTURES by Trio Verlaine

This week CBC Radio 2's In Concert program selected Trio Verlaine's debut Ravello Records digital-only album SIX DEPARTURES, which was released in September, as its Classical Disc of the Week.

The Canadian ensemble Trio Verlaine consists of violist David Harding, flutist Lorna McGhee, and harpist Heidi Krutzen. All three musicians are highly regarded in their respective fields – Heidi is Principal Harp with the Vancouver Opera, David is Professor of Viola & Chamber Music at Carnegie Mellon University, and Lorna is Principal Flute with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra – and are drawn together by friendship and the committed desire to further the catalog of music for the ensemble's distinctive instrumentation.

SIX DEPARTURES features works by Arnold Bax and André Jolivet as well as world premiere recordings of R. Murray Schafer's Trio for Flute, Viola and Harp, and Jeffery Cotton's Six Departures. In the imaginative hands of Trio Verlaine, this album builds on the repertoire for this unique combination of instruments first dreamt of by Debussy, while embracing the future with open arms.

The album is available globally from many online retailers and streaming sites, including iTunes, Amazon, ClassicsOnlineSpotify, and Rhapsody.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nicholas Ascioti helps St. Jude School Chorus Record and Release Christmas CD

This Saturday (11/8) the St, Jude the Apostle School Chorus will release a Christmas Collection CD during a special concert and party at the Barnes & Noble in Albany, NY. The event will start at 11:00 AM.

On October 22nd, the SJS Chorus, directed by PARMA Artist Nicholas Ascioti, went into Cathedral Sound Recording Studio to record their second CD, a collection of Christmas hymns and classics. Artwork for the release was created by the chorus and the group collectively produced the CD - from picking the songs to figuring out distribution.

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) picked up the concert and has shared it online and in their print editions.  You can read more about the event here.

Congratulations to Nicholas and his students for producing such an important and fun project!

Nicholas Ascioti                                                                    St. Jude the Apostle School Choir  


"The human voice is the organ of the soul." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The voice is the oldest musical instrument – it is the only instrument that we are born knowing how to play.  This is not to say that everyone is good at playing this inherently human instrument; the mastery of the voice is a technical feat, one that stems from years of practice, training, and learning.

PARMA has a vast catalog of music in all sorts of instrumentation, but to me, there is a basic human connection to works that feature virtuoso vocal performances.  I've compiled a playlist of a selection of some highlight vocal performances from the PARMA catalog.  I've also taken the liberty to include some of my favorite modern pop songs which feature a strong vocal performance.  The versatility and range of the human voice is the thing that sets it apart from other instruments.  Each voice is as unique as a fingerprint, and we should celebrate each voice for its distinctive qualities.