Nicholas Ashton, pianist solo, chamber, contemporary piano music

Nicholas Ashton, pianist

8. Commissions and Dedications

Stephen Hough:  No. 2 of Three Mozart Transformations (after Poulenc) , 2009, solo piano – dedication (from 2’30”)

Kenneth Dempster: Chaconne in Memoriam Colin O’Riordan, 2002, piano six hands – commission

Drew Hammond: Watershed, 2011, two pianos – dedication  (from 21’12”)

Abstract from the composer:

“Watershed continues my work in utilizing models from the natural world to create pieces of music. I have structured the piece around the idea of following two watersheds in Central Kentucky, USA, from their shared point of origin, Sand Knob, to their utter dissipation through the expansive waters of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and beyond. Within each section the raw musical material is generated by a single evolving L System that rewrites ordered intervals. The transformation of this material occurs in many stages, which are named in the piece as the various tributaries within the watersheds. These transformations take many forms. Initially, the tempo is accelerated proportionally to emphasize the idea of accumulation and flow. Later the horizontal character of the music collects into vertical “pools” of sonority. The acceleration and pooling ideas come together in IX. North Rolling Fork (rising waters) and X. Salt River (flood). Through composition I am specifically researching methodologies derived from the natural world because I have found that they provide something for my compositional practice that no exclusively human, or cultural derivation can: a true sense of “otherness”, of power that is beyond human will. Watershed was premiered by Lauryna Sabliviciute and Nicholas Ashton in Glasgow, UK at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on January 16, 2012.”

Drew Hammond: Strata, 2010, two pianos – dedication

Jane Stanley: Pentimenti, 2011, two pianos –  dedication (from 33’30”)

Abstract from the composer:

“The title Pentimenti is drawn from the visual arts. Pentimenti refers to the alteration of the composition of a painting mid-way through he process of completing the work. In the case of a figurative painting, the artist may change the height of a person or the direction in which a hand points. I aimed to express this concept musically by creating an impression of multiple layers of texture and by suggesting the ideas of “traces” or shadows of pre-existing material (for example, the distant decorative texture in piano 2 entering at figure F). The low, very soft agitated texture exposed at figure A is for me analogous with the process of priming a canvas in preparation for adding successive layers of foreground interest and subject matter. An example of “foreground interest” is the subito forte flourish entering at bar 32, along with other gestures which project in terms of dynamic and register.”

The work received its first performance at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in January, 2012 by its dedicatees, Lauryna Sableviciute and Nicholas Ashton.

Julian Wagstaff: Hebridean Sunset Rag, 2007, violin and piano – dedication

Robert Crawford: Prelude, 2011, piano – dedication

John Hails: EMG; EMG 2, 2008, piano – dedication

Ian Percy: Mystics, 2015, two pianos

Abstract from the composer:
“To celebrate Alexander Scriabin’s (1872-1915) anniversary year, this duet for two pianos was composed using the pitches of his Mystic Chord: C – D – E – F# -A – Bb. For secondary material (contrast and balance) I completed the total chromatic with the pitches of a Mystic Complement: Db – Eb – F – G – Ab – B.

This relatively short duet carries the listener through a succinct and well-focused musical form where the pitch organisation starts with both pianos playing the primary atonal material: The six pitches of the Mystic Chord. The pitch content is expanded as the piece progresses until it introduces the total chromatic, where the first piano plays the Mystic Chord and the 2nd piano plays the Mystic Complement, combining to create a 12-tone sound-world, but effectively playing in two different atonalities. Before the piece ends with a final muted statement of the theme, both pianos play the six pitches of the Mystic Complement in an expressive and lyrical passage with a modal ‘quasi-blues’ feel to the atonal pitch collection.

The first thematic statement could be said to have a reference to G, with all the pitches belonging to the G Jazz melodic minor scale and the final statement of the theme is in an ‘atonal’ A. The penultimate lyrical passage outlines a clear reference to an Ab ‘atonal modality’, and so the form of this duet passes through two semitone modulations, eventually resolving a whole-tone above where it started. Whilst I could not help but consciously notice references to Lutoslawski’s semi-tonal formal modulations, the form (and eventual pitch scheme) was a natural consequence of working with the Mystic Chord.”

Stephen Pratt: Fast Forward, 2015, two pianos

Abstract from the composer:

“This movement is written for Lauryna Sableviciute and Nicholas Ashton, and I hope that it will be part of an as yet unwritten larger work for the two-piano combination. As the title suggests, it is a predominantly fast, driving miniature movement, drawing in part from my earlier solo piano piece The Song Within, which was premiered by Joanna MacGregor at the Chester Festival in 1997. In both pieces, I had in mind a kind of frantic cubist railroad boogie-woogie as an accompaniment to short fast forwarded film of an old American railroad train.”

Graham Warner: Flux, 2015, two pianos

Abstract from the composer:

“The composition of this work for two pianos was fuelled by an array of contrasting stimuli and starting points. However, throughout the course of the creative process the writings of the Ancient Greek philosophers Heraclitus and Parmenides remained a constant and primary source of creative inspiration. Indeed, the Ancients’ premise that the balancing of opposites leads to universal accord and that within such a unified world everything is in a permanent state of flux, served as a constant source of inspiration. The work then is a study of unity and opposition.

Throughout the work the two pianos are often portrayed as conflicting protagonists whilst in other instances they complement and support each other as an ongoing discourse is pursued. On closer inspection the compositional material itself can be seen to be constructed with a sense of opposition in mind whilst structurally the work is formed from two halves each balancing the other in mood and length.

The philosophical origins of the work afforded a wide range of musical material from the deliberately crude and musically clumsy to a number of delicate and, in places, playful reposts as the dialogue between the two continues. During the second half of the work a quieter, more distant and, one may propose, a frozen sense of expression is realised, a musical gesture which evolves into an accompaniment for a more overtly expressive and lyrical conclusion as the work fades, the two unified as one.”


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