We are so thrilled to be welcoming composer and arranger Carlos Simon to the PARMA family!
2018 will see the release of Carlos’ album MY ANCESTOR’S GIFT on Ravello Records.
“Out of the turmoil and anguish of slavery, unfair laws and systematic oppression, African Americans have birthed the most incredible art forms. I, and many others, have benefited from the sacrifices that so many made. MY ANCESTOR’S GIFT is a homage to these offerings. I am the hope and dream of my ancestors. These pieces are truly retrospective and introspective of who I am as an African-American artist.” – Carlos Simon
Carlos recently graduated from the University of Michigan and currently serves on the faculty of Spelman College where he teaches courses in composition and music technology. He also holds degrees from Georgia State University and Morehouse College.
Serving as music director and keyboardist for GRAMMY Award winner Jennifer Holliday, Simon has performed with the Boston Pops Symphony, Jackson Symphony, and the St. Louis Symphony. Mr. Simon has toured internationally with soul Grammy nominated artist, Angie Stone, where he performed throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Can’t wait to hear the music? Here is a preview of what’s to come:
There’s more fantastic music also available on Soundcloud. For more information visit www.coliversimon.com
Our next round of releases is, as always, a little different than anything that has come before.
Today we’re releasing Croatian pianist and composer Matej Meštrović’s debut album on Navona Records, which is an exciting all-piano take on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. We’ve also got composer Bill Whitley’s debut album featuring sumptuous chamber music and our first-ever salmon-inspired recordings. Then there’s an opera by Ross Crean based on Welsh author Arthur Machen’s eponymous novel of scientific hubris and supernatural behavior. And …
Not only is it our 500th recording, it’s our first ever vinyl release. Return with us to the days of wow and flutter, of 33 rpm, and bask in the warmth that only 180 grams of slick, black virgin vinyl can provide.
If you’re an old soul still spinning stacks of wax, this is the album for you! If you crave the warmth of vinyl and it’s more human, natural sound, this is the album for you! And if you seek out creative and courageous music, this is definitely the album for you!
As mentioned above, our 500th release isn’t the only exciting project happening next month. Get a load of this roundup and start planning your pre-orders!
Performing with Hakan A. Toker and Matija Dedić on three pianos (and accordion), this album presents a whirlwind transcription of Vivaldi’s masterful string concertos by Croatian pianist and composer Matej Meštrović.
Australian composer Mark John McEncroe’s presents a classic adventure in orchestral music. Powered by McEncroe’s thematic style, these two symphonic suites lead the listener through a harrowing and dramatic story of ancient conflict and grandeur.
Chicago-based composer presents his opera The Great God Pan in this debut album that takes its story from an eponymous 1890 novella by Welsh author Arthur Machen, which explores themes of scientific hubris, transcendental medicine, and unexplainable supernatural behavior.
On his debut album, New Zealand born, Canada-based composer John Robertson showcases the continuation of classic orchestral traditions with beautiful melodies, confident orchestration, and classic musical forms.
Composer Bill Whitley presents in his debut album chamber music that’s characterized by meditative and trance-like qualities inspired by various forms of meditation practice, and, above all, the artistic installations of Alexander Calder.
Woo hoo! We have lift-off! The Sea Knows just entered the Billboard Traditional Classical Charts at Number 1 in the nation and as their “Hot Shot Debut,” also no. 4 in the general classical category that includes pop played on classical instruments (like Elvis played by an orchestra at no. 3). This is one of those cases where five utterly stunning performances by truly world-class musicians from seven countries made a poor composer look better than he deserves. Shout out to the great people of Parma Recordings for their utterly crucial role to make this happen.
The album has been reviewed by multiple platforms such as Midwest Record and featured in playlists such as “Classical New Releases” by Spotify, which is followed by more than 200k listeners. Grammy nominated classical composer and front man of Winger, C.F. Kip Winger, who was a former student of Kurek says…
“Kurek is a rare talent who can evoke a universe of human emotion in one piece… I strongly recommend adding this CD to your catalogue.”
Jonathan Little’s historically-informed music has been acclaimed for its “mystical beauty, intensity and richness of material.” His multi-faceted style has been described as “Archaic Futurism”, “Ecstatic Minimalism”, and “Picturesque Archaism”. His music is published in Australia by Wirripang and can be heard on his highly acclaimed albums Terpsichore and the Navona release POLYHYMNIA. Today, Little is our next featured artist in The Inside Story, a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and artists. Read on to see what he’d do if he could do anything in the world!
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist/composer/creator?
This sense of focussing on the creative and nurturing is probably there from birth, quite possibly in most of us. What shape it takes must then gradually emerge. I could quite happily have been a painter, or an architect – which I did, for some time, consider. I think being a composer developed from realizing that, for me, being a musical performer was not quite enough. And, of course, being a composer is simply being an architect in sound – dealing with more ethereal and seemingly insubstantial building blocks; and yet, in time, these insubstantial elements may, ironically, even outlast anything made of stone, as long as future generations remain able to decode the mystical symbols we make on our manuscript paper: “Ars longa, vita brevis”!
If you could do any job in the world and make a living at it, what would that be?
Well, if the impossible existed, and it was possible to make a living from designing and decorating beautiful houses and gardens, and filling them with music – everything so that we might be surrounded with earthly and spiritual “richness” – then I’d apply for that job! And I dare say that people’s lives might be more pleasant and rewarding if we all lived in better natural and aesthetic environments. I am afraid I believe in the speculations of “arts for art’s sake” – in a parallel way that we encourage the extraordinary conjectures of our theoretical physicists – in that the seemingly most outlandish concept may take us to the heart of some new understanding, born of the virtue of its initial imaginative detachment. Let us have complete freedom in creativity: and Time alone – the most reliable of all our critics – can determine what is truly worthy to last!
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be? And why?
I have in my head a sort of ideal artist’s retreat (that doesn’t in fact exist)! It would be, perhaps, a sort of Renaissance palace, crossed with an ancient (even slightly ruinous) cloistered monastery – complete with landscape gardens – for creative contemplation(!) – and also crossed with the feel of a pleasant seaside fishing village, where a (not-too-hot) sun often shines: the embodiment of the picturesque! And it would be the main automobile and noise-free zone. In fact, any sort of machine would only be permitted if it were quiet. Then, we might be able to hear and attune ourselves better to the sounds of nature once more, which I think essential for true inspiration – that is, to have time and space to be able to listen to, and sense, what you might call, the underlying harmonies and rhythms of the universe. Can you find me such a place?
What would you say to an artist performing your work that nobody else knows?
Can we focus on beauty of sound, please, and also passion!! We all want technical perfection, as far as possible, but the music must not in any way be thought cold, or sterile. (Yes, music can, of course, at times sound discordant, in certain particular contexts – but it must never come across as aurally “ugly”.) My test for a fine piece of music is to determine if it, almost unconsciously, makes us want to open our inner ears, and not close them. Imagine if we had earlids – just as we have eyelids; if we did, beautiful music should make us want to open our earlids, wide!
Was there a piece on your album that you found more difficult to compose/perform than the others?
“Wasted and Worn” was the most challenging, for the simple reason that it was the first substantial new choral work of the entire project, which I commenced in mid-2015, after receiving an inaugural Australia Council “Individual International Arts Project Award”. This beginning phase is the time when the creator feels most uncertain: at the same time you can be quite excited, but also a little terrified, and often unconfident. I think this is the case irrespective of the stage in the artist’s career, or what he or she may have achieved beforehand: the blank canvas, the empty manuscript, the beginning of something quite possibly very ambitious, the brand new – when all possibilities lie open (including the possibility of failure) – this is the time of greatest creative confusion and uncertainty. “Wasted and Worn” took a lot longer than intended, as it very gradually built up, and I checked and rechecked it, not only considering how each individual part was evolving, but also how the balance of elements across the whole work was taking shape. Generally speaking, it is not until I have written about a third of a brand new piece that I know whether it will work or not, and can only then begin to feel any confidence. (This is one of my golden “rules of three”!) Added to that, if there are sponsors involved, you don’t want to let anyone down! You may also hear in “Wasted and Worn” how it passes through the most mood and “colour” changes of all of the works in this collection.
Is there a specific feeling you want listeners to tune into when hearing your work?
I worry that we sometimes become so focused on technical accuracy that we lose the thing that is of fundamental importance: communicating the passion and the emotional heart of what it is that the creator feels must be said. And this includes retaining a focus on the more “overall” aspects of musical composition – beauty of line, of constantly building intensity in a certain direction, and of gorgeousness of sound – all, in fact, adding up to the ability to transport the listener to that “other plane”, totally free of the distractions of everyday living, so that we can ultimately focus on, and be reminded of, the deeper things that matter in our lives: the things that go on, and will live on, even after us. The fact that art can communicate through time and space, and speak to others across different generations, is a huge mystery – so while, of course, we seek technical accuracy to the highest degree, unless we also are able to evoke the “emotional centre” of a work, then we are not really fully communicating. Technical accuracy and purity are great, and all the performers did a fantastic job here – with, at times, some very demanding passages; but in rehearsals, I could sometimes be heard requesting that we not forget the passion. I trust we have the balance right in these fine recordings!
Jonathan Little’s WOEFULLY ARRAYED is releasing on Navona Records July 14th. Preorder on iTunes and Amazon. Until then, here’s a promo. Please, indulge yourself:
Michael Kurek, an American composer on the faculty at Vanderbilt University, is the recipient of multiple awards such as the Academy Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, has served on the Classical Nominations Committee for the GRAMMY’s, and has traveled all over the world for performances of his work. Today, Kurek is our next featured artist in The Inside Story, a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists and composers. Read on to find out his guilty pleasure…
When did you realize you wanted to be a composer?
When I was about four years old, I used to go out to the swing set in our backyard and hang upside down by my knees from the horizontal bar across one end of it’s A-frame and make up my own tunes – just melodies, not lyrics. I realized even then that I enjoyed making my own musical ideas as much as listening to someone else’s. Over time, that realization led to writing for school groups and the high-school band. I had known years earlier that music would in some way be my life, but I think it was somewhere during high school that I specifically hoped my vocation would be in composition.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I have been a “foodie” since long before the word was coined or there was a Food Network. I started baking bread and pies as a child of eight with help from my mother, who was a children’s book illustrator. I moved as an adult into cooking all kinds of international cuisines using, as much as possible, authentic and fresh ingredients. I grow my own herbs, and my pantry includes imported Italian flour and other rare ingredients, and I make my own sausage from scratch, just to give a few examples. One of my signature appetizers is crawfish-and-goat-cheese pot stickers with basil-marsala cream sauce. Speaking of marsala, a lot of people request my special pumpkin soup in the fall, made with roasted pumpkin puree and homemade chicken stock, fresh sage, homemade sausage, mushrooms, and marsala wine, sprinkled with fresh parmesan cheese and served with fresh bread and a good red wine. My signature dessert is a tropical carrot cake, which is a luscious carrot cake made from scratch but not only with carrots but pineapple, macadamia nuts, and fresh coconut in the batter, with a coconut-milk and cream-cheese frosting. My wife Crystal’s favorite of my desserts is my “Chocolate Mink,” a flourless dark chocolate soufflé in individual ramekins, as light as air but with a major chocolate hit.
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be, and why?
I have traveled to many countries where my music was being played and love sampling all the food, of course. But for composing in, say, a little, secluded cottage for a year or two, I would probably choose the lake district of England, or an idyllic little English village – Rye is one of my favorite. Long walks in the English countryside or wandering the moors like Jane Eyre would be fantastic for conceiving music, which I always do in my head and by singing rather than at a piano or computer. My wife and I are both great Anglophiles and addicted to English literature and BBC dramas. However, The Sea Knows came out of my experiences by the ocean, so I’d also have to spend some time in Cornwall, perhaps walking or riding a horse along the beach like Ross Poldark.
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
If I may stretch the question a bit, the same “moment” happened during each of the recording sessions. I am an experienced audio engineer and producer, as well as the composer on this album and was producing this CD myself. So I was very concerned with setting up my microphones and getting the right sound and enough takes to have a good take for every part of each piece. But there was a moment in each session when the artistry of the performers coming through the headphones was so stunning, so breathtaking, that I lost all consciousness of the producer’s mentality and had to regain my composure before we could go on. This album is truly a collaboration because the playing by all of these world-class players was so exquisite that it is hard to say whether the music or the performances themselves will be most responsible for whatever success it enjoys.
What does this album mean to you personally?
This album is a milestone for me, in the sense that I have not made a CD in ten years, and I like to think this one represents, at last, the mature and seasoned composer with a sure hand and who has a clear artistic vision and mission, as described in the liner notes and in the philosophical statement on my website. In short, I have always believed that classical music could still be written as it was by the early 20th-century melodists — with full integrity of classical craft, yet lovable by people far outside the ivory tower. Each of those composers (among them Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Vaughan-Williams, and later Barber) had an unmistakably unique and personal voice and, in many cases, have outlived their Modernist contemporaries, at least in the concert repertoire that is actually performed now. I have, as a matter of social consciousness, a strong desire to write music that can enrich and touch the wider public with something beautiful and which simply represents what I myself would like to hear if I was sitting in an audience. I also hope and believe that this album may have finally accomplished one of my other life goals, to write music that people can love and want play and hear many times, not only once or twice.
Is there a specific feeling you want listeners to tune into when hearing your work?
I don’t want to tell listeners what to hear, generally, but the common feedback I get from listeners to the works on this album is that the music is almost deceptively enjoyable, due to its melodies, and very emotional, yes, but by the end of each work also contemplative in spirit, calling forth the listener’s deeply personal or long-lost feelings – perhaps something interior from a dream or from early childhood that has been crushed by the weight of the world but longs to be rediscovered. There aren’t really words for that, but the sea knows what it is!
Michael Kurek’s THE SEA KNOWS will be releasing on Navona Records Friday, July 14th. Pre-order now on iTunes and Amazon. Until then,indulgeyourself in this promo:
Often times with PARMA, we’re in a hundred different places at once. As a record company recording music all over the world, sometimes we have sessions that overlap, like the recent Czech Republic, Poland, and Philadelphia sessions. Three different recording sessions in three parts of the world with multiple performers and composers. However, despite these overlaps, each session is consistent with the fact that each is unique in experience.
In A&R Representative Marina Altschiller’s recent blog post A Moment of Reflection in the Czech Republic, she tells the story of when everything goes right during a session. For her, it was in St. Mortiz Church as the performers played a few bars on the 6th take of Peter Greve’s “Aria for Trumpet and Organ.” It was a moment where everything came together and the engineers, composer, directors, and whoever else was in the sound room, just paused for a second and listened.
It’s funny that what we do here a PARMA is “make music that sounds terrific” but sometimes, in the heat of making sure each take is perfect, each string is tuned, every piano key rings smooth, that we are not truly hearing a piece until it’s mastered and sitting packaged in our hands. However, moments like these created in the process is what makes it all worth it.
After reading Marina’s piece, I was reminded of my own experience in Philadelphia, recording five pieces with the PARMA infamous Trio Casals. On the last day of recording, we began takes of L Peter Deutsch’s “Ocean Air.” This piece, originally based on the story of a cat dreaming, was rewritten to paint the picture of sailing on the ocean through the night.
I was sitting in the recital hall, legs crossed and jotting down notes of the day while the Trio tuned up and rehearsed before the red light went on. GRAMMY Award-Winning producer Brad Michel “radio silky voice” (as Ovidiu pointed out) chimed in from the sound room and the red light turned on. The Trio announced that they were going to do a run through of the second movement of the piece.
As I sat there writing, taking in the last day of recording, I noticed that my heart felt like it was caught in my throat and goosebumps began to climb up my arm. I set down my pen and rested my eyes on the moving bows and swaying bodies of the Trio as they synced together and listened. It was that special moment. The moment where everything was just perfect.
Following their run through, there was silence for a moment as their bows and heads raised to the ceiling. Then, starting to smile at one another and laughed. Brad overhead said, “that was beautiful.” I couldn’t help myself, I clapped!
Not every moment is like this but every session has them. Recording sessions are a process full of repetition, flats, and squeaky notes having to be done over. But when it works, it works and you end up with a moment that’s not only captured in the master, but also in your veins.
*This blog post was originally hand-written in a notebook as I sat in St. Mortiz Church, listening to the first few takes of Peter Greve’s “Aria for Trumpet and Organ.”
I had been teased by our lead engineer for the hot pink earbuds I had brought with me to listen in on the session. He did not believe my claim that the brighter the headphones, the better the sound.
In the middle of the 6th take of the opening measures, something happened that made me quickly yank out my hot pink earbuds, rush to my bag, grab my pen with the purple ink (which I was fully prepared to defend) and begin writing.
I’m sure many of you have heard of the phenomenon that occurs in choirs. When a group of people sing together their heartbeats will align. A similar phenomenon occurred in St. Moritz Church which caused me to begin writing.
There is a moment in the control room when everything comes together perfectly. The players are performing at their absolute best. The engineers have locked in on the perfect balance of sound. The musical director puts down their pencil and stops taking notes if just to purely listen for a moment and the composer allows themselves to sit back and let the music wash over them. Only when all of that lines up do you see everyone in the control room lean back, just slightly, and in perfect unison, nod.
It is not a moment of loud celebration, everyone remains in their seats and the work continues. But, in that one moment, everyone was beating together.
In preparing to return to the PARMA office from a week of recording sessions in the Czech Republic, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what to say to everyone about this adventure. How do I answer when someone asks “what did you learn?” or “what was the biggest takeaway?”
After some serious consideration, I have determined that I can explain the whole experience in relation to one simple thing: my shoes.
“Marina, what do your shoes have to do with this?” Well frankly, a whole lot. Let me paint the picture for you. Olomouc is full of beautiful streets with the most gorgeous cobblestone you have ever seen. Everything is within walking distance which means you are walking everywhere. For this experience, I made the active choice to pack business casual flats. Which, to clarify, is the equivalent of running across lava barefoot.
“Ok, gross. I still don’t see what that has to do with music.” Don’t worry, I’m getting there.
Due to my poor choice of shoe I had to think on my feet (pun unintended) and change strategies on the fly to make sure that no matter what I experience everything. It was a pure, unwavering determination. Which, as I learned over this past week, is the most important part of creating, performing, and recording new music: pure, unwavering determination (I told you I would get there!).
A personal favorite example of this came from a conversation with one of our musical directors, Lukas. Lukas, in addition to being a fantastic collaborator in the control room, is a talented composer whose works had actually been banned during the Russian occupation.
During the occupation, communist artists had forbidden the music, poetry, books of Czech artists. In reaction, Lukas took musical inspiration from Latin biblical text that he found correlated to the current situation in what was then Czechoslovakia. The pieces were banned from being performed in his home country so he sent his work out to countries all over the world, including America. He began to see his works given awards and performed in venues like the Library of Congress.
His determination as a composer, despite history working against him, pushed him to continue his work and we later learned that he had taught composition to many of the people we know and work with.
Another example came from the players. Recording new music is never a small challenge, especially when it is a lot of pieces with varied techniques, tones, moods, and styles. To come into the room prepared and ready to record takes a determination to get the piece right. One of our artists, Lionel Sainsbury, was kind enough to remark about how impressed he was with the preparation the group had put into his piece.
The examples continued to build up from the team in the control room going over passages eight or nine times to ensure it was done correctly, to the breaking down of language barriers, to the surprise obstacles like construction work, car horns, and a recording in a church that remained open to the public during the session.
Finally, and most important, I was able to truly see the determination of our artists. In these sessions, some were hearing their music for the first time, others were virtually attending from across the ocean, but all were working to make sure that their music was heard. I had the pleasure of speaking with artists as they discovered a new dynamic structure that changed the tone of their piece. I was able to see composers turn to their peers in the room for suggestion and trust that they were working with a group who truly cared about the outcome of that day.
On my first day in Olomouc, Bob and I were reflecting on the challenges that come with being a composer by trade – one of the biggest challenges, of course, is getting the music played and heard. It was that specific obstacle that Bob saw as the reason he started recording.
All of this said I am incredibly grateful to have been able to see the country, the performers, the team in the control room, and the way that PARMA and our artists work together from the very first note. I am also grateful to my awful choice in footwear because it made me want to experience everything that much more.
My takeaways from the sessions? Be ready to adapt, hold onto your determination, and treat every moment like you’re walking 10 miles on cobblestone in flats. Though maybe, do it all in sneakers.