There are a lot of places and institutions in our country in which I find something like beauty, most often in my own home. But I recall it especially poignantly in my arrival in Boston, MA in the fall of 1985, mostly alone and with very little money.
Three Places in America (less than a mile from each other) for solo piano is one of the many solo piano works commissioned by Min Kwon and the Center for Musical Excellence as a part of their 2020 America the Beautiful Project, e pluribus unum, celebrating the United States’ “cultural contributions to the field of classical music”. I thank Ms. Kwon and the Center for Musical Excellence for including my work as a part of this project.
The piece is in a single movement divided into three unequal parts, and influenced by Charles Ives’s Three Places in New England, although much smaller in every aspect. The “three places” addressed are all in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and are specifically tied to experiences from late 1985: 1. The Brattle Theater where I first saw The Seven Samurai, 2. the lower level of Arthur Berger’s house on Sparks Street where I studied with the composer for two years, and 3. the long-defunct Jonathan Swift’s nightclub on John F. Kennedy Street in Harvard Square where I heard the Ohio Players, War and the jazz group the Leaders on separate occasions. Each location suggested a particular pianist or piano work: the Brattle brings to mind Ran Blake’s cinematically-informed compositions and improvisations, for Berger’s music room, his works for piano such as the Partita (1947), and from Jonathan Swift’s the Leaders’ pianist Kirk Lightsey. I felt that all three shared tangential connections musically-speaking, and as a young African American from Pittsburgh and Colorado Springs, living on a student income, these landmarks exuded enchantments that gave to everything that I experienced within them an outsized importance that hasn’t waned in 35 years.
Director of the contemporary big band the Pittsburgh Collective, composer David Sanford received degrees in theory and composition from the University of Northern Colorado, New England Conservatory and Princeton University. His works have been performed by the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra under Marin Alsop, the Berkeley Symphony under Kent Nagano, the Detroit Symphony under Leslie Dunner, the Chamber Society of Lincoln Center, Dinosaur Annex, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, and the Chicago Symphony Chamber Players, and he has received commissions from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the Meridian Arts Ensemble, Speculum Musicae and cellist Matt Haimovitz among others. His honors include the Rome Prize and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Radcliffe Institute. He is currently Elizabeth T. Kennan Professor of Music at Mount Holyoke College.
As the artistic director of Center for Musical Excellence, I am always on the look out for new and undiscovered talents. They come to me, sometimes, by my colleagues’ recommendations and other times through young artists’ own research about our organization. Tyson Davis and Andrew Bambridge are currently on our roster of CME Young Artists, whom we mentor. Patricio Molina is a CME alumnus. Theo Chandler, Ji-Young Ko, and Daniel Newman-Lessler applied for our Grant program, and I got to know their work through that process. I decide on young artists when I notice a deep passion and drive within them, plus a certain kind of sparkle in the personality and lots of humility. In addition to musical talents, I believe these are the qualities that will take the young artists far. CME’s motto is "Moving Musicians Forward". I’ve chosen our Discovery Composers based on these qualities, whom we felt we could easily move forward.
- Min Kwon