Deon Nielsen Price is multitalented and gifted. A first-class composer, pianist, and teacher, she is also the president of the International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) since 1996. As a composer, she has received numerous commissions, grants, and awards ranging from the Alaska Arts Council, to the Barlow Endowment for Composition, Mu Phi Epsilon, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Performers (ASCAP), California Composers Today, Meet the Composer-California, and the Musicians Union. Price has received a Meet the Composer Grant from Arts-Midwest that will support her Visiting Artist/Composer residency at the University of Northern Iowa in October of this year.
Price earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree from Brigham Young University, the Master of Music Degree in Piano and Composition from the University of Michigan, and the Doctor of Musical Arts Degree from the University of Southern California. Her major composition teachers include Leslie Bassett and Samuel Adler. Her published works range from vocal solo songs, song cycles, choral works and arrangements to instrumental chamber music with duos, trios, quartets, and quintets, to band and orchestral pieces.

As a professional pianist, she has toured throughout the Americas and in Europe under the auspices of Academia Pro Arte, the International Congress on Women in Music, as well as with the touring ensemble, Echosphere.

SunRays is a delight to listen to and review. It provides a wide variety of chamber music and an impressive variety of styles and moods to keep the listeners attention. Most of the pieces are basically short chamber pieces, with excellent performances by all the performers. The sound is excellent and well-recorded.

Prices music is almost neo-romantic in style but with an innate and piquant sense of rhythmic appeal and imagination. Her music conveys a sense of wit, well-constructed drama, and a way of writing poetic lyricism for all the various instruments that is instantly engaging. Imaginative exploitation of the various colors of the instruments is one of her trademarks.

It was deeply rewarding to listen to this CD, producing a sense of musical fulfillment, a feeling that these seventy-three minutes were well spent.

The CD opens with the dramatic and chilling To the Children of War, a song cycle written in 1988. The texts of the song cycle are excerpts from six poems by Maya Angelou, the current United States poet laureate. The six songs are divided by text taken from a Los Angeles Times article in July 1988. The article was about young people in the Los Angeles area who told their stories to other young people as well as the reading public through on organization called Children of War.

Written for tenor and piano, To the Children of War features tenor Darryl Taylor and Price as pianist. It was first premiered at the National Association of Composers at California State University, Dominguez Hills in 1988.

From the liner notes, Taylor talks about the piece, To the Children of War begins innocently, full of childhood naïveté and charm. However, once the composer has your guard down she takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride, plunging the listener into the despair of torture chambers, through the anxiety of alienation to the comfort of compassion, until finally arriving at the triumph of self-determination.

The first song, Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, opens with strumming on the piano strings, an ominous sound, followed by bravura rising chords and intervals almost martial sounding with its forceful rhythmic ostinatos. A short calming mood change occurs on the words Mean old Mother Goose. Price pays careful attention to the text with colorful wordpainting such as on All alone at night.

Taylor produces a beautifully controlled crescendo at the ending of the piece. The piano part is virtuosic, and masterfully executed by Price. In most of the pieces the piano sets the mood and tone for the pieces.

In Recitative #1, a piano cluster jars the atmosphere followed by a long recitative for voice, punctuated by two more piano clusters. It is a frightening text from the 1980s about Central America or Southeast Asia. It tells of a youth who requests educational materials for his school, but the government takes him, his two sisters, and ten friends, off a public bus, Many vanish without a trace, But some survive in Los Angeles Children of War!

A terse piano part that begins with intervals of a second, We Saw beyond Our Seeming, punctuates the text with harsh seconds. The voice uses some interesting vocal techniques such as pitch bending to emphasize the text, effectively done on the words screaming, dying, and broken.

Strumming inside the piano begins Recitative #2. The voice speaks instead of singing, as if this text which talks of torture is beyond the artistic use of the voice in singing and the usual use of the piano as accompaniment.

Tears reflects a sobbing in the voice while the piano keeps insistent strumming ostinatos in the piano accompaniment. Word repetition occurs with the words tatters and moans. Recitative #3 begins with low ostinatos in the piano, insistent, oppressive, evoking the helpless feeling that children are Children of War/ Aliens alone in Los Angeles.

Dissonant ostinatos, recurring patterns, and turbulence permeate Alone. Despair is evident with the text Nobody can make it out here alone. Tremolos in the piano with interspersed chords, rising motives characterize Recitative #4.

The most melodic vocal part occurs in Give Me Your Hand. A gentle piano and vocal part relieve the despair of the last recitative No place in the world. It is the first traditional use of piano, with soothing arpeggios in the piano accompaniment. Recitative #5 starts with low strumming in the piano with rising intervals reminiscent of the beginning song, Life Doesn’t Frighten Me. Full use of the piano keyboard, disjunct vocal melodies provide a wonderful sense of release from the tension in Ships?

A little over seventeen minutes in length, this powerful and dramatic song cycle, To the Children of War, creates an atmosphere grisly, contemporary, and spellbinding.

Darryl Taylor has a clear, vibrant tenor voice with superb control of high notes and excellent diction. He successfully and dramatically portrays the text with its wide-ranging emotions. Price is an equal partner with her excellent technique and musicality. She writes for the piano as only a pianist can, totally aware of its capabilities and nuances.

The next selection on the disc is two pieces from Diversions for Solo Piano written in 1961. The first piece is Desert Impression, a description of the desert in music, featuring interesting harmonic changes, steady rhythmic pulses, and arresting melodies in the upper range and then the lower range, often with unexpected twists to the melodies. Surf Dance is full of syncopation, energy and vitality.

Inspired by the Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences in Santa Monica Crossroads Alley Trio was composed in 1985. This sectional piece, with each section different from the others consists of The Alley, Night in the Alley, Feline Love Duet, Pacific Breeze, Willful Student, Determined Teacher, and Confrontation.

The sections are easy to follow even though each is not assigned a separate track. The trio is made up of violin, Ayke Agus; Douglas Masek, clarinet; and Price, piano. All the instruments are equally important to the structure, and all join in the melodic development. Violinist Agus has beautiful intonation with carefully sculpted and shaped phrases. Masek has excellent control of tone color, and Prices playing is again impeccable.

L’Alma Jubilo for Guitar (the Jubilant Soul) 1984 was composed for William dAvila who premiered it at the National Gallery in Mexico City. However, this recording features Gregory Newton on guitar. L’Alma Jubilo contains repeated rhythmic patterns, and the various moods change from a flamenco guitar style to a gently rocking, hypnotic lullaby before returning to the flamenco style.

The next piece, Big Sur Triptych, written in 1985 for soprano saxophone and piano showcases Bill Wilson, saxophone, and Price on piano. Her impressions of Big Sur National Park on the California coast begin with the movement Sea Otters. It features a soaring soprano sax melody over various rhythmic patterns in the piano with playful imitation between the two instruments.

Redwoods is lyrical, calm, slow, with sinuous melodies over an ever-moving accompaniment. It evokes timeless melodies and harmonies, perhaps a tribute to the almost-eternal, magnificent Redwood trees. The final piece of the Triptych is Crags, with short bursts of energy defined by wide-interval melodic lines in the sax and pianopeaks and valleys.

Well-played by Prices son, clarinetist Berkeley Price, Hexachord (View from Malibu) for Solo Clarinet, 1977, shows to advantage his excellent technical and tonal control in all the clarinets ranges. The athletic melodies are permeated with a six-tone scale.

Ayke Agus, violin, and Price, piano, perform Fearful from Three Faces of Kim, the Napalm Girl, written in 1988. Anxiety is portrayed by the nervous rhythms, wide ranges, and agitated melodies. Tension builds inexorably before calm is introduced by the solo violin with commentary provided by the chordal accompaniment. But is it a safe calm or an uneasy deception? Anxiousness returns, even more terrifying with the sweeping gestures in the violin, and descending motives and phrases that bring on the breathless ending.

Unmeasured and fantasy-like, Stile Antico uses violin techniques such as chords, drones, and pizzicato while wide intervals permeate the melodies. Stile Antico (Ancient Styles) for Solo violin, 1975, is arrestingly played by Ayke Agus.

In the liner notes for Affects: A Santa Barbara Rhapsody for Clarinet and Piano, 1979, Price writes, The title refers to the emotions which accompany an idea. The traditional musical sigh, the falling interval of a second, and its inversion, the interval of a seventh, are developed throughout the piece to portray feelings of frustration. The mood is set with a few opening piano measures. There is a multiplicity of moods between the two instruments: sometimes they are gracious, sometimes witty, other times nervous, or anxious.

Michael Arnold compellingly handled the clarinet part, and Ayke Agus played the piano. It is impressive piano playing by Agus. Rarely is an artist as technically and musically proficient on two diverse instruments such as the violin and the piano as is Agus.

The final piece on the CD comes full circle this last piece is written for tenor and piano as was the first piece. A Dads Prayer for Tenor and Piano, 1974, is based on a poem by James J. Metcalfe. It is a nostalgic piece, a showpiece for tenor, utilizing the full and powerful range of Taylor.

The liner notes are well-done with vivid descriptions of the moments or places that inspired the creation of the pieces. There are bios of all the performers, quotes about the pieces from various reviews, as well as insightful comments about the pieces by the performing artists. Prices scores are available through Culver Crest Publications, Southern Music Co., and Theodore Front Musical Literature, Inc.

Congratulations to Price and all the artists and technicians who put together SunRays. Great chamber music and powerful performances together create a highly memorable CD.

From Women of Note Quarterly

Jonathan Yordy
Partner, Vivace Press

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