[John McLaughlin Williams with 2007 Grammy Award; “Dancing on the Brink of the World”; Deon Nielsen Price, composer; National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine; John McLaughlin Williams, Berkeley A. Price, conductors; Cambria Master Recordings CD-1170 (2009)]
Had you worked with Deon Nielsen Price previously, John?
No, I neither knew her nor had heard of her until the introduction was made by Lance Bowling, the founder of Cambria Recordings.
I understand she has had several previous CDs?
Yes, there have been several previous CDs, but I guess because they have been on smaller labels, including Cambria, without the best distribution, that might have been part of it. Cambria is now with Naxos, so this CD will have a much wider reach. Also, being out in California, sometimes there is a certain prejudice for being away from what seems the center of all things composition, which is of course New York City!
John you have previously recorded works of American composers who had seldom been recorded, I believe?
Yes, well I could say that pretty much about most of them! And that is the idea; Aaron Coipland does not need my help! It would be wrong to say that only the composers you hear about are the good ones. So that is where I feel my efforts may be put to the best use.
Can you start by telling me which of the 9 tracks are conducted by you, John?
I do all of them except “Gateways” and “America Themes” which are conducted by her son, Berkeley Price, who is a terrific clarinettist, who is a soloist in the “Yellow Jade Banquet.”
I believe mother and son are both professors of music at various colleges, right?
That is right.
You have worked with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine several previous times, haven’t you?
Yes, many times now.
In one of your biographical pieces you were said to be studying Ukrainian; any truth to that?
Well, i think they probably said I would like to study Ukrainian! I know just enough Ukrainian to navigate rehearsals. I am not conversational, no.
How would you describe your relationship with the members of the NSOU?
It has been extremely cordial! It has been very, very nice. From the very beginning, it just seemed to have a good chemistry.
Do you feel the recordings you have done with that orchestra have gotten some attention for American music in Ukraine?
No question about it! They actually have started a Ukrainian-American Music Festival over there, where they have orchestral performances of American and Ukrainian music together.
Does the orchestra perform some of the same works that you record, for the local audience too?
I don’t think they perform them for the local audience unless there is one of us conducting. I have done some McKay and Hadley over there in concert, and Copland too. But I don’t think they played that over there without me or another American conductor there.
Do you go over there for a single recording or do you record a few at a time? How do you do that?
I’ve done it both ways! I’ve gone and done one, I’ve gone and done a couple, I’ve gone and done none and have just done concerts.
When you went there to record this one, how long did you stay in Kiev, in Ukraine?
Oh, I think we were there probably the better part of a week. We recorded for three days and I was in no rush to leave. I think I might have been around a couple of extra days. I still had some other stuff to do.
You seem to have an ongoing relationship then, with the people that you work with?
Well yes, I have no doubt that I”ll be back at some point soon.
There must be a cooperative relationship that both sides appreciate?
Yes, absolutely! They love to make these recordings and they’re very happy to know that their reputation is spread far and wide by the recordings.
I am sure you would have reason to be happy about that too?
Are there any individual pieces on which you would like to comment?
Well of course “Dancing on the Brink of the World” is quite an interesting concept! As I say I didn’t know of Deon Nielsen Price before we began to plan this recording, but once I had spoken to her and had gotten to meet her and had read some things here and there, and realized how much in tune she is with California and California History, that particular piece is really kind of a tableaux of the history of California in a certain region, surrounding a tribe of Native Americans that has since disappeared, it’s really quite a vindication of the different periods in the light! The other piece that I find so striking is “Yellow Jade Banquet”, which is the impressions of a great Chinese meal which she had over there. I think it was a “menu in Music”! There are no quotations of Chinese folk songs or anything like that in there. She still manages to evoke this “sound world” quite, quite realistically in a piece that’s just pure fun and delight from beginning to end.
The notes also say that during the excavation of this site, Chrissy Field, to return it to more of a natural state in the Nineties, remains were found of a previously unknown tribe of ancient people called the Yelamu.
It’s a sad thing. Well, that clearly inspired her to do something great. That was actually the most fun to do. We used some native instruments for the percussion – you can hear them actually, in the very beginning – which she brought with her herself.
What else do you think people would like to know about Deon Nielsen Price, or her son Berkeley Price, who plays several instruments related to the clarinet?
Well first of all that she is a composer and she is still alive and kicking! People are so used to the idea that composers have to be dead. No, she’s very much with us, and very active in the California composition scene there. She’s had a lot of students and is still writing and producing, so I hope to hear and to perform much more music by her. She actually has a publishing website; she wrote what I think is considered to be just about the best book on collaborative pianism to date. Her publishing company is called Culvert Press [correction: Culver Crest Publications].
What else would you like to bring to our attention on this recording, John?
The other big piece, “Epitaphs,” is a piece on which Deon is the piano soloist. She’s quite an accomplished pianist, of course, but that piece makes much use of the “Dies Irae.” I don’t think the meaning of it is exactly explicit, but it is supposed to honor the fallen heroes, presumably in wartime and whatnot and in that sense it’s a very effective meditation on that. It’s a very interesting work, and actually harmonically it’s a bit of a departure from the other pieces. It’s always very fun to record a work with the composer as a soloist or a participant in the process. This was actually the very first CD that I have done of a living composer. That in itself was a thrill!
It sounds as though it made the experience all the richer?
Oh yes, absolutely! They were all right there and her husband was so moved by hearing her music done so well by such a great orchestra, he was moved to tears when they were recording “America Themes.”
I can certainly relate to what you’re saying about the feelings that it would evoke.
Yes, absolutely, and there is definitely a place for music like that! I feel no embarrassment at all; I don’t consider it jingoistic in the least! It’s just celebratory of our country, as simple as that!
Can you think of anything else that you’d like to tell us?
No, I think that’s about it right now except that I just really hope that the CD will get some wide exposure and that her music will become well known to more people. Really it’s fine work and I’d love to have her get more concert performances of it.
Well, I want to thank you again for giving us an interview…
Oh, my pleasure!
Giving us your insights that we could not obtain any other way!
This website is just amazing!
Well, I certainly do appreciate that!