Interview with Andy Villamez, composer and pianist

Dr. Andy Villemez is a composer, educator, and performer based in Cincinnati, OH where he teaches piano and piano pedagogy at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). As a composer and arranger, his works have been praised for having their variety in style, affect, and level. His piece, CH, CO, US will be performed on our upcoming Solo Soundbox by pianist Kara Huber.

CSB: Could you tell us a little about your musical activities?

AV: For my day job, I serve as Assistant Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy at CCM where I get to coach amazing pianists on how to be effective and memorable teachers. While “CH, CO, US” is an exception, most of my other composing is primarily for educational purposes. I love being able to write pieces that have lasting value and contribute to a musician’s growth. I’m currently working on writing a keyboard musicianship textbook that has quite a lot of original pieces, arrangements, and sequenced instruction. On the concert side, I also have a commission to write a fantasy for solo piano based on themes from West Side Story set to be premiered in the Spring of 2020.

CSB: When did you first start collaborating with Kara? How have your collaborations evolved over time?

AV: I’ve known Kara for almost ten years since we started our masters program at the same time. Our first collaboration resulted in an arrangement of The Sound of Music for solo piano, as well as a few preludes from a larger collection called Book of Odes. As I look back on all the collaborations, I think both of us have gotten a lot better at showcasing the strengths of the other. Kara has a good idea of what my thought process usually is and what aspects of the music I give priority to.

CSB: Describe the work being premiered on this concert. What was the compositional process for it like?

AV: As I would describe it, “CH, CO, US” is a three-part character piece that tells a simple story about feelings of safety and home while also evoking imagery of the sharp, younger peaks of the mountains in southwest Colorado. One of the guiding points I had while writing this was that in moments where we feel lost, we realize later in life there was a purpose to the journey. In the compositional process, I had to find something that sounded “lost” without also losing the audience. I also spent quite a bit time crafting the “mountain peak” harmonies that dominate the middle section.

CSB: How do you feel your background as a pianist influences your compositional thinking for the instrument?

AV: Although it’s not always possible, I try to foster musical ideas away from the piano as much as possible. My technique usually plays a hidden but significant role in the development of a piece. Often times that can be freeing, and other times it is restricting. No composer wants to be limited by their physical capabilities on an instrument. The balance of time I spend on or off the piano is still something I’m working on. However, my background in piano helped me conceptualize a lot of the sonorities before they were on paper. I had a good idea what was possible and what was risky.

CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar?

AV:
I’ll be spending the summer writing and composing for a textbook I’m developing, and I have one other commission set to be premiered next spring.

AV: I’ve known Kara for almost ten years since we started our masters program at the same time. Our first collaboration resulted in an arrangement of The Sound of Music for solo piano, as well as a few preludes from a larger collection called Book of Odes. As I look back on all the collaborations, I think both of us have gotten a lot better at showcasing the strengths of the other. Kara has a good idea of what my thought process usually is and what aspects of the music I give priority to.

CSB: Describe the work being premiered on this concert. What was the compositional process for it like?

AV: As I would describe it, “CH, CO, US” is a three-part character piece that tells a simple story about feelings of safety and home while also evoking imagery of the sharp, younger peaks of the mountains in southwest Colorado. One of the guiding points I had while writing this was that in moments where we feel lost, we realize later in life there was a purpose to the journey. In the compositional process, I had to find something that sounded “lost” without also losing the audience. I also spent quite a bit time crafting the “mountain peak” harmonies that dominate the middle section.

CSB: How do you feel your background as a pianist influences your compositional thinking for the instrument?

AV: Although it’s not always possible, I try to foster musical ideas away from the piano as much as possible. My technique usually plays a hidden but significant role in the development of a piece. Often times that can be freeing, and other times it is restricting. No composer wants to be limited by their physical capabilities on an instrument. The balance of time I spend on or off the piano is still something I’m working on. However, my background in piano helped me conceptualize a lot of the sonorities before they were on paper. I had a good idea what was possible and what was risky.

CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar?

AV:
I’ll be spending the summer writing and composing for a textbook I’m developing, and I have one other commission set to be premiered next spring.

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CSB on FOX19 Morning Show

Michael Hurst from our venue, the 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati, spoke to the Fox19 Morning Show about CSB and our spring events. Watch the clip here.

Photos from Parallels

A standing-room-only concert of all new works! Thank you to everyone who came out to support new music, and to Jill Jantzen, 4-Way, and Salon 21 for collaborating with us on this event. (The program will be repeated in Warsaw on March 17!)

CSB Co-Artistic Director & composer Laura Harrison, pictured after the concert with Jill Jantzen and 4-Way Quartet

Parallels in Movers & Makers

Movers & Makers Cincinnati featured Parallels as a top event for this coming week. Read more here.

Cincinnati Soundbox and Salon 21 | 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati, OH 45202; 513-621-2787 (ARTS)

Wednesday, Feb. 6, 7 p.m.: “Parallels”

Soundbox is dedicated to new music, Salon 21 to piano performances in intimate, nontraditional settings. So how about a piano performance of new music from Poland and the U.S. in an intimate, nontraditional setting? Sounds like the cue for a collaboration, doesn’t it? The result, “Parallels,” includes works for string quintet by Żaneta Rydzewska, Aleksandra Chmielewska, Julia Seeholzer, Laura Harrison and Rachel C. Walker. Jill Jantzen, Salon 21 artistic director, joins the Cincinnati-based 4-Way Quartet (one supposes they head to the chili parlor after rehearsals) at the Aronoff Center’s Weston Art Gallery.
Pictured: Jill Jantzen and 4-Way warming up for tonight’s concert

Interview with Cellist Nat Chaitkin (Parallels)

Cellist Nat Chaitkin is one of the founding members of the 4-Way Quartet, who will be joining us next week for Parallels. Nat is currently a member of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra. He is active as a performer and teacher in Cincinnati, including through the Quartet’s 4-Way String Project.

Read more about Nat and 4-Way below.


CSB: What is your musical background?

NC: I grew up in the NY new music world – my dad was a composer, and took me to all sorts of concerts as a kid. I started studying the cello at 11, spent some time at Juilliard Pre-College, and went on to the University of Michigan, studying cello and American History. I then moved to Washington, DC and spent 8 years as a member of “The President’s Own” US Marine Band. I moved to Cincinnati 10 years ago, joining the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, subbing with the CSO, and teaching at CCM Prep. I also developed a solo program to bring classical music to new audiences called Bach and Boombox.

CSB: How did 4-Way begin? What are your current projects as an ensemble?

NC: We formed in 2015, with the goal of creating an community-based ensemble. We share our love of chamber music both through performing and teaching underserved youth. We are in our third year of residency at Woodford Paideia Elementary School, where we assist with the orchestra program during the day. Woodford is also the home of our central activity, The 4-Way String Project, which offers free lessons and chamber music opportunities to 16 selected 4th, 5th and 6th graders.

CSB: As a cellist, how would you describe the works on this concert?

NC: Hard! Seriously, they are very diverse in what they ask of the players. A couple are very “notey”, requiring lots of technically demanding practicing, while others ask for an expanded range of sounds, calling for extended “non-traditional” techniques. All of them are challenging in their own way, and I’m really looking forward to hearing them all come together.

CSB: What are you hoping audiences will experience during this concert?

NC: Five striking and very different perspectives on one of my favorite ensembles – some of the greatest works in chamber music are written for piano quintet, and the audience will hear its full range of possibility!

CSB: What are your impressions of the music scene in Cincinnati. How have they changed over the years?

NC: Cincinnati has a wonderful music scene, thanks to two pieces of its history – the CSO, and King Records. Many cities “have” a symphony, but there is real civic pride in ours which I have not found in many other places. Several years ago, I was one of six people to receive the Cincinnati Artist Ambassador Fellowship, which allowed me to develop my solo program, and present it in community settings all across the city. I saw how much music is part of the fabric of life here, in part thanks to King [Records] and its legacy of bringing different musicians together. Having a group like 4-Way wouldn’t be possible in lots of places, but here, we find lots of support, and that’s because of the city’s strong support of its musicians.

Interview with Pianist Jill Jantzen (Parallels)


Soundbox is partnering with Salon 21 and the 4-Way String Quartet next week to present Parallels, a concert featuring five world premieres for piano quintet by American and Polish composers Laura Harrison, Rachel C. Walker, Julia Seeholzer, Aleksandra Chmielewska, and Żaneta Rydzewska.

Pianist Jill Jantzen is a dynamic member of the Cincinnati music scene. She holds degrees in piano performance from Oklahoma City University and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and is now Lecturer of Piano at Thomas Moore College. Jill is the Artistic Director of Salon 21 and also the pianist for this event.

You can catch Parallels on February 6 at the Weston Art Gallery. (More information here).


CSB: Tell us a little about your musical background.

JJ: I started formal piano lessons when I was 5, though family stories claim that I was fascinated with the instrument at an even earlier age. I began violin lessons around age 9, which carried me through college. These days, I consider piano to be my work, and violin is my hobby. And while I play mostly classical music, I will never say “no” to a good pop song jam session.

CSB: Could you introduce our readers to Salon 21?

JJ: Salon 21 is a series of intimate piano concerts in unexpected places around Cincinnati. We host emerging pianists who play a range of music from classical to jazz and traditional to contemporary. Each concert is a place where our audience can casually enjoy a short piano concert up close and personal.

CSB: Where did your interest in working with living composers begin?

JJ: I wish I had a fancier answer… I befriended some composers during my undergrad, and I quickly became one of the “go-to” instrumentalists who would play for composition recitals. No matter what the scope of the project, it is always an honor to be a part of the process of bringing a newly composed piece to life.

CSB: As a pianist, how would you describe the works on this concert?

JJ: Each of the pieces is quite different in character. There are singable melodies, mathematical rhythms, and I frequently play inside of the piano. The moods cover all aspects of the human experience: pensive, hazy, energetic, passionate… All of the composers have done an excellent job at utilizing the many facets of the instrument.

CSB: What other upcoming projects are on your radar?

JJ: I am giving a solo concert on April 17th at Trinity Episcopal Church in Covington, where I’ll perform pieces by Debussy and Beethoven. Then on May 23rd, I’ll be playing with violinist Rebecca Culnan at the Mercantile Library to close out Salon 21’s fifth season.

February 6: Parallels!

On February 6 at the Weston Art Gallery in Cincinnati, we’re teaming up with Salon 21 to present five world premieres for piano quintet written by composers from the United States and Poland: Żaneta Rydzewska, Aleksandra Chmielewska, Julia Seeholzer, Laura Harrison, and Rachel C. Walker.

This program will be presented separately in both Cincinnati and Warsaw, Poland over the course of the 2018/2019 season. The US premiere will feature 4-Way Quartet, Cincinnati’s String Quartet and Salon 21 Artistic Director, pianist Jill Jantzen. This project is supported by the generosity of community contributions to the ArtsWave Campaign.