It’s not often that folks get to hear contemporary classical music performed live around here. Even less frequent is the opportunity to hear pieces penned by Mainers. But at 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, Jewett Hall on the UMA campus will host one such show after the same show is presented in Orono at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, in the Minsky Recital Hall in the Class of 1944 Hall. For more information on the University of Maine show, call 581-1244.

The ensemble that will perform is made up of Grammy-nominated mezzo-soprano D’Anna Fortunato, Peter H. Bloom (flute, alto flute, bass flute and piccolo), Thomas Hill (clarinet) and Mary Jane Rupert (piano and harp). One of the featured composers in the program is UMA professor of music Richard Nelson with whom I had the pleasure of chatting recently.

Q: Let’s talk about the Mostly Maine Composers concerts coming up soon. I believe you have a composition that will be performed there?

Nelson: Right, I do. It’s a piece for flute and harp that I wrote specifically for two of the performers in this ensemble — Peter Bloom and Mary Jane Rupert. It’s a piece that they’ve played several times before so they’re comfortable with it and they do a beautiful job with it.

Q: How did this concert come into being?

Nelson: Well, the impetus comes from Peter, the flutist, and Rebecca DeLamotte, who is manager of the ensemble. Peter and I have worked together a lot. We both have been in the Boston-based Aardvark Jazz Orchestra for several decades now, and through that we’ve become good friends and musical colleagues. When he found out I was both a jazz practitioner and a classical composer, Peter started talking to me about writing up a classical piece for him and his collaborator, Mary Jane Rupert. So through that association, Rebecca — who works with Elizabeth Vercoe, as well, and Elliott Schwartz, professor emeritus at Bowdoin College — has been involved with us in many ways. … and I think she just saw this constellation of Maine composers, so Becky thought, “This doesn’t happen that often, so let’s get a concert of elite Maine people together,” and she drew on the instrumentalists that she is working with. So it kind of grows out of the relationships between myself and Peter Bloom and Rebecca DeLamotte, and then the networking of people expands out from there.

Q: This concert will be held in your backyard — UMA — but also up in Orono, is that the case?

Nelson: Right, yeah. So composer Beth Wiemann, who is the chair of the music department up there and composer in residence there, has also signed on to host this concert. So we’re doing it Friday night there and Saturday afternoon in Augusta.

Q: Do you compose music on a regular basis?

Nelson: I am writing music all the time, and because I have my feet equally in the creative jazz world and the classical compositional world, some of it shows up in more of what looks to be a jazz context and some in more classical contexts. And really, the sort of momentum of my creative work of these years had been a merging of those elements. Just for an example, a major project of mine now has a colleague of mine, and I have a 14-player ensemble in New York City that we’re writing music for. I’ve been pouring a lot of compositional energy into that. It’s called the Macro Cosmos Orchestra. So I’m a committed composer. Obviously when the school year’s in full swing, you kind of squeeze it in when you can. And I perform on electric guitar in sort of a jazz guitar context pretty regularly, too, so I maintain a performance profile and a composition profile and keep my job going, too.

Q: You’ve got a full schedule there, sir, by the sound of it.

Nelson: Yeah, right. It feels that way from time to time, but it’s great. I love it and it keeps me active.

Q: And if you’re doing something that you really care about, you can be as busy as all get-out, but it’s still a joy.

Nelson: Right, it’s really great. I agree with you fully. Oh, there’s one more thing I’d like to mention about the piece of mine that we’re playing, “Play of Light.” As I mentioned, I’ve been actively involved in jazz — very broadly defined — and contemporary classical music — very broadly defined — and those boundaries have always been porous and ever more so in the last decade and the present. One of the things that I’ve been doing in my classical compositions that I particularly have as part of this piece is about two-thirds of the way into the piece it sort of transforms into something where I ask the musicians to improvise based on where they’ve been and with some fairly detailed comments, guideposts, information from me on material to use and where to go with it, and where to maybe end up. It’s really become kind of a heightened collaboration between composer and performers. That’s obviously essential in jazz performance, and it’s something that classical musicians vary to the extent they’re comfortable with and want to do. I respect that, but it’s something I like to encourage, and it’s worked well with this piece. One of the things I really like about it, among other things, is I know that every time the piece is performed, it’s going to have things that I’ve written and that I really like, but it’s also going to have some surprises for everybody.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article?

Nelson: I guess the main thing that comes to my mind is this is going to be a really engaging program for variety and color. This is going to be a very fun, friendly concert, and I would encourage people to come forward and experience something that, I think, is going to be a unique opportunity to come and experience these living Maine composers with a fantastic ensemble of performers right in our neighborhood. There’s not a lot of new music concerts in Augusta, so I think it’s a very special opportunity.

Lucky Clark has spent more than 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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