Category Archives: Composer’s Notebook

Composer’s Notebook: Have Geezer Card, Will Travel

Overlooking the dam on Lake Allatoona, Cartersville, Georgia. [photo: Mark Gresham]

Having turned 62 back in March, I finally got my National Parks Service “America the Beautiful” Lifetime Senior Pass card yesterday, but I had to drive to Cartersville to buy it first hand.

Since I knew the in-town Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park didn’t sell them, I’d gone to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park visitor’s center to buy one, only to find that they didn’t sell them either. The park ranger at the desk pointed me to two closest choices, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area off State Hwy 400 and the Allatoona Lake Visitor Center & Museum, which is run by the U.S. Army Corps of Enginners.

I chose the Cartersville location, since I was already just off U.S. 41, and felt like taking a nice drive in that direction. It was an easy process. I struck up a conversation with the receptionist who sold me the card, and she suggested I take a short walk up to dam overlook, not many yards away from the building, because they were releasing water from the dam at that moment. Monday’s record breaking rain for the day had raised the pool a little much, so they had to open the gates release some of it. That made for a great photo op, this one being the best of the group taken with just the camera of my Kindle tablet.

The Allatoona Dam was completed in 1949. Lake Allatoona (rarely called by its official designation, Allatoona Lake) is supplied mostly by the Etowah River, one of the rivers featured in my string quartet, Four Rivers. Below the dam, the Etowah River passes by the Etowah Indian Mounds, west of the city, before joining the Oostanaula River to form the Coosa River at their confluence in Rome, Georgia.

Composer’s Notebook: SoundNOW 2017 kicks off a big week for new music in Atlanta

by Mark Gresham | 6 APR 2017

This is a big week for new music in Atlanta. A lot of things have come together to make it so. The SoundNOW 2017 Festival – an umbrella moniker for a number of independently programmed contemporary music performances – began on Sunday and continues through this coming Sunday. SoundNOW is only in its second year, but making its presence known.

I was able, so far, to attend the first two of these concerts, and fortunate to have one of my own works performed on Monday evening, and also to attend Sunday afternoon’s opening concert. Both were downtown at the 400-seat Kopleff Recital Hall at Georgia State University.

Olivia Kieffer performs excerpts from her "Texture of Activity."

Olivia Kieffer performs excerpts from her “Texture of Activity.”

Sunday’s concert was presented and performed by Terminus Ensemble, which performs music by current or formerly Atlanta-based composers. Olivia Kieffer opened the program with seven excepts from her ”Texture of Activity” (2016) – 55 short minimalist pieces which were originally for toy pianos, but in this instance performed on the hall’s concert grand piano. Kieffer would play four more selections from the book on Monday’s concert, but on a pair of amplified toy pianos, one toy piano per hand as part of neophilia Ensemble’s portion of that concert. On Sunday, though, she had a second piece on the program, “Hot Work,” in a new transcription for alto sax and viola, performed by saxophonist Brandyn Taylor and violist Michael Brooks. Originally for bass clarinet and tenor sax, the combination of viola and alto sax worked surprisingly well – something worth consideration by other composers.

Brooks also gave an impressive performance of “Lattice I,” a well-stenciled three-movement work for solo viola by Terminus co-artistic director Brent Milam, a composer with a background in physics and mathematics, which he readily applies to his compositions. Pianist Ipek Brooks (spouse of violist Michael) performed another work by Milam, “Quiet Spaces,” the third of his “Five Movements Anachronique.”

An Atlanta native who now lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, Lowell Gerard Fuchs was represented by a vocal piece, “The Voices in Maximilian’s Head,” inspired by a true story of a man, diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early twenties, and which ultimately consumes him. Percussionist Brandon Dodge played vibraphone and tuned tom-toms as a fully collaborative part to the musically astute voice of guest soprano Carolyn Balkovetz.

Members of Terminus Ensemble perform Curtis Bryant's "Trio" for flute, cello and marimba.

Members of Terminus Ensemble perform Curtis Bryant’s “Trio” for flute, cello and marimba.

Sunday’s concert concluded with a mellifluous “Trio” for flute, cello and marimba by Curtis Bryant. Brandon Dodge returned to the stage to play the marimba part of the three-movement work, joined by flutist Amy Caputo and cellist Erin Cassel Idnani.

The stage for Monday evening’s concert was shared by neoPhonia ensemble and the Atlanta Chamber Players. The first half was presented by neoPhonia, and as it was partially funded by the GSU Center for Hellenic Studies it was not surprising to see works by living composers of Greek heritage on the program.

The concert opened with “Prosody,” a solo flute work by Yiorgos Vassilandonakis, who is currently on the faculty of the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Performed by flutist Matthieu Clavé, like many post-WWII works for unaccompanied flute, “Prosody” made use of a handful of extended techniques.

Likewise drawn from contemporary Greek repertoire was “Two Songs” 92007) by Thessaloniki-based composer Sotiris Despotis, performed by soprano Kyriaki Ioakeimidou and cellist Daniel Green.

In addition to Kieffer’s aforementioned toy piano pieces, the other work on neoPhonia’s program segment was “She Sings, She Screams” for alto sax and fixed media electronic audio by another Greensboro-based composer, Mark Engebretson, performed by saxophonist Joshua Heaney.

After intermission came the Atlanta Chamber Players – in this instance, violinist Helen Hwaya Kim, clarinetists Ted Gurch and pianist/artistic director Elizabeth Pridgen.

Changing the order of the printed program, Helen Kim and Liz Pridgen opened with “Study: Music, Pink and Blue No. 2” by Alan Fletcher, written for violinist Robert McDuffie and himself as pianist, inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe painting “Music, Pink and Blue No. 2.”

My own work was up next: “Genshi” for E-flat clarinet and violin, performed most splendidly by Helen Kim and Ted Gurch. They had premiered the piece in 2011 as part of the summer Sonic Palooza marathon, held in the Galleria in front of Symphony Hall at the Woodruff Arts Center. So I was thrilled to have them perform it in this concert as part of SoundNOW 2107.

The obvious reason for changing the printed order was so as to end the concert with Mark Buller’s “Motion Studies,” the completed chamber work that was one consequence of winning the 2016 Rapido! Composition Competition with what became the work’s challenging final movement, “Regressive Variations.” It was a thrilling performance, especially that final movement. This was the second time I’ve heard he completed “Motion Studies,” the first time was upon its premiere last September. The Rapido! Win also won Buller a chance to write for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. That work, “The Songs of Ophelia,” will be premiered by Robert Spano and the ASO on this season’s subscription series closer, June 1st and 3rd.

SoundNOW 2017 continues through April 9. Check out the SoundNow 2017 event page on Facebook. •

[Photos by mark Gresham.]

Atlanta Chamber Players perform Mark Buller's "Motion Studies."

Atlanta Chamber Players perform Mark Buller’s “Motion Studies.”

Fractured Atlas LogoThis post was made possible in part by funds from Fractured Atlas. Donations supporting the Fractured Atlas “Mark Gresham” project may be made online by clicking the linked logo on the right. Fractured Atlas is a 501(c)(3) public charity; all donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Composer’s Notebook: Cellos, wines and the music of Curtis Bryant

by Mark Gresham | 27 FEB 2017

Pianist Ben Leaptrott and cellist Jean Gay performing wine-inspired music by Atlanta composer Curtis Bryant. (credit: Mark Gresham)

Pianist Ben Leaptrott and cellist Jean Gay performed wine-inspired music by Atlanta composer Curtis Bryant. (credit: Mark Gresham)

I met Atlanta composer Curtis Bryant in the fall of 1974. One of the things quickly learned about Curtis was, in addition to being a composer of considerable craft, that he had a particular fondness and knowledge of wine, both rare and common. He also made wine in his cellar, and I remember co-investing in a shipment of Zinfandel grapes from southern California from which we (mostly Curtis) made a rather robust red Zinfandel in 1975. We wound up with 42 bottles of it when all was said and done. Unlike its paler white and blush cousins, this red Zinfandel was not sweet and took several years to even begin to mature. It did, however, win first place against some commercial wines in some kind of taste test in New York that Curtis had taken it to — though I recall no details of who passed judgment upon it. Supposedly the negatives were for sediment, which is typical characteristic of home-made wines absent the commercial filtration process. But indeed, it was a mighty fine wine for its humble pedigree.

The composer at work: Curtis Bryant. (courtesy of

The composer at work: Curtis Bryant. (courtesy of

It was likewise a fine reminder of these things when just over a week ago (the afternoon of Sunday, February 19, to be exact) I attended a concert which included The Wine Lover’s Guide to the Cello. Curtis had written it in 1991 for cello-piano duo Dorothy and Cary Lewis. In the performance on February 19 at Emory University’s 260-seat Performing Arts Studio (PAS), it was played by cellist Jean Gay and pianist Ben Leaptrott, who also performed another cello-piano work Curtis had written for the Lewises, his simply named Sonata for Cello and Piano (1987). That latter piece had found its way onto the Lewis’s CD, “Music of Southern Composers,” issued under the now-defunct Gasparo label. To round it all off, Leaptrott also gave the world premiere of Bryant’s complete “Sonatina” for solo piano — which had been patiently awaiting a performance in its entirety since it was composed in 2004.

The concert reminded me of how Curtis Bryant has always stuck to his stylistic guns, counter-rebelling against the more edgy musical rebellions of the 20th century, opting instead for a kind of clean modernism that’s well-crafted and lyrical in its aesthetic. Certainly the vocal element informs Bryant’s music, not only his choral octavos and solo songs, but certainly also in his two full-length operas: the three act Zabette — which won him an American Prize this year — and the more recent two-act thriller The Secret Agent.

Those vocal qualities, built on solid harmonic and formal foundations, permeate his instrumental music as well, as evidenced by the performance at Emory, even when he peppers it on occasion with ethnic, folk, blues or jazz elements. It does not become merely “eclectic” in the kind of shallow way one so often encounters these days, but is well underpinned by his sense of mainline Euro-American craft. It was a pleasure to become aquainted and reacquainted with these particular pieces. •

Curtis Bryant’s website can be found at

Composer’s Notebook: “Odd Shapes Carry Meaning” by Charles Knox

ATLANTA, GA — Here’s a photo from last night’s premiere of “Odd Shapes Carry Meaning” by Charles Knox, performed by the GSU Saxophone Studio at Florence Kopleff Recital Hall, Georgia State University School Of Music. Charles calls it a symphony for saxophones in three contiguous movements. ~Mark Gresham

The premiere of Charles Knox's

The premiere of Charles Knox’s “Odd Shapes Carry Meaning” for 11 saxophones.

Composer’s Notebook: “Genshi” gets thumbs up in review

27 Jun 2011 – Atlanta, GA:

Pierre Ruhe gave the official premiere of my “Genshi” a thumbs up in his ArtsATL review of the Sonic Palooza marathon held on June 25 at the Woodruff Arts Center. Here’s what he wrote earlier today about it:

Native Atlantan Mark Gresham, a composer and music journalist, wrote “Genshi” several years ago as a wedding present for violinist Helen Hwaya Kim and clarinetist Ted Gurch. The music is infused with a melancholy Eastern European spirit, almost a Jewish lament, with echoes of Stravinsky’s neo-classicism. Gentle and equitable — each instrument plays to its strengths — “Genshi” held the room rapt.

Immense credit goes to violinist Helen Hwaya Kim and clarinetist Ted Gurch for their stunningly beautiful performance.


VNPAC: Into the Future—A composer’s view of orchestral initiative [NewMusicBox]

By Mark Gresham | 18 Jun 2010, NewMusicBox



Three days at the League of American Orchestras conference, and yes, I have not blogged once until now. That may actually be good in the long run. What’s good is rather than attempting a blow-by-blow account of events, it offers a chance for an overview of six specific events I have attended, and a search for common threads of thought among them which are of value to composers. … • READ MORE on NewMusicBox