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Music faculty member releases new CD featuring world-premiere recordings of commissioned works

January 13, 2014
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Dr. Nicholas Phillips, UW-Eau Claire associate professor of music (Photo by Rachel Schimelman, RS Design)
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"American Vernacular: New Music for Solo Piano" available on iTunes, Amazon and at www.newfocusrecordings.com/Catalogue/american-vernacular.

EAU CLAIRE — Dr. Nicholas Phillips, an associate professor of music at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, has recently released a new CD titled "American Vernacular: New Music for Solo Piano" produced by New Focus Recordings.

The CD is a collection of works commissioned by Phillips, who gave 10 composers the theme "American Vernacular," along with free reign to take that theme in any direction.

"I came up with this crazy idea to commission a group of composers over a year ago and did the recording this summer in Minneapolis," Phillips said. "I always enjoy introducing audiences to new music, but I find sometimes they are reluctant. The idea of this project was to commission works on a theme that would create something new while drawing on something familiar."

One of the composers Phillips commissioned for this project was Dr. Ethan Wickman, a former UW-Eau Claire assistant professor of music. Phillips recorded a CD of Wickman's music, titled "Portals and Passages," in 2011 on Albany Records. That same year he released a CD called "Boris Papandopulo: Piano Music," also on Albany records.

The pieces included on "American Vernacular: New Music for Solo Piano" draw influence from diverse sources, including John Fahey, Billy Joel, Langston Hughes, Miles Davis, Alberto Ginastera and hip-hop legends De La Soul.

Producing a CD of this nature presents many challenges, Phillips said, but waiting for scores to arrive proved to be the most anxious part.

"It's exciting to commission a composer, but then you never know what you're actually going to get until it arrives," Phillips said. "But I really enjoy all of the pieces that have been written for me and I couldn't be happier with the variety of styles and influences represented."

"American Vernacular: New Music for Solo Piano" was featured as the Jan. 13 "Album of the Week" on Q2 Music, a high-profile online radio program in New York City that focuses on new music.

"Q2 Music focuses on music by living composers, so this is a perfect outlet for 'American Vernacular,'" Phillips said. "They reach a huge online audience, both in New York City and across the country. Looking at some of the composers and performers they have featured in the past, it is a tremendous honor to have this CD chosen as their 'Album of the Week.'"

Visit http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/pianist-commissions-ten-composers-redefine-american-vernacularto read the Q2 Music article featuring "American Vernacular: New Music for Solo Piano."

Phillips, who is currently on tour performing pieces from the album, is scheduled to play the program in recital at 5 p.m. Feb. 9 in Gantner Concert Hall of the Haas Fine Arts Center at UW-Eau Claire.

The album is available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon and at www.newfocusrecordings.com/Catalogue/american-vernacular.

For a complete schedule of performances or for more information about Dr. Nicholas Phillips, visit his website at www.nicholasphillips.net, or contact him at phillins@uwec.edu or 715-836-5842.

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