Aaron Grad

Notes from the Composer

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Aeolian Harp

Performed by the Sherman Chamber Ensemble

Unlike all other stringed instruments, which make sound through some act of plucking, hammering or bowing, the Aeolian harp is activated by wind blowing across the strings, like a telephone wire humming in a stiff breeze. The instrument particularly captivated poets of the Romantic age, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). In The Aeolian Harp, the poet recalls lounging on a lazy afternoon and musing on the instrument’s “soft floating witchery of sound” coming from the window. His thoughts on the harp lead him to a powerful question:

And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic Harps diversly fram'd,
That tremble into thought, as o'er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the Soul of each, and God of all?

 I love this thought, that every living creature is an instrument converting a universal and unseen force into beautiful vibrations. It inspired me to write this piece—and to build an Aeolian harp for my own window.

 My composition for flute, guitar and string trio follows the arc of Coleridge’s poem: the relaxed tranquility of watching the clouds (heard in this opening excerpt, accompanied quite appropriately by a chorus of crickets at the outdoor performance); the beguiling sound of the Aeolian harp; the formulation of the momentous question; and finally the humble, prayer-like conclusion. The piece is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Walter Reinhold, my undergraduate Music History professor, who taught me that all culture and creative endeavors are interconnected. 


Concertino for Clarinet

Performed by the New York Chamber Ensemble with Alan R. Kay, clarinet.

After spending my high school and college years devoted to jazz, I figured out that I was drawn more to writing music down than improvising it, and my musical identity shifted from jazz guitarist to Composer. I took that big “C” very seriously at first, and tried to scrub all jazz inflections out of my music, lest I anger the gatekeepers of classical music, whom I imagined I was trying to impress.

 I give large credit to clarinetist Alan Kay for helping me break free from this conundrum. Not only did he provide me with my first opportunity to write for a large ensemble of superb professional musicians, he encouraged me to let my jazz roots resurface in the piece. The three movements examine different aspects of my relationship to jazz: Ring tone marries my ideas about classical concerto writing to contemporary jazz; Ballad honors the jazz standards I fell in love with as a teenager; Closer picks up where I left off with my last downtown jazz group and uses material I first wrote in that context. In the excerpt from that movement heard here, the clarinet plays a fully notated “solo” accompanied by a bass vamp and clapping from the ensemble. Then that solo morphs into a game of call-and-response, in which the clarinet feeds each instrument its theme in turn, stacking layer upon layer of music until the texture bursts and returns to the closing statement of the melody. 


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Comments [64]


Reminds me of a soundtrack to some '70s flick about Ancient Rome.

Aug. 14 2010 05:48 PM
Joanna from CT

Beautiful, just beautiful.

Aug. 13 2010 09:07 AM
Michael Rand from Tacoma, Washington

I listened to Aaron's music and was transported to a different place, of beauty and wimsy, and hope. I wanted to follow it every moment, it felt magical. My hope is this music is shared with a greater audience!! Very, very talented artist!

Aug. 12 2010 12:24 PM
Cole Strauss from Seattle

I can't wait to here this beautiful music at Carnegie! Such strong individual aspects....so pleasantly woven together!

Aug. 12 2010 04:27 AM
Alan Polinsky

A winner! I'd listen over and over again

Aug. 10 2010 02:38 PM
Jamie from Washington, DC

What wonderfully diverse pieces. They are original and captivating. I'd love to hear them performed at Carnegie Hall and other venues throughout the world. Thanks to Aaron for sharing his gifts with us.


Jul. 31 2010 02:58 PM
Glen Lebetkin

Very enjoyable listening! Combines elements of the old and new. Beautiful melody, rhythm presented with modern instrumentation, and unique orchestration. Bravo!

Jul. 25 2010 07:01 PM
Angela from Brooklyn, NY

Congratulations Aaron on two wonderful pieces that offer a variety of flavors. They both brought me joy and inspired different moods, so thank you for that. Aaron is extremely talented and these pieces should be heard at Carnegie Hall. I look forward to your future works and hope that you passion, skill and essence can be shared with more people at Carnegie and beyond. Well done.

Jul. 18 2010 12:21 PM
Rachel from New York City

Aaron's work inspires us to listen carefully, to think and to feel. It is accessible to people on so many levels, across age groups and from diverse backgrounds. It draws us all in... It is at once intellectually curious and emotionally satisfying. My 8-yo daughter wants to play it one day on her violin because, as my 4-yo son says, "it sounds great!"

Jul. 12 2010 09:06 PM
David from Boston

I know Aaron who plays with my son; I've worked on piano music by him and also a piece he wrote for my son and me, a movement each for French horn, ukulele, and string bass and piano based on poems by Whitman. He is clearly a gifted composer whose music has great depth and compositional skill. Aaron knows the tradition backwards and forwards and I would say writes in the whole tradition, not just the last so-called modern part of it. This is why I think you should choose him. People will be listening to his music for a long time.

Jul. 11 2010 12:40 PM
Bonnie Steenburgh from Saint Johnsville, New york

What a treat it would be for Carnegie Hall and all who attend to hear the wonderful sounds of music that Aaron Grad plays on his Aeolian flute and his Clarinet...

Truly an amazing experience!!!!

Jul. 11 2010 07:56 AM
Theresa Morgan from Annapolis, MD

The Aeolian Harp gives me goosebumps. Listening to it is an adventure and a pleasure. Kudos to Aaron.

Jul. 08 2010 08:05 AM
Brian O'Hanlon from Easton, MD

I'm hooked. This is by far the most interesting piece I've heard in a long time!

Jul. 05 2010 06:29 PM
Aaron from NYC

Aeolian Harp is lyrical and gorgeous. The Concertino for Clarinet (featuring Orpheus member Alan R. Kay) is inventive and jazzy. Mr. Grad is ready to write for Orpheus!

Jun. 30 2010 10:42 PM
Elizabeth from Bethesda, MD

I loved this music. Having spent many hours walking the hills near Coleridge's home, I had the majesty of that scenery in my memory as I was listening. "That tremble into thought, as o'er them sweeps" sums up this composition so well. What a talented composer. Thank you for this opportunity to hear his music.

Jun. 30 2010 08:16 PM
Carolyn from Silver Spring, MD

I am awed that someone so young can compose music with so much depth and vitality! I am a big fan and I would love to hear these works performed at Carnegie Hall! Congratulations!

Jun. 30 2010 06:39 PM
Vera Ventura from Cambridge, MA

Aaron Grad is one of the most talented composers living. His incredible gift of talent needs to be shared with the world. His piece transported me far beyond the comforts of my feeble mind to an imaginary place where life exists as an utopian harmonic paradise.

Jun. 30 2010 07:15 AM
Louise from Alexandria Virginia

What a beautiful piece Aaron has composed!
It took me to a very peaceful place. Such talent, his work must be shared with everyone !!!

Jun. 29 2010 10:11 AM
Robbie & Steve from Santa Cruz, CA

The feeling of a summer's evening transported us to a place of relaxation and 'being' where we followed the flow of the river of sound. Aaron's music is ready for all.

Jun. 29 2010 12:26 AM
Rachel from Philadelphia, PA

Concertino for Clarinet is a lively, intriguing piece that I would love to hear performed at Carnegie Hall.

Jun. 28 2010 09:19 PM
Rae from Virginia

Aaron's music is intelligent and soulful. It has a sense of freedom and discovery that makes it appealing. The audience of Carnegie Hall will LOVE this music.

Jun. 28 2010 08:08 PM
Michael Armer from Silver Spring, MD

In many an evening's intimate discussion I have witnessed Aaron affirm and reaffirm his personal mission - to connect with others through his music.

If there is a criterion in this award process that evaluates one's music as it relates to ones personal mission, there is no question of Aaron receiving top score for the impressive integrity and congruency of Aaron's mission and music.

Jun. 28 2010 05:20 PM
joan samworth from Takoma Park, Md.

What a beautiful piece! It evoked all sorts of emotions from beginning to end. All positive with good energy. Aaron would be a gift to Carnegie Hall!

Jun. 28 2010 09:51 AM
Judy from Cambridge, MA

Listening to this provided a beautiful respite in the middle of day's work. More - more!

Jun. 28 2010 09:37 AM
Becca from Boston, MA

I was really transported when I listed to the Aeolian Harp. It reminded me of a lush, summer day or a weeping willow swaying in the breeze. I am a professional cantor (of Jewish music) and I so appreciate listening to this genre. Aaron has a fine gift for capturing the cadence and feeling of the poems he references in his work. This is really a gift most composers strive for but don't always attain. Bravo!

Jun. 27 2010 03:43 PM
Brook from Brooklyn, NY

This music is what the world (and Carnegie Hall) need right now. Beautiful music, playful music, positive music. So much of modern and post-modern music dive into the depths of the abstract and despair, it can be exhausting. This music breathes life, love, and joy into the listener. Because of this, Grad's music is a breath of fresh air to the New Music world. His blend of the classical context with subtle jazz harmonies and rhythms creates a music that both the jazz and classical world can enjoy equally. Bravo, I would pay

Jun. 27 2010 03:40 PM
Keane from Boulder, CO

Aaron writes some very beautiful and engaging music. I applaud him for not being afraid to use jazz and popular influences, which creates sincere musical expression. I look forward to hearing more works of his.

Jun. 26 2010 04:30 PM
Kasia from Amsterdam, Netherlands

Skillful, but unfortunately, there are hundreds of other composers who sound just the same.

Jun. 26 2010 11:45 AM
Edith Krohn from Bethesda, MD

This music is so melodic. The use of jazz is very impressive. I think this represents the best of young composers. I am 97 years old and a great lover of music. I appreciate the old music but I honor the new.

Jun. 25 2010 12:33 PM
Tina Levin from Olney, MD

Beautiful piece, evoking a sense of gentle lightness and spaciousness in the listener. Reading Coleridge's poem and Grad's translation of it into this composition enrich the listener's experience even more. Bravo--I would love to hear more of this composer's work!

Jun. 24 2010 10:00 PM
kathie and mel from Boston

A talented young composer who has captured the illusions inspired by Coleridge, evoking the sense of seasons
It is music which would be appealing to a wide audience - melodic while complex with no sense of dissonance.

Jun. 24 2010 08:26 PM
Arlen Gaines from Rockville, MD

What a beautiful, relaxing piece! Wonderful to hear after a long, busy day. I hope many more people can enjoy this music!

Jun. 24 2010 04:44 PM
Eileen Kugler from Washington, D.C.

This inspired piece brings the listener in with a soft caress. The melody enchantingly interweaves the instruments. I wanted to hear more! I hope this talented artist can share his work on the stage it deserves - Carnegie Hall.

Jun. 23 2010 11:41 PM
Peter from DC

What a joy to listen to these pieces of music. Aaron's two selections are both enchanting, yet so different. I was buffeted by the same gentle breeze as the "Aeolian Harp". The "Concertino" reminded me of Duke Ellington capturing all the natural and unnatural sounds of the city in A Train. What a joy it would be to hear these works in the room known as Carnegie Hall. But don't wait play them now on QXR!

Jun. 23 2010 05:04 PM
Mary Vaccaro from New York City

I am a 20 year member of WNYC/WQXR, a long time late night listener to "New Sounds" and a great fan of new music. Aaron Grad's "Aeolian Harp" and "Concertino for Clarinet" transported me - the Jazzy syncopation spinning into a wild nightclub ride, and the gentle summer warbler of a glorious warm afternoon with the Aeolian Harp. These are new sounds I want to hear more of - in Carnegie Hall and on Public Radio. Please broadcast this. It's beautiful.

Jun. 23 2010 04:26 PM
Cecile from outside Washington, D.C.

Lovely, lyrical, layer & lush....I listened to it on a hot summer's day and felt lightened and refreshed. Thank you.

Jun. 23 2010 03:23 PM
Miriam from Md

Yes, Aaron! His thoughts, writings and - oh yes, his music - provide an uplifting break from all the nonsense surrounding us. Whew!

Jun. 23 2010 07:59 AM
Lisa Toner from Seattle

Normally I am not a huge fan of contemporary composers, but Aaron's music was a delightful surprise! I loved the delicate touch of Aeolian Harp, with beautifully layered orchestration and refreshing transparency. I thought that the clarinet concerto was fun and spirited. This is definitely music that deserves to be played in Carnegie Hall. I think it would be enjoyable for the Orpheus Orchestra to play and for the audience to hear.

Jun. 22 2010 10:48 PM
A. Big Snail from Alpha Branch (Alternate Choice Reflection) Dimension

Wow. This is my first time hearing Aaron's compositions; his music is wonderfully constructive, beautiful, captivating. I absolutely loved the Aeolian Harp.
Good luck with getting to Carnegie Hall!

Jun. 22 2010 09:31 PM
ken from washington dc

I really love Aaron's music. Very much from the heart. A very talented young musician.

Jun. 22 2010 09:26 PM
Eliot Bailen from New York City

For many years I have been a big fan of Aaron's music. His music is always moving, interesting, tasteful and brilliantly constructed. This opportunity with Orpheus would come at the right time in his development as a composer - he's ready for it.

Jun. 22 2010 08:12 PM
Susan Kuner from Alameda, California

Aaron writes beautiful, intriguing, and captivating music. I can only imagine how inspiring it will be to hear his compositions played by musicians in Carnegie Hall.

Jun. 22 2010 06:51 PM
Susan Kuner from Alameda, California

This is beautiful music. It did remind me of the mysterious wind blown sound of the Aeolian harp. I can only imagine how inspiring this will be when played by musicians in Carnegie Hall.

Jun. 22 2010 06:46 PM
Blanchefleur Macher from Fairfax, CA

Lovely, inspired and inspirational!

Jun. 22 2010 05:46 PM
taj from San Francisco Bay Area

Arron's music will help re-enchant the world........we need more!!

Jun. 22 2010 04:44 PM
Saphira Linden from Boston, Mass

I was enchanted by Aaron's music. He is clearly a very gifted musical artist. I didn't want the piece to be over, so I played it again. The beauty and subtle resonance with nature and spirit, created in me a connection with my own sacred inner landscape.
I would like to see more music of this kind on the stage of Carnegie Hall. It might help to awaken peoples' gratitude for the preciousness of life in these challenging times through the experience of his music.

Jun. 22 2010 04:36 PM
Vakil Kuner from San Francisco

Since classical times sculptors made chisels and tools to help manifest their inspiration and this has continued to the present day. Instrument making is a lot more difficult and it is wonderful that this artist followed his inspiration to the extent of making an aeolian harp.

I too am interested in the aeolian harp but the available recordings (e.g. Wind Harp) have focused on the raw sound in nature. This piece adds the dimensions of intelligence, humanity, and a bit of playfulness to temper the rawness of the natural.

Jun. 22 2010 01:34 PM
Noa Baum from silver spring, MD

I loved this!!! it felt like a gentle breeze or sheer beauty and spirit! what an inspiring composer!
thank you!

Jun. 21 2010 11:24 AM
alice beaver from Hong Kong

Wonderful music from an amazingly talented composer!

Jun. 21 2010 09:43 AM
Peter Vukmirovic Stevens from Seattle, Washington

I was recently hired as the pianist for a project featuring one of Aaron Grad's pieces at the Henry Art Museum here in Seattle. His writing was excellent and fit the piano perfectly. I had a great experience working with him.

He was professional and very friendly during the rehearsals. Anyone who gets to work with him will be working with a solid composer and skilled music director.

Jun. 20 2010 03:02 PM
Kate Kovarovic from Washington, DC

I have always looked forward to the opportunity to hear new music by Aaron Grad, and I can't think of a more deserving young composer to have his pieces showcased at Carnegie Hall. Aaron shares a piece of himself with each new composition, and his passion, innovativeness, and sense of humor shine through in every single composition. Each piece tells a story, and the listener is left feeling as inspired by the song as Aaron was himself. His capacity to blend new sounds and instruments is both daring and refreshing, and I truly hope that Aaron is given this opportunity to share his music on a wider scale.

Jun. 20 2010 01:59 PM
Steven Crozier

This is exquisite -- both thoughtful and heartfelt. Reading his notes, it's clear that this music is 'inspired,' in the best sense of the word. This is definitely a young man who deserves to be heard on a larger stage.

Jun. 20 2010 12:36 PM
Kris & Nick Walton from Yorkshire, UK

We're not musicians by trade, but we are impressed by the way Aaron's music conveys both his personal vision and the subject that inspired the Aeolian Harp piece. Clearly this is a derserving composer and we hope to hear his music broadcast to a wider community.

Jun. 19 2010 03:54 PM
robert jost from new york

For the past 11 years I have had the joy of performing a great deal of Aaron's music, in various settings. I wish that joy on many more musicians and generations to come. The satisfaction and challenge that one gets from learning his pieces would benefit any individual or group. He deserves to be played and heard widely!

Jun. 19 2010 03:35 PM
Barbara Proctor from New York City

The work of Aaron Grad is so unusual, soothing and beautiful, both for it's composition and uniqueness of the instruments , it is highly deserving of being chosen for the Orpheus Project 440. Looking forward to hearing his work on WQXR.

Jun. 19 2010 12:36 PM
Karen Turnbull from Las Vegas, NV

Amazing! What a gifted artist! How exciting it would be to hear this live at Carnegie Hall!

Jun. 19 2010 12:29 PM
Ron Levy

Aaron is a gifted composer, whose works have substance, are well crafted, and have proven to have considerable audience appeal. In addition, he has been unstinting in his willingness to lend his talent, energy and enthusiasm to the support of his colleagues and musical organizations and endeavors that make a difference. He deserves our support in return!

Ron Levy, pianist

Jun. 19 2010 11:57 AM
Jesse Neuman from New York, NY

How lucky we are to have someone like Aaron Grad pulling up on his jazz roots within a clear and confident modern-classical stage. His music quietly exploits the fringes of instrumentalists' techniques (a trick he must have wrestled away from his 'downtown' days) and delivers wonderfully off center melodicism. Harmonically and texturally, Grad is delicate and intelligent. I look forward to listening to his career develop and expand.

Jun. 19 2010 11:07 AM
willard spiegelman from Dallas, Texas

As someone who routinely teaches Coleridge's poetry, and who also writes about music for various newspapers and journals, I was impressed with the way Mr. Grad captured the spirit of Coleridge's poem, even without a real Aeolian harp in his piece. This music does honor to both the composer and the poet, and it would be lovely to hear it performed in Carnegie Hall

Jun. 19 2010 08:38 AM
Margaret Swinchoski from New Jersey

I met Aaron when we commissioned him to write a trio for the Palisades Virtuosi in 2003. His work Lepidopterology was on our first album of New American Masters met with critical acclaim from Fanfare Magazine & American Record Guide. He is a talented young composer whose work should be heard everywhere!

Jun. 18 2010 10:16 PM
Jen Kovarovic from Seattle, WA

I think Aaron's music should be performed by Orpheus because he offers something different from many of the other composers. His pieces have a clear voice, a sense of humor/playfulness, and beautiful melodies.

Jun. 18 2010 09:01 PM
Jason Hassenstab from Providence, RI

What a breath of fresh air! More, please!

Jun. 18 2010 08:23 PM
Joe Lazar

This is fabulous music from a gifted composer. I think Carnegie Hall would be lucky to have his work performed.

Jun. 18 2010 07:47 PM
Jonathan Chu from Philadelphia, PA

I met Aaron while playing with Orpheus years ago. He was always courteous, on top of things and bright, but I wasn't familiar with his music until hearing this clip.

The thing I like the most about this piece is that it's something I want to listen to more than once. It has a freshness I find severely lacking in new music these days, where composers often write music seemingly incomprehensible to the audience. Aaron also clearly has a mastery over his craft; he achieves an imaginative array of sounds from such a simple (and creative) grouping of instruments. I actually thought it was a much larger ensemble until I scrolled up and saw it was just 5 instruments. It's tonal yet interesting, pointillistic yet organic. I would love to hear this on the stage of Carnegie.

Jun. 18 2010 05:21 PM

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