Aaron Copland's House and Other Architectural Landmarks Inspired This Music

May 16, 2020

Houses and other buildings we inhabit are the subjects of eight works in pianist Nadia Shpachenko’s album, The Poetry of Places, winner of the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Classical Compendium.

“I have always been drawn to architecture,” says Shpachenko, who teaches music at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Born in Ukraine, she moved to Israel, then the U.S. when she was in her early teens.   “And one of the first landmarks I visited when I moved to Los Angeles in 1997 was Frank Gehry’s residence in Santa Monica.”

Frank’s House, a composition for two pianos and two percussionists by Andrew Norman, is the first piece on The Poetry of Places.

Frank’s House is one of only two pieces not commissioned specifically for this album, but “it fits perfectly with the theme,” says Shpachenko, who wanted music inspired by architecture.  She commissioned six additional composers, each of whom chose a building meaningful to him or her. 

Hannah Lash wrote Give Me Your Songs, for solo piano, based on Aaron Copland’s house in Cortlandt Manor, New York. “It’s not just the building itself that’s very fascinating, but it’s the history, the spirit of Aaron Copland, and the inspiration of all the music that was written there,” says Shpachenko, who visited the house to experience the space that inspired Lash.  

“[Hannah] was talking about these unusual twists and turns … a staircase that goes all the way up to the living room is reflected a lot in her music. She has all these running downward passages. I always imagine her running down the stairs and then going up and just being in that living room, which looks like it’s hanging in the air.”

James Matheson’s Alone, in Waters Shimmering and Dark, responds in three movements to a solitary house sitting on a small island in the middle of a lake.  Pointing to the third movement, originally written for a memorial concert for composer Steven Stucky, Matheson writes of his intention “to capture that feeling of isolation, but also the unexpected joy that can sometimes highlight the fine line between loneliness and its happier sibling, solitude.”

Other buildings chosen by composers include Newgrange Ancient Temple in Ireland, the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, National Assembly Buildings in Bangladesh, Russian bells in Lowell House at Harvard, and Frank Gehry’s IAC Building in New York City, with its tiered surfaces of curved glass suggesting a giant sailing vessel.

Harold Meltzer, composer of In Full Sail, says,  “I began to imagine the building launching from the New York Harbor into the open sea.”

Nadia Shpachenko finds meaning and magic in exploring these architectural spaces in music, and hopes that themes such as this are inviting to newcomers and seasoned listeners alike.  "My goal is always to get people interested in classical new music."