Claremonters earn Grammy nominations

A group of Claremont-based music makers has created a dynamic contemporary classical album that could be seeing Grammy gold.

Nadia Shpachenko, a Claremont resident and professor of music at Cal Poly Pomona and Claremont Graduate University, has teamed up with a group of classical talents to create an album that turns piano music on its head. Woman at the New Piano is a collection of pieces that transport the listener to different musical worlds.

Now, Woman at the New Piano has been nominated for three Grammy awards, including Best Classical Compendium, Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance and Producer of the Year, Classical.

“Well, for a couple of days I was so excited I couldn’t do anything,” Ms. Shpachenko said when asked about how she reacted to the Grammy nominations. “My whole body was shaking. I had a big concert in New York, so luckily it only lasted two days.”

Ms. Shpachenko says the idea of creating such an album has long been with her, but the opportunity arose only recently in 2013.

“I’ve been very active with composers and finally the opportunity presented itself when I was on sabbatical,” Ms. Shpachenko said. “I thought, finally the time has come and I can bring this music to life.”

Ms. Shpachenko teamed up with Pomona College music professors Genevieve Feiwen Lee and Tom Flaherty, as well as Ms. Shpachenko’s husband Barry Werger, who served as sound engineer. Mr. Werger is as music technologist at Pomona College. The four collaborated with LA’s Adam Schoenberg and Peter yates, as well as New York-based composer James Matheson.

Through Pomona College, Mr. Flaherty said working with Ms. Shpachenko, Ms. Lee and Mr. Werger on this album was “a tremendous thrill.”

“Although the pieces have been performed dozens of times by several different groups across the country in the last year or so, the sort of music that I want to write is not really designed to reach millions of listeners,” he said. “I was surprised and delighted to have Nadia’s and Genevieve’s performance publicly acknowledged by the Grammy Foundation. They truly own the piece.”

Woman at the New Piano touches on themes of rebirth and transformation, ideas that came to Ms. Shpachenko after the supposed apocalyptic event of December 21, 2012, the date when the Mayan calendar was interpreted by some to herald the end of the world. While no cataclysm ensued, there were other outcomes, Mr. Werger related.

“The idea that inspired this CD was the end of 2012 and the beginning of a whole new world,” Mr. Werger said. “And we gathered some composers together to write about this new world.”

The opening piece composed by Mr. Flaherty, “Airdancing,” features Ms. Shpachenko and Ms. Lee (on the piano and toy piano, respectively) dueling across a post-apocalyptic landscape, with occasional electronics dotting across the work’s eight-and-a-half minute runtime. Ms. Shpachenko describes the theme as “kind of humorous,” adding that the piano duet creates a fun atmosphere that sets the tone for the album.

Mr. Werger noted that, among other things, Mr. Flaherty was inspired by Felix Baumgartner’s famous skydive from a record-breaking 24 miles above the Earth in 2012.

“It’s such a unique and imaginative piece,” Ms. Shpachenko said. “Tom Flaherty is an amazing composer—he’s like family as a person, so unique and different.”

“Airdancing” has been nominated for a Grammy for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. The album was recorded in July of 2013. According to Ms. Shpachenko and Mr. Werger, the goal of the recording process was to make the listener feel like every composition was recorded in the moment.

“The idea was to capture the recording sounding live,” Ms. Shpachenko said. “No spot-mics, finding just the right spot to capture everything. Barry somehow captured everything in the most perfect way.”

Creating such an engrossing sound takes time. Post-production on the album lasted almost a year before the CD was released.

“It takes a lot of time and work to find out how these ensembles come together and sound beautiful,” Mr. Werger said.

Ms. Shpachenko and her collaborators aren’t resting on their laurels just yet. They are working on other projects for 2016, with one album coming out in spring and another in summer.

But for now, the group’s labor of love has a chance to become the top classical album in the world, and Ms. Shpachenko couldn’t be more thrilled.

“It was a dream with this album. I feel so proud of how it came out,” Ms. Shpachenko said.

—Matthew Bramlett


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