Professor releases solo piano recordings

SUNY Oswego music faculty member and concert pianist Robert Auler has joined forces with composer and friend Jonathan Pieslak to publish “Shards,” a collection of piano solos featuring widely divergent influences.

Auler, who has taught at Oswego for 11 years—and whose global performance career added China and South Africa in just the last year—met Pieslak in graduate school at the University of Michigan. The composer teaches at City College of New York and Graduate Center.

Robert Auler at the pianoSpeaking of his excitement at the opportunity to make a recording with Pieslak, Auler said that much as the title “Shards” evokes discrete pieces of broken pottery, the composer’s work draws restlessly from music as diverse as heavy metal and classical etudes and experiences as different as Hindu studies and the side effects of steroids for a health condition.

“It was actually Jon who said, ‘OK, I would like to have an album of piano music,’” Auler said. “That puts him in a really enviable position—not a lot of composers have a CD-length project of piano music.”

[UPDATE: In an Aug. 29 review, the New York Times called the album a “beautiful recording of the piano music of Jonathan Pieslak, played with extraordinary rhythmic clarity and expression by the pianist Robert Auler.”]

“Shards,” from Albany Records, features Auler playing five Pieslak compositions ranging from “Bhakti,” a meditative piece with an overlay of chant and violin, to “Prednisomnia,” Pieslak’s contribution to pharmaceutical-inspired music.

“American Atmospheres” shows Pieslak’s love of etudes—classical studies that challenge composer and pianist alike as they shift from one passage to another, often vastly different. The other two pieces are “Spiral” and the title track.

Entry points

Auler acknowledged that new music in the classical realm is a hard sell for general audiences, but said he has had some interesting feedback on “Shards.”

“I’ve heard from folks I would not consider classical music people who say, ‘We love this record; we listen to it just for enjoyment,’” he said. “That’s not to say this is not sophisticated music. It’s art music. It’s written by a serious classical composer. But I just feel like there’s a lot of entry points for it.”

Pieslak, who also is an electric bassist playing in jazz, Latin and rock bands, has appeared in SUNY Oswego classes of Auler’s, and the pianist has performed and lectured at City College. Though they have no current plans for a formal CD release reception, Auler said he certainly will continue to cite Pieslak and to play passages from “Shards” in his advanced music theory classes.

“I think it’s really important that our students see us striving artistically, and that we can share that journey with them,” he said. “When our students see us as working professional musicians as well as teachers of theory, I think there’s a magical intersection there.”

The production of “Shards”—selections from which are available on YouTube as well as for purchase through Albany Records, Amazon and iTunes—benefited from support through SUNY Oswego’s Scholarly and Creative Activity Committee and the music departments of both Oswego and City College.

Auler made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2004 and has won numerous competitions, including the Society of American Musicians first prize. His earlier CD, “American Century,” features music of the last 100 years influenced by American music and culture.

A music theorist as well as a composer, Pieslak was awarded a Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and has been recognized with awards and commissions from the Jerome Foundation, American Composers Forum and MacDowell Colony, among others.

(Posted: Aug 15, 2014)

Tags: solo piano recordings, shards, robert auler, piano, music department, music