Pierre Jalbert
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Q&A: Pierre Jalbert

A chat with the composer whose co-commissioned Piano Quintet receives its world premiere from the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth.

published Thursday, April 5, 2018

Photo: Richard Bowditch
Pierre Jalbert

Fort Worth — In a first for the organization, the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth will present the world premiere of a commissioned work this Saturday: Pierre Jalbert’s Piano Quintet. The piece is a co-commission with Arizona Friends of Chamber Music and the La Jolla Music Society.

Commissioning new works is one of the solemn duties of performing arts organizations and this first commission is a sign of the revitalizing energy that Artistic Director Gary Levinson has brought to the organization.

Jalbert gets his French name from his family, which originally came from Quebec, but he was born in Manchester, NH and grew up in northern Vermont. He did his undergraduate work at Oberlin conservatory and completed his Ph.D in composition at the University of Pennsylvania studying under George Crumb. He has a list of prestigious prizes to his credit, including the Rome Prize (2000-2001). Currently, he is a Professor of Composition and Theory at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music in Houston.

This is how he describes his compositional voice on his webpage:

“Jalbert's music is tonally centered, incorporating modal, tonal, and sometimes quite dissonant harmonies while retaining a sense of harmonic motion and arrival. He is particularly noted for his mastery of instrumental color: in both chamber works and orchestral scores, he creates timbres that are vivid yet refined. His rhythmic shapes are cogent, often with an unmistakable sense of underlying pulsation. Driving rhythms often alternate with slow sections in which time seems to be suspended.”

At the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth concert, 2 p.m. April 7 at the Kimbell Art Museum’s Renzo Piano Pavilion auditorium, the musicians are: Cho-Liang Lin, violin; Clive Greensmith, cello; Gary Levinson, violin; Haochen Zhang, piano; and Michael Klotz, viola. Along with the Jalbert’s Piano Quintet, the program includes Shostakovich’s Three Pieces for Two Violins and Piano, Dvořák’s Terzetto in C Major, Op. 74 (B. 148), and Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 334.

We chatted with Jalbert via phone to talk about his work and this new commission.


TheaterJones: How would you describe your music?

Pierre Jalbert: Well, it is dramatic above all things and also varied in many ways. I hope there is a lyricism about it. Some of my music tends to be on the sort of timeless and still side. Some is very pulse-oriented and rhythmically driven. It can also be vigorous and aggressive which can be found in much of my chamber and orchestral writing.


What about your harmonic language?

My music tends harmonically driven, leaning towards tonality but not traditional harmony. I use more dissonance. However, my music is always grounded in a kind of tonal, sometime modal, language. It always comes back to a center of some sort.


Is there an influence from minimalism?

Not much in a literal sense. However, there are repeating phrases that occur in my music, but it is more about development of motivic materials than repetition.


What is your creative process?

I start sketching away from the piano in my own unique musical shorthand and continue to sketch out the work in bigger chunks until I have a concept of the whole. Motives that I sketch are like kernels. At this point, I can hear it but don’t have all the specific details so I go to the piano to refine what I have into the final product.


What about planning out the form and duration?

I know duration early on. From this time parameter, I try to figure out the structure. For example, this new piece I wrote for the CHSFW is a multi-movement piece. So I had to figure out where are the dramatic moments in the movements, the fast the slow and the shape of the whole. The individual movements have to function and bring their part to the entire piece.


Changing the subject, how do you like teaching?

I really like it. It keeps me grounded. I am surrounded by musicians and young composers — all constantly making music.


What is your goal with your composition students?

My goal is to help them find their own voice and I talk about craft, form and structure. As a teacher, you must be both a sounding board and a critical ear. Thanks For Reading

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Q&A: Pierre Jalbert
A chat with the composer whose co-commissioned Piano Quintet receives its world premiere from the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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