From Article “BREEDING NEW SPECIES OF MUSIC” by David Locklearfor GoTriad, Greensboro magazine, published on March 8, 2007
Classically trained composer Yelena Eckemoff says that classic rock bands such as Queen, Deep Purple and especially Pink Floyd(!), have been tremendous influences on her and her music since she was a teenager. Not exactly the traditional muses one expects a classically trained pianist to cite as inspirations.
But Eckemoff isn’t as concerned with musical tradition as she is with actively capturing various creatures of sound, fusing them together and giving life to another breed of musical species.
As Eckemoff created her music, she found that using [electronic] studio technology to replicate the instruments she needed to form her compositions lacked the warmth of working with fellow composers. This led her to ask a friend, Greensboro cello player Gayle Masarie, to add her creative touch to Eckemoff’s canvas, and The Yelena Eckemoff Ensemble was born. The Ensemble consists of Eckemoff, Masarie, flutist Deborah Egekvist, bassist Nathan Scott and percussionist Michael Bolejack. The Ensemble recorded and released its first CD in 2006, “The Call,” an album that houses Eckemoff’s distinct but seamless fusion of the free spirit of jazz and the bombast of a symphony. The Ensemble will be performing several tracks from this album, plus some of Eckemoff’s earlier solo material, Tuesday at UNCG.
Part 1, POETIC SONGS
Part 2, OLD, NEW IMPRESSIONS
Piano Chronicles, Album 2 is a continuation of Yelena Eckemoff’s musical autobiography. This album contains two suites of music composed in her late twenties and late thirties. The group of seven “Poetic Songs” are pieces that were composed around the work of several different poets. The music in this group tends to be very dark and reflective. “Fairyland” is lighter in mood, but this is a mysterious place where danger lurks. The bouncy”Baba-Yaga” is a popular fairy tale about an old and ugly witch.
The second suite is subtitled “Old, New Impressions.” Seven of the eleven pieces are solo piano. “Pictures of The Past” is one of Eckemoff’s most melodic pieces so far. The intimacy of just the piano and pianist makes this piece very touching, as it depicts the highs and lows of life. “My Pastel Drawings” is more delicate and spare, and is also very lovely. As its title implies, “Bitter & Sweet” blends a mix of emotions, and does so very effectively – a favorite. “Reading by the River” depicts the flow and sparkle of a river with one hand, and the peacefulness of being lost in a book with the other – a fascinating study! “The Clouds of Blue” is lightly enhanced with other instrumentation, and is a gentle, soothing bit of musical tranquility – float away! “Iced Rain” is a solo piece that sparkles and chills at the same time. Fast and crisp (mostly without pedal), you can almost feel the sting of the ice on your face. “Dec. 31, 1972” is a graceful waltz in a classical style with variations on the theme. “Folk Waltz” is a melancholy, Russian-sounding piano solo in the first half that becomes (MIDI) orchestrated for the second half. “Russian Fantasy” is based on one of the most popular Russian folk songs, “White Birch.” This jazz-rock arrangement is catchy, creative, and a great way to end the album. [Cathy Parsons for Solo Piano Publications]
Part 1, FEELINGS
Part 2, SKETCHES OF MY YOUTH
28. Leaving Everything Behind
Piano Chronicles is a musical autobiography from Russian-born and Moscow Conservatory-trained pianist/composer Yelena Eckemoff. Album 1 contains music Ms Eckemoff composed in her later teens and early twenties. The earlier work is steeped in modern classical tradition, and is mostly abstract and edgy. This group of fifteen relatively short pieces is subtitled “Feelings,” and reflects different states of the teenage mind such as “Purity,” “Anxiety,” “Love,” “Doubts,” and “Joy.” Most of the music is rather dark and reflective, but always interesting. The last track in the suite, “Destiny,” has a rock influence that’s fun. All of the music in this suite is solo piano.
The second suite of pieces, subtitled “Sketches of My Youth,” is much more jazz-influenced, and the last four of the thirteen pieces include added instrumentation from a MIDI keyboard. This music also tends to be edgy, and it’s fascinating to hear how Eckemoff mixed her classical training with jazz studies as her own musical voice evolved. “The Man Who Is Not Here” is dark and very emotional. Little blues riffs sneak in here and there. I really like “Watching a Night Sky,” which has a bigger sound and an infectious rhythm. “Nothing Is Over For Those Who Hope” is more optimistic and lighthearted, almost playful. “In a Jazz Studio” is also a fun piece, and Eckemoff’s fingers really dance all over the piano. One of my favorites is “Passions Over Mistrust,” with its deep bass rhythm in the beginning and ending sections, and the lighter more questioning middle part. “Persistence” adds sax and percussion and then flute. Dark and kind of mysterious, this is a very interesting piece. “Presentiment of Love” is slow and silky, and could be the soundtrack to a “film noir.” My favorite piece in the collection is at the very end. Titled “Leaving Everything Behind,” it starts out quietly with a very simple right hand melody that is questioning and reflective. The left hand comes in with a gentle counterpoint that builds in intensity. Then an infectious bass line comes in, leading to a beautiful, mournful melody on keyboard with piano in the background. Piano comes forward, with percussion and sax. The instrumentation keeps changing, seamlessly evolving the painfully sad melody. [Cathy Parsons for Piano Solo Publications]
Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is an instrumental portrayal of the crucifixion that includes a reading of the passages from the book of Matthew that Yelena Eckemoff depicted in her music. Contemporary, with strong roots in classical music, this album is a deeply personal interpretation of the Biblical account of Jesus’ last days, death, and resurrection. Ms. Eckemoff sought to convey the emotional and physical experiences of Jesus and those who were the closest to him, so much of the music is very dark and painful. Eckemoff combines acoustic piano with keyboards and synthesizers, creating an interesting and unusual effect. She did all of the performances herself, and the album has a very big, symphonic sound. The last fifteen minutes of the recording is a reading of Matthew 27-28 by Larry Van Horn, which seems a little long for a recording intended to be listened to repeatedly. Personally, I think the narration would be more effective right before the pieces the readings correspond with. This is what Eckemoff did with her earlier “The Birth of Emmanuel,” so I’m not sure why she changed the format. The musical styles range from contemporary classical to jazz and even has some rock influence. The variety makes the album play like a soundtrack, which, basically, it is, and the complexity of the compositions creates an intellectual as well as an emotional challenge for the listener. This is a very serious piece of art, and would not work well as dinner or massage music. Since the album was conceived as a whole, discussing its individual pieces doesn’t really seem appropriate for a review. Overall, the music is masterful and almost overwhelmingly emotional. With her extensive training at the Moscow Conservatory, Yelena Eckemoff brings a strong and unique voice to the world of contemporary instrumental music. [Kathy Parsons for Solo Piano Publications]
Kaleidoscope of Life began as a series of “musical toys,” which were vignettes pianist/composer Yelena Eckemoff improvised to relax from her more “serious” work. As the collection of “toys” grew, she realized that she was creating kind of a diary of her family life. Over time, she also collected sound effects from family videos as well as photos that reflected what the music was about, intending to keep it as a personal memento for her family. Along with the piano, Eckemoff added other instrumentation, so this is not one of her solo piano recordings. As in life, the textures and colors keep changing, making this a very interesting and enjoyable album as well as a personal memoir. Some of the talking on the album is Russian, since the children spoke Russian at that time.
The CD opens with one of the boys asking in Russian, “Is there going to be music?” His mom asks “What music?” Anthony then says, “But mu-u-sic! … I am just going to stay right here.” The music begins with “Morning Hopes,” a very beautiful Russian-sounding waltz. “A Lazy Hour” is a very light, relaxed bit of musical bliss. “Halloween” has the sounds of thunder, goblins, and other spooky stuff but maintains a sense of fun and mystery in the music. “Play Time” is completely carefree with childlike innocence. “Kaleidoscope” is a bit more abstract, dancing and swirling with a colorful energy. “In a Blue Mood” slows down the pace and creates a quiet, reflective feeling with twinges of melancholy. My favorite track is the aforementioned “Happy Moments,” which is in a ragtime style. Rhythmic and euphoric, this is joy set to music. “Grandma Olga’s Waltz” is downright funny. Beginning with what sounds like a piano lesson that segues into a sweet little waltz, the sound of light snoring in the background cracks me up. “Christmas Tree” includes the sound of someone practicing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on cello. The actual piece is a lovely waltz that sparkles and enchants. “Do It My Way” is another favorite – graceful and a bit more serious, it could be a musical depiction of a parent patiently explaining something to a child. “Late Hour” concludes the album with more of a dark smooth jazz piece that’s just this side of slinky.
“Kaleidoscope” is a unique and enjoyable musical experience. It is one woman’s expression of family life that is both deeply personal and universal – and also a lot of fun.” [Kathy Parsons]
14. Return to the Land of Israel
“This haunting, sweeping album is a direct retelling of the Christmas Story from the book of Matthew. It consists of seven scriptures; each scripture followed by original music. It blends many symphonic and electronic instruments creating quite unique sound.
The Birth of Emmanuel CD is very picturesque. You can just close your eyes and imagine the different scenes which the music so beautifully portrays to the ear. You can see in your mind, especially in “The Baby and the Gifts” – the wise men bowing down, and the grief and horror portrayed by the music in “Slaying of the Children.”
But Do not hope to find a single familiar Christmas melody here. All music is original, and I mean REALLY original and truly refreshing, full of originality and heart.” [W. O. Green]
D. Scarlatti – Sonata in E-Major; Sonata in D-Minor; Sonata in D-Major; Sonata in D-Major “Di Ballo”
P. I. Bach – Solfeggio; AllegroV. Beethoven – Sonata Quasi una Fantasia “Moonlight” op. 27 No. 2
F. List – “Liebestraum”
F. Chopin – Etude in C-Minor, “Revolutionary;” Waltz in B-Min.; “A Wish”
J. Brahms – Waltz in B-Major; Waltz in E-Major; Waltz in E-Minor; Waltz in B-Minor; Waltz in A-Major
F. Mendelssohn – Rondo-Capriccioso
P. I. Tchaikovsky – “Russian Dance;””May” & “July” from The Seasons
M. Glinka / M. Balakirev – “Lark;” Variations
“This talented artist truly does have heavenly fingers. I play it for my guests at dinner parties and everyone loves it.” [Karen F. Moore]
“When experiencing Yelena Eckemoff’s Piano Series, feelings of calmness and emotions of peacefulness will engulf your surroundings. If your demanding life creates stress, these piano selections will bring a bit of Heaven into your world.” [Sue Wooten Grissom]
“”Christmas Is Near….” is a fascinating solo piano collection of individual Christmas pieces and medleys. Counting “The Nutcracker Suite” as one piece, there is a total of twenty-seven pieces on this album, most of which are spiritual rather than Santa songs. Very classically inspired, Yelena Eckemoff’s arrangements include jazz touches and a very Russian musical spirit ” [Kathy Parsons]
Edward Grieg – 14 Lyrical Pieces
Christoph W. Gluck – Melody from opera “Orpheus and Eurydice”
Frederic Chopin – Etude in F Minor, op. 25 No. 2; Waltz in C# Minor, op. 64 No. 2; Nocturne in F# Major, op. 15 No. 2; Nocturne in C# Minor, op. Posthumous
Wolfgang A. Mozart – Sonata in A-major
Piotr I. Tchaikovsky – Romance in F Minor, op. 5
Robert Schumann – Intermezzo; Why
“I haven’t heard the piano played like this for a long, long time. Maybe never – I forget. You don’t have to be as old as dirt, like me, to appreciate it.” [C. Galyon – 78 years old]
“A graceful, airy sound, good taste; very, very nice.” [George Kiorpes, UNCG piano professor]
“Just what I like to hear–classical piano that speaks of perfect touch, deep emotion, exceptional talent. A wonderful selection with exquisite dynamics.” [Gail F. Stilwell]