Solo Flute no. 1 4:500:00/4:50
The new album “Op. 1” by Rhode Island based composer Ben Shaw represents the beginning of a new journey in Shaw’s music. After a several years hiatus from classical composition post graduation from music school, Shaw sought to reengage with his love for classical music and set out to find a way back into his compositional practice. In 2016 he was told to contact internationally renowned composer Alla Cohen and shortly after began studying privately with her. Since then he has regularly produced new and exciting 21st Century classical works with a level of sophistication and depth that has lead to notoriety in several national and international competitions.
Started as a means to get his music recorded for competition applications, the music on this album stands as an insight into the reemergence of a young composer with revitalized passion. Op. 1 is comprised of three complete works over its nine tracks, all written in his early lessons as his first forays back into the world of classical composition and each providing a different a glimpse into the voice and potential of this emerging composer.
The album begins with Shaw’s “Five Preludes for Solo Piano” which were composed between June 2016 and April 2018. They contain various twenty-first century classical composition techniques and cover a wide array of idiomatic approaches to the piano. Although each prelude has its own unique identity, Shaw focused on crafting lyrical lines and exciting textures while maintaining a framework of organic unity throughout each prelude. With these preludes Shaw exhibits a range of emotion, from calm and contemplative to uproarious and joyful.
We then transition into “Solo Flute no. 1”, a piece for solo flute written in 2018. It is an extended ternary form (ABABA) with each section varied by retrograding and/or inverting pitches from its parent section and exploring the different timbral possibilities of the flute. As Shaw writes in his program notes “since wind is constantly shifting in and out of a consistent pace and force I sought to imbue the piece with that characteristic drifting rhythmic sense and fluctuating dynamism through allowing the player more freedom in the rubato sections and varying the rhythmic language.” This dynamism allows the listener to float along the wind’s path as it wisps over the serene waters of a hidden pond and tears through the thrashing reeds of a marsh beset by a storm.
The album ends in one of Shaw’s most ambitious works to date, his “String Quartet no. 1”. Written between August of 2016 and early July of 2017 the three movements were composed mostly using pitch set theory in which the variety of melodies and harmonies all stem from these single threads and help give the movements a cohesive sound and quasi-tonal quality. When writing this piece, Shaw envisioned it as a sort of ballet where the melodies and counterpoint weave around each other in a tight dance in which themes are constantly traded and explored throughout the ensemble, blurring the lines of where each voice ends and the next begins. Each movement progresses an expressive narrative that careens at blazing speeds, laments in anguish, and finally culminates in an almost primal fury.
Though Shaw continues to push himself and refine his craft beyond the selections on “Op. 1”, these works stand not only as a culmination of the hard work of a blooming composer but as a precursor of what it to come for this unique and original compositional voice.
Ludwig van Beethoven