Crown and Covenant Releases I AM: Kids Sing Psalms


I’m very happy to let you know that another recording project I worked on this fall/winter is available now. I Am: Kids Sing Psalms has been released by Crown and Covenant Publicatons, an Imprint of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. This album feats choristers from all the choirs of Pittsburgh School for the Choral Arts singing a cappella Psalm settings. It was a delight to work with Kathryn Barnard and all the young singers as we put this project together with Crown and Covenant’s Lynne Gordon.

You can purchase I Am: Kids Sing Psalms at the PSCA online store. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Cityscapes: A Look Into Virgil Cantini’s Public Work

April 14, 2016
12:00 pm

Salk Hall Auditorium, University of Pittsburgh

UPDATE: Team Cantini at Salk Hall

Will, Isabelle, and me after Isabelle's outstanding talk.

Will, Isabelle, and me in front of Aerial Scape after Isabelle’s outstanding talk.

Science and Mankind Horiz

Cantini’s Science and Mankind-photo by Will Zavala

In 2015, the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Dental Medicine inaugurated a new addition to Salk Hall and installed in its lobby a large enamel mural by Pittsburgh artist Virgil Cantini (1919-2009). Aerial Scape, created in 1970, was originally located in the Oliver Building until its acquisition by the University in 2009. Cantini was faculty in
the Fine Arts department and founded the Studio Arts department at Pitt. Many of his other work around campus — such as Man on the façade of Parran
Hall, Enlightment and Joy in Posvar Hall, or Science and Mankind in the
Chevron Science Building — seek to represent humanity’s continuous quest to
advance intellectual growth and knowledge.

Isabelle Chartier, curator of the University Art Gallery, will present an overview of Cantini’s pieces around various buildings on campus and examine how they might connect with people working in various disciplines. The lecture will include a special screening of Will Zavala’s Virgil Cantini: The Artist in Public, with music composed by Philip Thompson. This short film offers exclusive footage inside the artist¹s studio, as well as the dismantling of Aerial Scape from downtown Pittsburgh.

This screening of Virgil Cantini the Artist in Public will mark the first time the film has been shown with the new studio recording of Thompson’s score which will be included on Separate Self, an album of his chamber music performed by IonSound Project. Separate Self is set to be released on July 8, 2016 on the Ravello label.

Boom II: Son of Boom

Wanted to be sure to share with you that I received a generous Artist Opportunity Grant from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council to help with the mastering phase of the forthcoming album. Thanks, GPAC! And I’m happy to say that grant has been put to good use as the album is finshed! I’m extremely pleased with how everything sounds as is the production team at PARMA. I think you will be too. More to come soon!

Andrew Kohn and Pitt’s Orchestra Perform Finney’s Prayer

March 2, 2016
8:00 pm

Bellefield Hall AuditoriumFree

Bassist Andrew Kohn will givAndy_Kohne a reprise performance of my double bass concerto Finney’s Prayer  with the University of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday, March 2nd at Pitt’s Bellefield Hall Auditorium. Andy premiered the piece back in (gasp!) 1998 when I composed it as my MA thesis composition. In addition, Andy has written a companion concerto for trombone and chamber orchestra titled Finney’s Birthplace. Kevin McManus will perform the trombone solo.

I’d like to tell you that our pieces are the featured works of the evening, but I’m not going to kid you. The remarkable Geri Allen is going to perform Mary Lou William’s Zodiac Suite, and the whole evening will be kicked off with Berlioz’ Carnival Overture. 

More About Finney’s Prayer

Charles Finney occupies a fascinating place in 19th century American history as a leading revivalist, abolitionist, and the first president of Oberlin College. The concept for Finney’s Prayer comes from a a passage in his memoirs in which he describes the spiritual crisis which led to his conversion.

“I went to my dinner and found no appetite to eat. I went to the office and found that squire W___ had gone to dinner. I took down my bass-viol, and as I was accustomed to do, began to play and sing some pieces of sacred music. But as soon as I began to sing those sacred words, I began to weep. It seemed as if my heart was all liquid; and my feelings were in such a state that I could not hear my own voice in singing without causing my sensibility to overflow…”

Finney goes on to describe a mystical vision of Christ which filled him with such awe that he,

“cried out, ‘I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.’”

Finney’s Prayer (1998) portrays the contour of this experience from crisis to epiphany, peace to awe, and finally, relief. In developing this composition as a narrative structure, I have sought consciously to reference portrayals of transcendence as they are found in works by such composers as Messiaen, Tavener, and Pärt, with hopefully a strong dose of Flannery O’Connor’s insight that grace is, among other things, unsettling.

Sing On! CD Released


OK, I’m really proud of this one. For two days in June I set up my recording rig in the sanctuary at Shadyside Presbyterian Church and the extraordinarily talented girls of Pittsburgh School for the Choral Art’s Concentio and Chamber Choirs gave hour after hour of amazing performances to make this recording a reality.

Order Sing On! now at the new PSCA Online store.


Recording Session with IonSound Project

I’m so far behind on my blogging, but only because of being so productive! Here’s a quick update (with pix) and look for more soon, because there’s much good news to share with you.

I spent September 22-23 at the spectacular Audible Images Studio with IonSound Project. By the time we were finished up, we had the whole album in the can. I’m in the process of editing and mixing and expect to deliver the audio to PARMA before Christmas. Once the PARMA mastering team has the audio, we’ll be able to set a release date. and I promise I’ll update you as soon as we have that.

Working with IonSound Project is always the best. They know my music inside and out and give such committed performances. As a creative artist, I just can’t put a price on this sort of long term collaboration.

Anyway, here are some shots from the session.

IonSound-Studio, 1

L-R: Elisa, Kathleen, Peggy, Laura, and Rob

IonSound studio-2

Listening to takes in the control room with Laura, Elisa, Kathleen, Peggy, and Jack.

Ryan working on the perfect drum sound.

Ryan working on the perfect drum sound.

The incomparable Hollis Greenhouse at the board.

The incomparable Hollis Greathouse at the board.


I’m very pleased to announce that I received an Individual Artist Grant through Investing in Professional Artists, a partnership of The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. The $10,000 award is in support of the recording project I announced this fall in collaboration with IonSound Project and PARMA Recordings that will explore my visual arts-inspired chamber music. Of course, everyone involved in this complex project is thrilled and, in keeping with the whole “This may not be a pipe dream after all” theme, I’ve scheduled two days of studio time at Audible Images in September.

The large chunk of cash is definitely a huge step toward completing this recording and multimedia project, but I’m also extremely grateful for the professional recognition that comes from the rigorous application process. According to the official press release,

“…applications to the Investing in Professional Artists program were received from 161 individuals and organizations from 22 cities and towns across six counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. A peer review process with regional and national experts from a variety of artistic disciplines considered applications and recommended grants to 10 artists and three organizations based on work quality and the potential of the proposed project to advance an artist’s career. Grantees include established and emerging artists working in visual arts, multimedia, dance, music, theater and literature.”

So this is a big deal at many levels and without a doubt, a very significant milestone in my professional life. It’s encouraging that The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation have partnered for this important program that recognizes the vitality of Pittsburgh’s arts scene. This is an exciting time to be an artist in Pittsburgh as the region’s identity as a center for innovation in technology and the arts seems to be both taking root and taking off. And the album we are planning embodies this moment in many ways. In fact, one of the things I find most exciting about the planned program is how the different pieces emerged organically from a vibrant creative community.

And speaking of the album, we still have a lot of money to raise in order to get the project over the finish line. Happily, you can continue to make tax deductible donations through my Fractured Atlas project page. Every little bit helps us get closer to reaching our artistic goals, so please consider making a donation, and thanks in advance.

Gioco Project Presents Nocturnes

November 21, 2014
8:00 pm

Union Project

gioco project

So happy to let you know that Gioco Project will be performing my Nocturnes at the Union Project on November 21. Gioco Project is a new effort by former Black Orchid String Trio members Rachel Smith and Jennifer Sternick. They’ve enlisted the help of a number of Pittsburgh’s excellent chamber musicians to present music by Ryan McMasters, Daniel Perttu, Evan Ziporyn, and myself.

I’m really thrilled that Nocturnes will get another hearing so soon, and like the Rotunda of the University Art Gallery where the work premiered, Union Project is a big space that will allow the resonances and silences to merge into each other gently.

Please come out and hear these terrific musicians play Nocturnes, and bring your friends!

My New Recording Project!

IonSound Project

A studio recording with these guys? Yes, please!

I am very pleased to announce my newest assault on the bulwark of moderate success! I’m partnering with IonSound Project and PARMA Recordings to release a CD and super-special Web content highlighting my collaborations with film and visual artists Will Zavala, Ryan Day, Garth Zeglin, and Michael Morrill. I’ve created a new Web page to explain this in all its glorious detail. Please read all about it, tell your friends, and support the project with a deliciously tax deductible donation through Fractured Atlas.

At this point we’re hoping to record in late July, mostly due to the schedules of all the players. In the mean time, my creative work will be focused on finding creative ways to raise funds for the project. Unless of course, someone comes along with a big, juicy commission that would cover the costs. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Speaking of which, as I was researching funding sources for alt-classical music recording I came across this 2009 article in New Music Box about the economics of the business. This bit was particularly eye-opening.

Yet scraping together the money to produce each new title and more often than not looking to the artists to help with that process—whether from family wealth, university research grants, or credit card debt—is standard operating procedure at almost every independent contemporary music label.

Seems like there’s no one offering a four-record deal based on that hot new Pierrot plus percussion piece, so I’ve got my work cut out for me to be sure, but all of us as independent composers have a tough road. If you want to write music that you really, really believe in, well now… But I’ve always felt my music could find an audience with the right exposure and this new recording project is a big step in that direction. Check in often to find about the progress we’re making, and if you find it in your heart and your heart finds it in your wallet, I’d appreciate it if you lent a hand.