Brad Mehldau’s Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Variations on a Melancholy Theme

Brad Mehldau’s Variations on a Melancholy Theme will be released June 11, 2021, on Nonesuch Records. The recording features the pianist/composer and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which commissioned this orchestral version of the work, which comprises a theme and eleven variations plus a cadenza and postlude; the album also includes an encore, “Variations ‘X’ and ‘Y.’” You can watch a video with excerpts from the piece below. (Mehldau originally composed Variations on a Melancholy Theme for pianist Kirill Gerstein.) Mehldau and Orpheus toured Europe, Russia, and the US with the piece, including a 2013 performance at Carnegie Hall. Speaking to the combination of classical form with jazz harmonies in the work’s musical language, Mehldau wrote, “I imagine it as if Brahms woke up one day and had the blues.” 

Brad Mehldau

Mehldau continues, “The theme itself has a wistful character, perhaps a feeling of resignation. There is some sense of finality and ending to it when heard for the first time already. So as I composed, a narrative challenge emerged; namely, how to embark on a story that begins with a conclusion. While the theme evokes melancholy, I let it be used as a springboard for other happy, wild, violent, and reckless emotions as the variations progress.”

Brad Mehldau

Brad Mehldau’s Nonesuch debut was the 2004 solo disc Live in Tokyo. His subsequent releases on the label include six records with his trio (House on HillDay Is DoneBrad Mehldau Trio LiveOdeWhere Do You Start, and Blues and Ballads); collaborative albums (Love SublimeHighway RiderMetheny MehldauMetheny Mehldau QuartetModern MusicMehliana: Taming the DragonNearness with Joshua Redman, and Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau, and the Grammy Award–winning Finging Gabriel), and further solo albums (Live in Marciac; the eight-LP/four-CD 10 Years Solo Live, which the New York Times says “contains some of the most impressive pianism he has captured on record;” and the album he recorded during COVID-19 lockdown, Suite: April 2020, from which a majority of the proceeds went to Jazz Foundation of America’s COVID-19 Musician’s Emergency Fund).

In 1972, a group of young artists made history by creating an orchestra without a conductor in which musicians led themselves democratically. Since then, the Grammy Award-winning Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has recorded over 70 albums on all major classical labels—including several with pianist Richard Goode for Nonesuch—toured to 46 countries across four continents, and collaborated with hundreds of world-class soloists. Orpheus’ thirty-four member musicians work together as a collective and rotate leadership roles for all works performed, giving flight to unconventional interpretations. This democratic structure also extends to organizational functions including programming and governance: the orchestra elects three members to Artistic Director positions and three to the Board of Trustees.

PRESS RELEASE 4/13/21 Nonesuch Records

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