Peter Calandra is composer and pianist based in New York City. Calandra is highly-regarded for his work scoring for television and film; he has scored over 40 films and has worked on projects for NBC, Comcast SportsNet, Discovery Communications, A&E, ESPN, and Bravo, among others. Enjoy our review of Peter Calandra’s latest solo piano release, titled “Ashokan Memories”, as well as an interview with Calandra below.
‘Awosting Morning’ opens Peter Calandra’s “Ashokan Memories” with an excellently-performed, peaceful piano melody. The piano’s gorgeous tone shines while Calandra’s left hand provides a solid foundation for the quick-moving right hand parts, consisting mostly of delicate runs. There is a calming feel to this track as well as plenty of space for the notes to breathe at certain points. ‘Ramblin’ Nightime’ follows with more of a soundtrack vibe, this track perfect for inclusion in either commercial or film. Intricate playing is showcased, centered around a repeating call and response motif between the two hands. The beautiful, most tranquil track is high-end focused for the first bit with lower notes beginning at around 1:20 in. Memorable melodies highlight on this skillful, very impressive performance, one that combines darker, deeper, more powerful sections as well as delicate, soaring runs. ‘Frost Valley’ was initially chord-focused for the first minute; the chord selection was fantastic, as Calandra chose to join so many different styles and feels resulting in an emotive and captivating final product. The composition alternates between descending and ascending progressions, and Calandra’s use of dynamics is outstanding, the ending chords bringing resolve and finiteness to the composition. ‘Overlook’ is almost spiritual (musically), reminding me of winter and a multitude of emotions that often come with the season. Each of the tracks are similar and yet so unique to one another at the same time. From 2:00 on, the song is just beautiful, the melody very easy to follow as well.
‘Bonticou Crag’ opened with backing ambiance and a cascading melody, the melodies building on top of one another. Towards the end of the song we see quick changing chords that are mostly descending, sending listeners back and forth from note to note. ‘Peekamoose’ has a more somber, controlled opening; the track seems emotionally restricted at times, as it alternates back and forth between a more optimistic, easy to follow feel and a daunting, intriguing feel. The composing of these tracks is astounding, this composition featuring the most changes and also the biggest difference in personality. Deft piano runs alternated with foundational low-end work, teasing listeners towards the end of the song while working between unresolved and resolved notes. ‘Ashokan Memories’, the title track, featured very quick runs and a more rushed, quickened performance. Calandra employs a bouncy feel as notes whiz by, and while there are lots of notes, the quality of play of course remains. The play between hands was impressive, each of the songs resolving nicely so far, this track being no different. ‘Mettacohonts Flowing’ featured a drawn-out, free introduction; there was lots of open space between phrases to allow for the utmost expression. This was one of my favorite tracks, as it was overflowing with originality and encompassed an incredibly calming and transportive feel. ‘Tubin’ the Esopus’ had a much different feel but was again open like the previous track. The notes were mostly staccato where as the other tracks featured flowing parts, contributing to a less connected vibe with shorter notes. There was also dissonance between notes in this more showy, flashy performance, Calandra’s hands tastefully and skillfully leaping all over the piano. Every note is separated, with a shorter distance from highs to lows, solidifying this track apart from the others.
‘Gertrude’s Nose’ is very delicate, gentle, and soft; this calming composition was another of my favorites, the track arpeggiating at times and staying at the same volume level and dynamic throughout, the main tag reinforced by positive repetition. ‘Woodland Valley’ has somewhat of a different, new sound while still remaining memorable and melodic. Again, there is lots of room for the notes to breathe over cascading piano parts. ‘Minnewaska’ was faster with a more hurried approach; the bass notes are very supportive and lend well to the right hand patterns, and there was a lot going on within this track even though it was the second shortest track on the album. Don’t blink, as this track is very quick, and if you sleep on it you’ll miss it completely! ‘Ver Noy Falls’ had a more haunting, suspenseful feel, and the track was full of dissonance. There was no low-end for nearly 2 minutes in, the track almost concealing and disguising a more sinister side to the music. ‘The Ice Caves’ was again very dissonant and much more haunting than ‘Stone Ridge’ (a track which I thought to be the most eerie initially). It is once again open between phrases, jazzy in nature, and still very melodic even with certain dissonant notes thrown in the mix here and there to change things around. The playing is very skillful and again highly varied in style; the composition almost seems to be foreshadowing a harrowing event, inciting fear of some strange nature. The jazzier vibe of ‘Shaft’ reminded me of music being played in high-end department stores; it was fully fleshed-out and showcased fantastic independence, outright talent, and incredible showmanship via skillful iterations of cascading right-hand movements. ‘Stone Ridge’, which I mentioned previously, was dissonant, combining so many different elements and so many different styles. The jazzy, almost ragtime-influenced number begins and ends before you know it, leading simply into ‘Karma Road’. ‘Karma Road’ was much more melodic at the beginning and gentle in nature, staying positive and optimistic throughout even with a name such as this. The loud, powerful ending signals the beginning of the end, as ‘Buttermilk Falls’ quickly enters to close “Ashokan Memories”. This track was very unique, with exquisite right-hand runs and different overtones within the phrases. This fantastic performance capped the album with again phenomenal showmanship; this is an absolutely outstanding collection of compositions here created by an incredibly talented performer and composer. It is downright fantastic what Calandra can do with only a piano and no supporting instrumentation; the products of his muse are so creative and so thorough, with everything fleshed-out to its full extent. There was so much thought put into every aspect of this album, including even the song endings, making for some of the more beautiful piano music I’ve heard in my lifetime. There are only good things to be said of these recordings and of the album in general; I’m blown away by Calandra’s talent and look forward to his next creative endeavor with great anticipation!
“My mom played piano and I started picking tunes out by ear at a very early age. By the time I was in my mid teens, I knew that I loved music and wanted to pursue it. What keeps me going as an adult is that I feel like there is still much more left to learn and accomplish.”
What artists, bands, or composers inspire you to create original compositions?
“(This is a) difficult question to answer as I feel that I can learn something from almost everything I listen to. Some of my favorite composers are Bernard Hermann, Claude Debussy, Aaron Copland, Bela Bartok, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea, among many others.”
“At the end of 2011, both my father-in law and brother-in law passed away suddenly. These events drove home the message to me about how fleeting life is and how fast it all goes by. Even with all the professional experiences and successes I have had, I always wanted to release albums of my own music and decided to pursue writing, recording and releasing albums of my own music on a more regular basis. While I have released a few before, “Ashokan Memories” is the first of this new direction. I am actually recording the live instruments for my next release right now as well; I own a summer/weekend home up in the Catskills region of New York. It is an area that has quite a bit of natural beauty. I try to spend the entire month of August up there every summer and have a kind of working holiday where every day I not only compose, but also hike, bike ride or do some activity-based exploring of the area. “Ashokan Memories” is inspired by these explorations and each piece is a tone poem expressing my feelings about a different place up there.”
What is the most rewarding part of teaching technological skills within Pro Tools to masters students at Queens College, CUNY?
“There are a few rewarding things about teaching there: I am an alumni of the school (both BA and MA) and the time I spent there as a student was very important in helping me grow not only as a musician but also as a young adult. Teaching there helps me give something back to the school. Watching talented young students walk into my class with no experience in this discipline finish their semester being able to write and record an interesting, original composition in Pro Tools using all the techniques we go over during the semester is a great feeling. It’s really been a great experience and one that we are hoping will grow as we are launching an entire degree program within the music school there over the next two years.”