When Melissa Marse and Robert Aldridge collaborate, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Aldridge is a Grammy Award winning composer who has written more than 60 compositions ranging from orchestras and operas to string quartet ensembles; Marse is a classically trained pianist who has performed all around the world. On May 15, the two came together at the Wharton Center for the world premiere of Aldridge’s composition, Variations on an Original Folk Tune. The piece, which Aldridge describes as “a blend of American styles,” is heavily influenced by folk music. “It’s the music I grew up on,” said Aldridge. “At the beginning, it will sound very familiar to the audience and I think a lot of people will be able to relate to it.” Aldridge, who is the professor and Director of Music at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, wrote Variations on an Original Folk Tune in his spare time over the course of a few years. “It really was a labor of love,” he said of the piece. “It wasn’t a commissioned piece, so I worked on it here and there when I had time and at some point last year, I decided that it was more or less finished.” Not long after he finished the composition, Aldridge showed it to Marse, whom he met when they were students at the Yale School of Music more than 20 years ago. Aldridge knew that he wanted Marse to perform this composition early on. “Melissa is such a charismatic performer,” he said. “You always hope that the performer is dynamic and riveting and Melissa is just that.” Marse was just as excited about collaborating with Aldridge. “This concerto is simply fantastic,” said Marse. “From the first time I read through it at the piano, I knew I wanted to perform it. To have the opportunity to premiere it is beyond exciting, and I expect this to be the first of many performances of this piece.” Aldridge noted that it can be difficult for noncommissioned pieces to get a premiere, but Marse had a few connections at the Lansing Symphony Orchestra and worked hard to get a premiere for the composition. “It all came together fairly quickly thanks to Melissa,” said Aldridge. This isn’t the first time that these two talented musicians have worked together; Marse also premiered Aldridge’s Carolinian Dances for Violin and Piano at CAMI Hall in New York. “Working with Bob is fantastic. He is very collaborative in his approach,” said Marse. “I can ask detailed questions, and he often asks what I think, even though it is his piece. These simple dialogues help me to more deeply understand his writing and context in a way that will allow me to hopefully bring light to this wonderful piece of music on stage.” Variations on an Original Folk Song is a dynamic composition that brings together a variety of American styles of music. The type of music in this piece is easily relatable. “There are several styles and themes that the audience will hear throughout the piece,” said Aldridge. “The best part about this is that you don’t have to be highly trained to enjoy it.”
Alicia Pilmore is a Communications Specialist at M3 Group and Editor for the Capital Area Women's Lifestyle Magazine. She loves writing, wine tasting and spoiling her cat, Pishi.