Music I (Mostly) Hold Dear: The Music of Pierre Jalbert

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Pierre Jalbert writes music that is direct, speaks to the mind, heart, and soul, engages with notes and rhythms, traverses a musical landscape, and expresses a wide range of emotion. His music is connected to the past and continues that past into the present and future most notably through his engagement with the Catholic and mystical legacies.

Pierre Jalbert hails from Vermont, and the name is pronounced with a hard “J”. He studied at the Oberlin Conservatory and then at the University of Pennsylvania during its years of Crumb, Wernick, and Rochberg, a trinity (although not like the Holy Minimalists of Pårt, Gorecki, and Tavener) whose predilictions were toward the mystical, the hard-edged, and a reformed serialism. Jalbert’s music is a welcome combination of all of these influences.

In this regard, do remember that no matter how iconoclastic a composer may be, he is only the sum of all that he has heard and experienced in his life, and what he chooses to accept or reject. Then it is a matter of digging deep into one’s soul to find what is there to express, and having the willingness to do this day after day. It includes the development of a personal craft and a language that is expressive.

Jalbert has developed such a craft and language that is broad and expansive, yet exquisitely defined. It includes the most tonal of materials, as in the most known common chords, to atonal elements (set based sonorities) as well as the extended techniques of glissandi, prepared sounds on the keyboard, and harmonics, among others. His rhythms can go from pulsatingly minimal to slowly atmospheric. Each work and movement is paced just so and always of the right length; there aren’t any non-essential notes thrown in for the hell of it. This is very hard to do, by the way, and separates the journeyman from the master. Some composers write a lot and figure that history will separate the chaff from the wheat; others write slowly and meticulously. Jalbert is of the latter type, and thus each piece is a finely wrought statement.

On a new disc, Secret Alchemy- Music from Copland House, three of the four pieces average sixteen minutes and the fourth comes in at twelve minutes. All are multi-movement works, which means large-scale architecture is to be found, and of a very satisfying sort. They are played expertly and the sound is to perfection. Standouts are violinist Curtis Macomber and pianist Micahel Boriskin who appear on most of the pieces. This is a good place to start to become familiar with Jalbert’s fine music.