Professor’s New Album Spans ‘American Century’

Robert Auler of SUNY Oswego's music faculty has a new record, "American Century," that examines how American styles have influenced the classical piano repertoire.
Robert Auler of SUNY Oswego's music faculty has a new record, "American Century," that examines how American styles have influenced the classical piano repertoire.

OSWEGO — “American Century,” the new album by pianist Robert Auler of SUNY Oswego’s music faculty, shows the impact of American jazz and vernacular in works for solo classical piano.

“This record will have a real primacy for real American music lovers. They’ll hear the influences of jazz, blues and ragtime,” Auler said. “But in classical music, some of these influences are novel. Classical music has returned to tonality in the past 40 years, so these kinds of compositions are a lot more acceptable.”

Auler said the disc — funded by a campus Scholarly and Creative Activities grant — captures how America’s “trade deficit” in terms of musical impact started changing around a century ago.

“For most of the 19th century, Americans were importers of musical styles,” he explained. “But starting with the early 20th century, Americans developed jazz, ragtime and other styles, and suddenly America had a unique sound Europe was trying to import.”

Varied influences

A prime example from the album is Russian composer Nikolai Kapustin, who was first exposed to jazz during the oppressive days of the Soviet Union. “He just fell in love with this American art form and wanted to play jazz piano and improvise,” but had a classical background and political and improvisational challenges, Auler said.

“So he took the jazz sound, idiom, feel, harmony and melody and worked it into the classical form, written down,” Auler said of Kapustin. “The result is compared to everyone from Gershwin to Rachmaninov. It can’t escape the Russian sound; it’s thick and very Romantic.”

The disc includes the work of colleague, friend and fellow University of Michigan graduate Jonathan Pieslak, now teaching at City College of New York. “He’s a contemporary of mine, and we have some of the same background of growing up on MTV, the same sensibilities,” Auler noted.

The record features Carter Pann’s “Upstate: A Slow Drag,” a ragtime piece commissioned by SUNY Oswego’s Artswego program. It debuted at a campus concert in 2006.

“American Century” also includes work composed by George Gershwin, Rudolf Haken and Samuel Barber.

While from a classical background, Auler admitted that his work with the faculty-led Oswego Jazz Project quartet influences his playing and arrangements. “I feel more open to interpreting these rhythms and harmonies now,” he said. “There is a freshness you can bring to the piano after working as a touring jazz player.”

Record release

In lieu of a traditional album-release event, Auler plans to discuss the process of making a record at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, at the River’s End Bookstore in downtown Oswego.

“I picture it as a ‘Behind the Music’ experience except it’s more like ‘behind the record,'” Auler explained. “We can address everything from applying for grants to assembling a budget, coming up with song ideas to recording and evaluating your work.”

The event, which will be free and open to the public, will include refreshments, and Auler will sign copies of “American Century.”

Team effort

SUNY Oswego music student Tamar Greene received valuable experience as a student engineer who helped set up and record the sessions as well as provide feedback in the process, Auler said.

Auler also credited Daniel Wood of the music department with recording and production guidance, local artist Colin Nekritz for the jacket design and promotional imagery, and Subcat Records for duplication and packaging.

“This was all recorded and produced in Central New York, seeded and funded by a faculty grant that encourages us to be creative as teacher-scholars,” Auler added.

For more information, contact Auler at 312-2977 or [email protected]