Meant for Each Other: a Conversation with Iris Litchfield and Tom Salvatori
IL: We met through Broadjam.com—a website where composers and performers meet to discuss and play their work for one another. Actually, I think Tom would be the best one to answer this question, but I will say that I’m so very happy that Broadjam existed and that Tom heard my music there and asked if I would do a CD with him. I’ve never looked back musically since that moment. It is wonderful working with Tom!!
Q: Before turning to Tom, I just want to add that his meeting you might have almost been preordained, in the sense that both of you write in such a similar style that an uninformed listener would probably assume that only one composer was responsible for all the music. This aesthetic unity must make you ideal collaborators. So, Tom…
TS: My friendship and our record company relationship with Iris started in 2004. We were both members of the independent artist community Broadjam.com where composers and musicians across many genres post their work and participate in a community-styled dialogue, which includes peer reviews to encourage growth and development for each other. When I reviewed an original version of Iris’s composition Autumn Colours (that subsequently became the opening track of our 2007 When Evening Falls CD release published by Salvatori Productions, Inc.), I was spellbound by its clarity, purity, and emotion. My review of her piece provided the highest critic marks possible, which caught her attention. She wrote to me with many thanks for the flattering review, and our wonderful friendship and ongoing dialogue led to her signing to our label and to bringing her CD releases to a worldwide audience. I felt both as a composer and record producer that her style meshed beautifully with my own, and our first collaborative release in 2007 reflects an ebb and flow between her compositions and mine, as if it were a gentle conversation. It was and is simpatico indeed: The piano pieces and guitar pieces alternate, woven together with the brilliantly mellifluous cello lines of John Catchings.
Q: Have you two ever met in person?
IL: I have met Tom once—he came to visit me on his way back from visiting his parents in Italy. We immediately “hit it off.” It felt like we had been friends for years!
Q: Iris, you had already released a number of CDs before your fortuitous meeting with Tom.
IL: During the last 12 years I have composed nearly 120 piano pieces. I started out creating a CD called Lazy Days (piano and synth strings, available on CDBaby.com), followed by Autumn Shadows and Nature’s Symphony (again for piano and synth strings). Since then, several important musical events have happened in my life. First of all, I became good friends with Robin Alciatore, who is an award-winning classical pianist from California. She loved my music and produced a CD of some of my pieces, which is called Reflections (solo piano, performed by Robin). I am honored that she should wish to do this. I also signed a publishing contract with a large U.K. company called North Star Music. They have signed 20 of my tracks and hope to get my music into films, radio, and TV. They, too, have produced a CD of my music called Pause to Music.
Q: Tom, of course, is an established “pro,” with his own studio, record label, and innovative projects. He’s also a busy composer, both on his own and together with his brother Mike, who’s written many scores for video games. By the way, even though I won’t be reviewing the CDs, I was favorably impressed by the audio quality as well as by every aspect of the finished product.
TS: Thanks. My brother Mike and I have done our work in a studio in Chicago called Resolution Productions, where Mike, a studio engineering pro for over 25 years, has managed the recording, mixing, and mastering of our CD releases. I’m pleased to say that when he’s involved, the projects will always be high quality releases. He takes on the role of editor as well and has a relentless pursuit of relevance within his quality focus. If a piece Iris or I present to him doesn’t move him emotionally, it won’t make it on to the record. And I trust his judgment when it comes to being edited.
Beyond our CD releases, our body of recorded works has become the basis for a technology development alliance that I’m involved with—it’s a project-based initiative that develops art and music content for flat screen TVs—especially useful for public and commercial spaces when running active programming on flat screens is problematic. Fluid Stills® technology is unique and patented. The art and digital music content we produce delivers the look and feel of “still art,” while constant change at the pixel level goes unnoticed by the naked eye. Our music is placed in sync with the digital art panel transitions. Readers can learn more about this art and music technology by visiting us at LongGlanceMedia.com.
Q: I understand that not only does your brother write music in his own right but that the two of you frequently collaborate as composers. How do two people write music together? I imagine a sort of back and forth with one proposing a tune, the other maybe adding harmony or suggesting instrumentation, figuration, etc.
TS: All of my compositions, including the pieces that have found their way to being accompanied by a chamber string ensemble arrangement, were composed first and foremost as guitar solos. In fact, they all have initially been conceived as solo guitar. With that in mind, I’m happy to turn my more melodic pieces over to my brother or to string arranger John Catchings for ensemble arrangement considerations.
Q: You’ve cited John Catchings several times for his fine arrangements and beautiful playing. Could you tell me a bit more about him?
TS: John is the consummate professional when it comes to adding just the right touches to string ensemble arrangements to support the little nylon string guitar and grand piano compositions we send him. He has well over 600 project credits to his legacy and musical arrangement resume, and has such wonderful and tasteful instincts for adding a palette of accompaniment to our pieces. We work with him time and time again, and it is our distinct pleasure and honor to do so. He’s based in Nashville but nothing about our work together is associated with the country music activities there. Nashville has grown to be much more cross-genre in its reputation, so we have found it to be an excellent place to record such things as a chamber string ensemble. John has wonderful connections with vast resources to support our very specific and particular needs.
Q: Now for the flashbacks: Iris, how did you get started in music?
IL: I started piano lessons at the age of five with Miss Piper, who was quite a colorful person. She was a very large lady with a large black cat, who would sit on her lap as she taught me. She lived with her elderly mother who had some form of dementia as the mother would sometimes come into my lessons wearing a large corset over her dress saying “Elsie, are these your corsets or are they mine”!!!
Before I went to university, I reached Grade 7 with distinction (eight grades altogether) and because of that award I would have been offered a place to study music at the Royal Academy or Royal College of Music in London. So Miss Piper must have been a good teacher, even though she used to rap me on the knuckles! I was with her until I went to university, aged 18. However, I felt that mathematics was a safer direction to go in as far as work was concerned. (I did not come from a rich family and so I was eager to go out to work and earn some money!) So I read mathematics at London University where I obtained a first-class honors degree. I then took up teaching as a career and climbed my way up the teaching ladder, eventually becoming deputy head teacher of a large comprehensive school. I did continue with piano lessons at university but playing sport (mainly tennis) interfered with my piano practice! About 30 years ago I eventually took—and passed—grade 8. This was when I took up the clarinet. I have to have an aim to make me practice so I took and passed all eight exams with the clarinet. I now play the alto sax as it is easier to blow and the fingering is easier. At present I’ve joined an orchestra with the sax. However, I have never composed for the sax or the clarinet.
Q: One of the four CDs reviewed in Fanfare is Romantic Interludes, a series of classical duets on which you perform with pianist Patrick Meehan.
IL: Patrick is my present piano teacher and he is the best I’ve ever had. He plays so beautifully, which is why I produced the duet CD with some of my favorite duets. It was a pleasure playing with him. Between Miss Piper and Patrick Meehan there have been a few others whose names I forget!
Q: Let’s bring Tom in again: What about your early musical life? Did you grow up in a musical family?
TS: No, although my father of Italian heritage loved listening to Pavarotti and my mother would sing beautiful traditional melodies to herself every night while preparing our family dinners. My father was not very encouraging to my brother and me about considering careers in music, thinking that it wasn’t a sustainable way to make a living. My mother encouraged and loved every single note I’ve ever played on my guitar.
I started playing the nylon string guitar at 13 years of age and have not set the guitar down yet…even after 40 years of playing and composing! My brother Michael initially taught me some basic chords and fingerings as we both embarked on our own personal journeys through music “by ear,” i.e., we learned our favorite pieces of music note for note by repeatedly listening to little sections of our record albums over and over.
I am singularly focused on playing and composing for the nylon string guitar. I simply fell in love with the warmth of tone and the expressive and intimate dialogue that exists between the instrument and the player. Once introduced to the guitar through the beauty of nylon strings, even though I have made attempts to diversify, I always rush back to the nylon strings. I never embraced the other options—the more popular acoustic (steel string) guitar always felt like I was pressing my fingers on barbed wire, and I feel that the strummed steel string guitar serves music more as a percussive instrument.
Q: In a previous conversation, Iris told me that you’re also a classical guitarist and no longer someone who exclusively “plays by ear.”
TS: In my early teens, my high school music teacher, Duane Tutaj, introduced me to classical guitar studies, and started me down the road with the Villa-Lobos Preludes series. I entered and won the Illinois Music Association’s Senior Open for guitar in 1973. In college, I took additional classical guitar lessons from Ray Mueller of the Milwaukee Classical Guitar Society, but spent much more of my time discovering, finding, and then carving out my own unique path to a more minimal and quiet side of the guitar through playing and composing.
Q: Having acquired the technical foundation, are you ever moved to write in a “classical” vein?
This is a bit hard to pin down, because if tonal melodic contours and simplistic chord structures can be incorporated into the definition of classical, then I suppose yes. But my feeling is that I don’t stretch nor do I ever intend to stretch any boundaries at all with regard to speed, complexity, dissonance, or the acerbic, so I would define my works more as contemporary instrumental rather than classical. I like to say that I would love to be remembered as someone who composed the pieces that the virtuoso players out there can quietly play for their loved ones late at night when they relax after they come home from their classical guitar stage performances! I also like to say that my pieces are stripped down to the basic cornerstone of composing; unencumbered by elaboration, unadorned by ornamentation. For any readers who would like to explore my work, Les Productions [Les Productions d’Oz, Quebec Canada, 2004] has published Late Night, a sheet music anthology featuring 11 of my original guitar solos.
There’s a funny story connected with my classical guitar studies that explains in part the direction I’ve taken as a composer: My parents took me to see Andrés Segovia at Orchestra Hall in Chicago in the mid 1970s, which backfired somewhat; I was overwhelmed by the intensity of the event and the patriarchal command inherent in Segovia’s stage presence and performance, which produced the sinking feeling that I would never be able to attain the level of skill, command, or perfection he possessed. This particular revelation had a profound effect on informing the more understated, “less formal study” approach I would take in my playing and composing later in life. After seeing Segovia in concert, I actually gave up the guitar for a short period of time until I realized that I could re-approach it on my own terms and with my own vision of what the guitar meant to me. And with that, I’ve been composing my grade-simple little miniatures ever since.
Q: Iris, have you ever “stretched” your boundaries in a classical direction?
IL: When I studied the piano I only played classical pieces. I have now joined a solo piano group meeting each month to play a prepared piece to each other. At our next meeting I shall be playing a French piece. I love French composers such as Poulenc, Debussy, Ravel—they have such sensitivity and feeling, which is what I mainly go for. As a composer I did once write a piece à la Scott Joplin, admittedly not quite the sort of classical composer you might have been thinking of, but I’ve written two other pieces that would qualify: a Raindrop Study in a very classical style and Scallywag, which sounds as its name suggests!
Q: I’d like to hear them someday. When did you begin to compose?
IL: I only started composing when I took early retirement from teaching due to ill health. Like my mother (who died in 1990 at the age of 85, outliving all her contemporaries) I had breast cancer and six years ago I had a double mastectomy. About four years ago the breast cancer spread to my bones and now I am on oral chemotherapy: Every three weeks I have an infusion to strengthen my bones. I feel perfectly fit and healthy and have just taken up golf! The only side effect from the tablets is very dry hands and feet! I feel very positive and enjoy living each day as it comes. Sadly, my mother died before I began to compose, so she never got to hear any of my pieces. I began composing using my keyboard [electronic] but soon switched to the piano. I have had NO lessons in composition but I was born with a good ear for music and this is why I am able to compose. I inherited my love of music from my mother. She came from a VERY poor family in London. Her parents were both alcoholics! When she first went out to work—at the age of 14— she saved every penny to buy a piano! Her parents used it as a drinks cabinet to store their bottles in! My grandfather was in the First World War where he lost an eye and damaged an arm. Every year he had to go and prove he was disabled in order to get his benefit. As usual when he went, his mind was confused with the drink. When they asked him how far he could lift his arm, he put it up in a kind of Hitler salute. Then they asked how far he could raise it before the bullet hit it and he lifted it vertically and promptly lost the benefit!! Quite an amusing but true story!
Q: How did you move from composing for yourself to “putting yourself out there?”
IL: A friend of mine, Sally Morris, is an excellent poet and she read one of her poems at our local church. I spoke to her at the end of the service and told her how much I loved the poem. She said she would like someone to set it to music, so this is how it all started. She gave me her poems and I set them to music. When I ran out of poems I wrote music for her to put words to! Altogether we produced about 40 songs for the church so this is how it all started!
Q: That’s interesting, as your music immediately impressed me with its song-like qualities: All that’s missing are the words.
IL: I TOTALLY agree that most of my pieces could have words. Some already DO have words.
Q: One last question: How would you like people to be affected by your music?
IL: I think that as far as people responding to my music, Tom summed it up perfectly when he wrote about “a ripple effect helping to spread peaceful vibrations throughout the world….”
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ISSUE 36:4 (MAR/APR 2013) OF FANFARE MAGAZINE.
FEATURE REVIEW BY MARIA NOCKIN
British pianist Iris Litchfield and American guitarist Tom Salvatori have put together several interesting recordings over the last few years. Their 2007 entry, entitled When Evening Falls was named Winner of a New Age Reporter Lifestyle Music Award as the Best Neo-Classical Album of 2007. In 2012 the compositions of both artists still stand up well. I particularly liked the selections combining guitar and cello. Salvatori’s acoustic instrument has great warmth as well as resonance and it blends well with the cello. Cellist John Catchings adds a great deal of spice to these pieces, especially when he brings in other instruments to fill out the harmonies. In Salvatori’s Reflecting Absence, Craig Nelson’s double bass adds deep notes to the guitar and cello. Even more instruments are added to Litchfield’s Come Stay A While which features piano, violin, viola, and cello. This is where New Age meets chamber music and the result is excellent listening.
Their 2010 recording, entitled Ever Ever On, is a two-disc set that features compositions in chamber arrangements on disc 1 and the same works as solo pieces for either piano or guitar on disc 2. It’s an interesting comparison that could be very helpful for amateur musicians and composers. I found the ensemble very pleasant for casual listening. The solo works are more introverted and take more time to analyze, but they are still fun to hear. The title of one piece intrigued me. When Salvatori writes of The Ghosts of Levigliani, a city in Tuscany, is he remembering a visit or is he recounting a ghost story from there? You have to listen to the music and make up your own mind. In Blue Horizon, there is a slight buzz from the cello’s low notes but otherwise the sound is warm and inviting.
Romantic Interludes, a duet recording with Iris Litchfield and Patrick Meehan is the most interesting of the four discs. It contains music for one piano four-hands in the manner that was common in 19th-century middle and upper class homes. Litchfield and Meehan play Elgar’s Salut d’Amour, several delightful pieces by d’Ourville, some tuneful Vaughan Williams, Moszkowski’s justly famous Spanish Dances, Fauré’s delicious Sicilienne, and Schumann’s fascinating Canonic Etudes. It certainly does prove their abilities as pianists and it makes a fine addition to the catalog of music featuring two players at one piano, in this case a 1968 Steinway. There is a comparable 2001 Nuova Era disc with the Schumann etudes played inimitably by Joerg Demus, but it’s part of a set of Schumann’s complete piano works and no one would buy it just for six small pieces.
The fourth compact disc, Iris Litchfield’s Dream Clouds, contains more of her dreamy, emotion filled solo piano pieces. The first work, entitled A New Beginning, has a memorable tune that she develops into a well-structured short work. I love the Irish sounds in her Celtic Lament. Dancing Dreams is a lovely waltz for the budding ballroom dancer and Riding High is another fine tune with an interesting rhythmic underpinning. There are several more great tunes on this disc, too, and I hope Litchfield will think of adding harmony and counterpoint to them at some time in the future. All four of these discs are worthwhile hearing, but I particularly liked some of the lesser-known music by 19th-century composers. Maria Nockin
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ISSUE 36:4 (MAR/APR 2013) OF FANFARE MAGAZINE.
CD REVIEW BY JERRY DUBINS
A first hearing of [Dream Clouds and Ever Ever On] raises a thorny question. In every respect, this music—unquestionably beautiful and mostly restful, peaceful, nostalgic, misty, wistful, and sentimental in nature—falls into a category we tend to call “easy listening.” So why is it being reviewed in Fanfare, a magazine devoted almost exclusively to classical music? That question opens up an entire avenue of inquiry as to what constitutes classical music. But in the end, music is music; it doesn’t know or care what it is, and its existence doesn’t depend on what we call it. Music has only one purpose, albeit a mixed one, and that is to entertain, edify, move, and improve us. On that score Litchfield’s music does it all. Iris Litchfield hails from England and did not start out to be a composer or musician, at least not professionally. She earned her degree in mathematics from London University and then spent her working career teaching. It wasn’t until she took early retirement due to ill health that she began to compose. Since childhood Iris played piano and later took up the clarinet and alto sax.
During the last 12 years, Litchfield has composed 120 piano pieces and, during that time, she has connected with others in the music and recording industries to produce solo albums, work on collaborative projects, and sign a contract with a U.K. publishing firm. In her biographical note, Iris does not reveal whether she is self-taught in composition, but skill at the piano, a natural ear for music, and an intuitive feeling for melody and harmony come together in a serendipitous combination of 14 absolutely fetching pieces on her album, the first listed above, titled Dream Clouds. All of these pieces are similar in style, straightforward in construction, fairly uncomplicated in their use of harmony and rhythm, and convey a relatively circumscribed range of feelings and moods that can be described as dreamy, pastoral, and reflective. But by no means are they indistinguishable from one another. Litchfield’s muse often turns to modal scales, as in Riding High, which has about it the sound of a Celtic harp. And perhaps the most daring piece on the disc is Dancing Dreams, in which passing bi-tonal dissonances create a surreal atmosphere.
The two-disc album that follows is titled “Ever Ever On” and contains more of Litchfield’s pieces in alternation with pieces by Tom Salvatori in a similar style, but now the settings are more varied in terms of their instrumentation. Between the two discs, in total, there are 12 distinct pieces but 24 tracks. That’s because each piece is presented twice, once on disc 1 in some ensemble combination of piano and guitar with strings, oboe, and/or horn, and again on disc 2, either for solo piano or solo guitar. It’s really quite fascinating to hear the effect the different scorings have on each piece. It’s not just the context that changes but the expressive character.
Again, I want to emphasize that this is very beautiful music, even if it’s not what we would typically identify as falling into the classical category. These are the kind of CDs you’d put on when you’re feeling a bit blue and just want to be soothed, succored, and salved. Technically speaking, these are not difficult pieces to play, so I would expect all of the participating musicians to handle their parts without strain, and they do, playing with ease and easefully. Should you be in the mood for some comforting and caressing, I can think of no better music to fill the bill than what you’ll find on these albums. Jerry Dubins
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ISSUE 36:5 (MAY/JUNE 2013) OF FANFARE MAGAZINE.
CD REVIEW BY JERRY DUBINS
If you happen to have acquired one or the other or both of the Iris Litchfield CDs reviewed in the last issue, and enjoyed the simple yet beautiful gifts of her music, here are two more releases guaranteed to give pleasure. The first, When Evening Falls, offers another 14 pieces in the same style as those found on the previously covered Ever Ever On album. Numbers by Litchfield alternate with those by Tom Salvatori, with violinist Pamela Sixfin and violist Monisa Angell joining Litchfield in an ensemble arrangement of Come Stay a While, and double bassist Craig Nelson joining Salvatori in a duo arrangement of his Reflecting Absence. Cellist John Catchings arranged and plays in most of the numbers.
From the haunting harp-like arpeggios of Litchfield’s Autumn Colors, to the soothing strains of Salvatori’s Sleepy Eyes Lullaby, this is a collection of easy-listening, mainly easeful pieces sure to tug at your heartstrings as they wash your troubles away. Two of Salvatori’s pieces in particular stand out: Church Song, for the way in which it perfectly captures the essence of the American pioneers’ revivalist spirit, and Labyrinth 2, in which, true to its title, the music takes a circuitous route through a maze of uncertain harmonies and modulations.
The second album, Romantic Interludes, differs from the first, as well as from the two previously reviewed releases, in that not one of these pieces is an original composition by Litchfield or Salvatori. Rather, these are pieces by five well-known “name” composers, some as written, for piano four hands. Elgar’s famous Salut d’amour, originally composed for violin and piano, exists in a version for piano four hands that has been around since the turn of the 20th century. The mystery man here with a big question mark over his head is Leon D’Ourville. I found next to nothing about him, not even the most basic biographical data. From his name, one gathers that he was French, and he seems to have been a 19th-century composer and arranger who wrote piano duets for four hands. In presenting these four short D’Ourville pieces, Litchfield and Patrick Meehan seem to have pulled off quite a coup, for I find nothing else by D’Ourville currently listed.
Back in 1996 (issue 19:6), Peter J. Rabinowitz reviewed a recording of piano duets on Albany, performed by Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow; and on that disc was one of the pieces from D’Ourville’s Soirées musicales, In the Garden, performed here by Litchfield and Meehan. But perhaps Rabinowitz wasn’t able to dig up any information on D’Ourville either, because he mentions neither the composer nor the piece in the body of his review. If there are four numbers in D’Ourville’s Soirées musicales—the four included on this disc—there are probably more. How many make up this collection and who D’Ourville was, I, for one, would like to know, because these modest pieces are lovely gems that would have been perfectly suited to amateur players in the private parlors of 19th-century homes.
Moszkowski’s Spanish Dances, five in all, first published around 1910, were enormously popular with the public and brought the composer a good deal of acclaim. Essentially salon pieces, the dances epitomize Moszkowski’s modesty and self-deprecating character, said by one critic to be reflected in music which is “devoid of the masculine and the feminine.” I’m not sure what genetic mutation would account for such an abnormality, but it seems not to have prevented Moszkowski from writing some very attractive music, of which the Spanish Dances are certainly an example.
Vaughan Williams’ Prelude on Rhosymedre is one of a set of three preludes on Welsh hymn tunes originally written for organ. Of the three numbers, Rhosymedre is the most popular, having been recorded many times, including in an orchestral arrangement. The album note doesn’t name the arranger of this piano four-hands version, but I don’t think it was Vaughan Williams. Might it be Iris Litchfield? In contrast, the composer’s Fantasia on Greensleeves has been transcribed and arranged for so many different instruments and ensembles it wouldn’t surprise me to find a recording of it performed by mynah bird and vacuum cleaner.
Adjacent to it on the previous track is Fauré’s famous Sicilienne from his incidental music to Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande, which Fauré had actually composed earlier for his unfinished score to LeBourgeois gentilhomme. The juxtaposition of the Vaughan Williams and Fauré pieces is fascinating because their opening melodies are so similar. Quite a few years separate the two pieces, however. Though originally written in 1893, Fauré’s Sicilienne made its debut in Pelléas et Mélisande in 1898. Vaughan Williams didn’t adapt the Greensleeves music, originally from his 1928 opera, Sir John in Love, for his beloved Fantasia until 1934.
Finally, we come to Schumann’s Six Studies (or Etudes) in Canonic Form, op. 56. These too, like Vaughan Williams’ Rhosymedre Prelude, were originally written for organ. But several arrangements exist, including one for piano four hands by Bizet, published in 1873. Whether this is the arrangement used by Litchfield and Meehan, I can’t say. It would have been helpful to have an insert note that provided some details about these pieces and their arrangers.
Iris Litchfield, who we encountered in Fanfare’s last issue, is both a gifted composer and an accomplished pianist. She is joined here by Patrick Meehan, a classically trained pianist who calls Bromley in the U.K. home and who devotes most of his time and energy to teaching piano to students of all ages and ability levels. This, according to the insert flyer, is Meehan’s first professional recording. He and Litchfield play with such perfect unanimity of timing and musical reciprocity that the impression conveyed is more of one pianist with 20 fingers than it is of two pianists with 10 fingers each. Both of these CDs, so different in content, yet so satisfying, are strongly recommended. Jerry Dubins
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ISSUE 36:6 (JULY/AUG 2013) OF FANFARE MAGAZINE.