Composer Anthony Cornicello (born in Brooklyn, New York, 1964) writes music that blurs distinctions between performers and electronics, timbre and harmony, composition and improvisation, and explores the boundaries of what may be considered post-classical concert music. His music is vibrant and visceral, full of rhythmic energy and harmonic sophistication, and his forays into live electronics have led to exciting combinations of instruments and processed sound. Cornicello’s background as a jazz pianist is evident not only in the rhythmic activity of his music, but also in his constant investigation of the rich sonorities available from a variety of instruments.
He has been commissioned to write music for the Scorchio Electric String Quartet, ModernWorks! (funding from Meet the Composer/ Commissioning Music USA), the Auros Group for New Music, the Prism Saxophone Quartet, the New York New Music Ensemble, David Holzman, the Group for Contemporary Music, and the InterEnsemble of Padova, Italy. His work has also been featured on the Guggenheim Museum’s “Works and Process” series. Cornicello’s works have also been performed by the Chicago Civic Symphony, Parnassus, ALEA III, Composers Concordance, Madeleine Shapiro, Robert Black, among many other outstanding groups and solo performers. His music has been presented as part of the Darmstadt International Festival of New Music as well as the June in Buffalo Festival.
Cornicello’s Second String Quartet has been recorded by the Atlantic String Quartet; the Second Sonata for Piano by David Holzman (Centaur). More recently, his Post-Modern Waltz was recorded by Eric Moe for Albany Records. A portrait CD of Cornicello’s works is scheduled for 2006 release on Albany Records.
As a performer, he has conducted or played piano in his own works on numerous occasions. While a graduate student at Rutgers, he formed and directed the Janus Ensemble, a group dedicated to contemporary music. More recently, Cornicello has begun performing on the laptop, using a variety of interfaces and the Max/MSP program. Those performances, mostly with EEE!, have had a notable impact on his music, as EEE!’s music ranges from hip-hop to experimental noise. EEE! is based at Eastern Connecticut State University, where Cornicello is an Associate Professor and Director of the Electronic Music Lab.
Cornicello received the Ph.D. from Brandeis University, where he studied with David Rakowski, Eric Chasalow, and Martin Boykan. His teachers also include Charles Wuorinen, Gérard Grisey, and Richard Beirach.
His current fields of interest include developing unusual interfaces for live computer music performances, as well as continuing to investigate resonance and spatialization. His recent and current projects (mostly for string instruments and electronics) have been exploring the latter two, and the series of experimental works ReZenant Garden, performed by EEE! have operated on all three areas of interest. Future projects will include works for instrumental groups or soloists and electronics, as well as turntablists.
Cornicello's works are published by C.F. Peters Corporation and APNM, and he is a member of BMI.
I've been thinking about improvisation lately. Some of this, maybe a lot of this, comes from my jazz background. Some of this comes from the reaction to Ornette winning the Pulitzer; and some of this comes from my use of improvisation in my own music.
I should mention a few things. The ensemble I direct, EEE!, makes a lot of use of improvisation. Sure, we do 'written' works - we've adapted one of the Cage number pieces, and we've done some graphic works as well. But, I think it would be pointless to, lets say, grab a string quartet and hand out the parts to four performers playing keyboard instruments. So, a lot of the performances we do are improvised. The difficulty is working with students who are less experienced with improvisation. And that's something I need to rectify, but more on that later.
For the past year, I've also been teaching jazz piano to a student. Now, I play a bit of jazz - I'm hardly the expert; nonetheless, I took on this student who has been begging to work with me for some time. The truly enjoyable part was exposing him to so much music that he hadn't heard before: Lennie Tristano, Art Tatum, Richie Beirach, Bud Powell, Bill Evans, and more. Before hand, he knew a little about Miles Davis; when he left, he was saying that Keith Jarrett was his favorite musician. Anyway, we spend a lot of time dissecting improvisation, studying the art of soloing, and talking about styles in jazz.
Then came the Ornette news. I'm thrilled that he won, yet quite dismayed at how it was done. Yet, it seems to have been greeted by a great deal of alarm. I've heard many comments about the dropping of standards, about the fall of culture, and so on. (Jeez! It's not like Flavor Flav won the Pulitzer!) I'm curious how much of this is elitism, genre-bashing, snobbery, or even bigotry. Well, I can't address most of those issues here. But it has led me to wonder: what is the difference between composition and improvisation? Isn't that really the issue here, that Ornette &co. improvised most of this, and it wasn't written out? I'm hoping to create a series of posts dealing with this issue; hopefully, this will lead to an essay of sorts. More to follow....