Brad Mehldau’s 'Variations on a Melancholy Theme,' with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Out Now on Nonesuch

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Brad Mehldau’s Variations on a Melancholy Theme is out now. The recording features the pianist/composer and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which commissioned this orchestral version of the work—a theme and eleven variations plus a cadenza and postlude. The album also includes an encore, “Variations ‘X’ and ‘Y.'" "I imagine it as if Brahms woke up one day and had the blues," Mehldau says of the piece, which combines the classical form with jazz harmonies. "While the theme evokes melancholy, I let it be used as a springboard for other happy, wild, violent, and reckless emotions as the variations progress." You can watch a video for Variation 4 here.

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Brad Mehldau’s Variations on a Melancholy Theme is out now on Nonesuch Records, avaialble everywhere here. The recording features the pianist/composer and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which commissioned this orchestral version of the work, which comprises a theme and eleven variations plus a cadenza and postlude; the album also includes an encore, “Variations ‘X’ and ‘Y.’” Also out today is a video with Variation 4, which you can watch below. (Mehldau originally composed Variations on a Melancholy Theme for pianist Kirill Gerstein.) Mehldau and Orpheus toured Europe, Russia, and the US with the piece, including a 2013 performance at Carnegie Hall. Mehldau has several solo tour dates and shows with the Brad Mehldau Trio in Europe this summer; see below for details and tickets, or visit nonesuch.com/on-tour.

Speaking to the combination of classical form with jazz harmonies in the work’s musical language, Mehldau wrote, “I imagine it as if Brahms woke up one day and had the blues.” He continues, “The theme itself has a wistful character, perhaps a feeling of resignation. There is some sense of finality and ending to it when heard for the first time already. So as I composed, a narrative challenge emerged; namely, how to embark on a story that begins with a conclusion. While the theme evokes melancholy, I let it be used as a springboard for other happy, wild, violent, and reckless emotions as the variations progress.”

Brad Mehldau’s Nonesuch debut was the 2004 solo disc Live in Tokyo. His subsequent releases on the label include seven records with his trio (House on Hill, Day Is Done, Brad Mehldau Trio Live, Ode, Where Do You StartBlues and Ballads, and Seymour Reads the Constitution!); collaborative albums (Love Sublime, Highway Rider, Metheny Mehldau, Metheny Mehldau Quartet, Modern Music, Mehliana: Taming the Dragon, Nearness with Joshua Redman, Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau, RoundAgain, and the Grammy Award–winning Finding Gabriel), and further solo albums (Live in Marciac; the eight-LP/four-CD 10 Years Solo Live, which the New York Times says “contains some of the most impressive pianism he has captured on record;” After Bach; and the album he recorded during COVID-19 lockdown, Suite: April 2020, from which a majority of the proceeds went to Jazz Foundation of America’s COVID-19 Musician’s Emergency Fund).

In 1972, a group of young artists made history by creating an orchestra without a conductor in which musicians led themselves democratically. Since then, the Grammy Award-winning Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has recorded over 70 albums on all major classical labels—including several with pianist Richard Goode for Nonesuch—toured to 46 countries across four continents, and collaborated with hundreds of world-class soloists. Orpheus’ thirty-four member musicians work together as a collective and rotate leadership roles for all works performed, giving flight to unconventional interpretations. This democratic structure also extends to organizational functions including programming and governance: the orchestra elects three members to Artistic Director positions and three to the Board of Trustees.

BRAD MEHLDAU ON TOUR

Jun 29 Jazz à Vienne Vienne, FRANCE
Jun 30 Théâtre de Longjumeau Longjumeau, FRANCE
Jul 2 Domaine de Fontblanche Vitrolles, FRANCE
Jul 4 Spoleto Festival dei Due Mondi Spoleto, ITALY
Jul 6 Vicenza Jazz Vicenza, ITALY
Jul 8 Festival da Jazz St. Moritz St. Moritz, SWITZERLAND
Jul 12 Teatro Comunale di Carpi* Carpi, ITALY
Jul 14 Umbria Jazz Festival* Perugia, ITALY
Jul 15 Nice Jazz Festival* Nice, FRANCE
Jul 18 Monfort Jazz* Monforte d'Alba, ITALY
Jul 19 Grado Jazz* Grado, ITALY
Jul 20 Jazz à Sète* Sète, FRANCE
Jul 22 Centro Cultural de Belém* Lisbon, PORTUGAL
Jul 23 Festival Internacional de Jazz de Peníscola* Peníscola, SPAIN
Jul 25 Festival de Jazz de San Sebastián* Donostia, SPAIN
Jul 27 Jazz in Marciac* Marciac, FRANCE
Jul 30 Cosmo Jazz Festival* Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, FRANCE
     

*w/Brad Mehldau Trio

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Brad Mehldau: 'Variations on a Melancholy Theme' [cover w]

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