Critics should not write about friends of theirs, or even people they know—although I have done it from time to time, always disclosing what I’m doing. “I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true,” I say. “And please investigate for yourself.”
I plead the same, in this little post I am now writing.
Scott Wheeler is an American composer, born in 1952, long associated with Emerson College, in Boston. He has written a little piece for unaccompanied violin, Isolation Rag. How did it come about?
In a program note, the composer explains,
Isolation Rag was written for Gil Shaham, during a pandemic that kept us both at home. The last concert I attended before the lockdown was in March 2020 in Los Alamos, where Gil and pianist Akira Eguchi played a wonderful recital including my sonata The Singing Turk.
Violinist and pianist gave an encore on that occasion, an arrangement of Graceful Ghost Rag, by William Bolcom—probably the most famous rag since Joplin. Do you know it? Here it is, played by Paul Jacobs.
Allow me to wander down Memory Lane a bit. I will do so by pasting a passage from my “New York chronicle” of February 2017. The New York Philharmonic had premiered a trombone concerto by Bolcom, with the orchestra’s principal, Joseph Alessi, serving as soloist.
Bolcom was a figure of my youth. What I mean is, I grew up in Ann Arbor, and he taught at the University of Michigan. He led a dual life: classical composer and jazz, or cabaret, pianist. He teamed up with his wife, the singer Joan Morris, for all sorts of performances, in popular veins. You would see the couple around town. I spotted them once in an ice-cream parlor, Lovin’ Spoonful, on Main Street. They were celebrities, and deservedly so.
With the Graceful Ghost in mind, says Scott Wheeler,
I wrote my Isolation Rag for unaccompanied violin. It includes a brief quote from the first movement of the Mendelssohn concerto, then a snippet of the last movement of that concerto, followed by a bit of the last movement of the Brahms concerto.
In this way, Isolation Rag is both American and Old World. It’s also a sweet little piece. Another memory: I once saw a yacht named Sweet Isolation.
Gil Shaham performed Scott’s new rag at the Dresden Music Festival—on video, of course, as is the fashion, and necessity, now. Watch and listen here. Isn’t it wonderful that people are still writing rags? Especially good ones. I hope and expect that violinists will use and enjoy Scott’s rag for a long time to come, particularly when an encore is wanted—with no pianist or orchestra required.