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(PC: Titilayo Ayangade)

Curtis Stewart's Piano Quintet to Premiere This Summer

Commissioned by the Newport Classical Music Festival, the piano quintet will premiere on July 22


Three-time GRAMMY-nominated violinist and composer, Curtis Stewart, will see his new piano quintet "The Gilded Cage," premiere at the Newport Classical Music Festival.

2023 festival artists Ariel Horowitz, Lun Li, Edwin Kaplan, Titilayo Ayangade, Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner will perform the work.

The concert will be hosted at The Breakers, a historical national landmark that was built in 1895. Formerly owned by the Vanderbilt family, the mansion symbolizes the family's social and financial wealth during the Gilded Age.

We caught up with Curtis to learn more about his new work:


What was your inspiration behind the piece?

I was chatting with my Dad, who grew up in Newport as the son of a Baptist Minister there. We were reflecting on The Breakers and those who tended to the home on a daily basis when the tenants were not on holiday. He remembered the parishioners, the gardener, the baker, the handymen ‚ all of whom may have lent service to the Gilded era mansion.

The quintet is a take on the spirit of the Breakers from their perspective — based on the music of that church, the Baptist hymnal, reframed with chromatic alterations and ghostly ponticello, runs, and special string effects to capture the spirit of the lavish, but mostly vacant space, throughout most of the year.


What do you hope listeners will take away with them upon hearing it?

I hope the piece feels like a meditation on the people of Newport and the nature of history — who gets the footnote regarding the legendary space —the ones who inherit or the ones who maintain the grounds? The piece is also a nod to the spirits that kept and keep the space what it is today.


What was your compositional process like while working on this project?

I wrote the first draft of this piece in a week and a half on the road with PUBLIQuartet! We were on tour in Virginia and the first thing I would do in every new hotel room is set up my computer, mic, and midi keyboard, and then layer record the string parts, pitch down the viola and cello, and enter in piano runs and chords note by note.

I wrote a majority of the middle section in the Norfolk airport when we were stuck due to inclement weather… I researched a lot of music from Newport, rags, and boat tunes, but the melody and harmonies from Precious Lord, from the Baptist hymnal, felt the most fertile for variation, reharmonization, and thematic fracturing.

I am not particularly religious myself, yet I just remember being moved to tears by the recording of Aretha Franklin’s version at Martin Luther King’s memorial, and couldn't shake that influence.


For audiences attending the Newport Classical Music Festival, click here for tickets to the world premiere.

"Curtis's new piece, The Gilded Cage, is the latest in our ongoing, annual commissioning initiative, which we began in 2021," added Gillian Friedman Fox, Newport Classical Executive Director.

"Newport Classical is committed to the future of classical music and working closely with composers like Curtis, who are shaping it. We are thrilled that he is our 2023 Composer-in-Residence, and that our resident Festival Artists - performers early in their professional careers - will premiere his quintet at The Breakers, the place that has in part inspired the work," she continued. "Curtis's personal, family connection to Newport makes this collaboration even more special. We can’t wait for our community to learn from and be inspired by his music."

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