Composing

*Oakmont PR Photo

My compositions have been performed by well-known orchestras and ensembles around the country. A brief word about my compositional style. Regardless of the tonal idiom of a given piece, I want the audience to be able to say “I really enjoyed that,” and not have them scratching their heads, asking “What the hell was that all about?” Likewise, as a performer myself, I want the performer to enjoy learning the music regardless of its level of difficulty. To this end, I am painstakingly diligent in making all of my scores and parts user-friendly. See below for a complete listing of my musical compositions and arrangements.

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You can read about my books and reviews: Devil’s Trill, Danse Macabre, Death and the Maiden, and Death and Transfiguration. My newest mystery, PLAYING WITH FIRE, will hit the book stands this summer.At my MUSIC TO DIE FOR page are performances of the music mentioned in my novels and my audio notes on these works.

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ORIGINAL COMPOSITIONS

“The Ballad of William Grandstaff” for baritone and piano (8:00) 2015

A sequel to “William Grandstaff,” the ballad was also commissioned by the Moab Music Festival and was premiered September 11, 2015. In a message delivered from the 19th century, Grandstaff challenges the audience to confront the entrenched history of racism in American society.

William Grandstaff” Operatic scene for three singers, flute, violin, and piano (10:00) 2014

William Grandstaff was a former slave who successfully ranched in Moab, Utah, from 1877-1881, but who was then accused by white settlers of inciting Native Americans to violence by selling them alcohol. The operatic scene is set at the crucial moment when Grandstaff must decide whether to stay and fight for his land or flee to save his life.

The Raven,” Monodrama for Baritone and Orchestra,
based upon the poem by Edgar Allen Poe.
Premiere 2000, Utah Symphony. (15:00)
[Baritone, 2 fl, 2 ob, 2 cl, 2 bn, 2 hn, 2 tpt, 3 trb, tuba, timp, perc, hp, strings]
*Also arranged for mezzo soprano, viola and piano

“This short monodrama runs the gamut of emotions as Elias explores the psychological workings of the narrator. Elias deliberately leaves open whether the narrator is slowly going insane. It’s an effective mad scene in the best 19th century operatic tradition, and Eberhardt was quite stunning as she sang and occasionally declaimed the lines of Poe’s most famous poem.” Deseret News 4/14/07

“The musical centerpiece was the premiere of associate concertmaster Gerald Elias’ ‘The Raven,’ after Edgar Allan Poe. Baritone David Power was the soloist, alternating between speaking and singing in a high melodic line reminiscent of Benjamin Britten. The orchestral accompaniment was colorful and cinematic-sounding.” Salt Lake Tribune 11/1/00

Stylistically haunting echoes of Bartok and Britten will give you the creeps.  The semi-stageable trio version has been performed at the University of Utah and by the Edgar Allen Poe Society in Philadelphia at their conference in October, 2009, celebrating the bicentennial of his birth.

Concerto Grosso in B-flat for violin and chamber orchestra, (part 1, part 2) 2003. (18:00)
Commissioned and premiered by the Utah Symphony Orchestra
[Violin solo, concertato and ripieno strings, 2 ob, 2 tpt, harpsichord]
Also performed at the Sunriver Music Festival, Oregon in August ‘05
and in New York City on January 8, ‘06 by North/South Consonance
with revised winds [fl, ob, cl, hn, pa]
*Also arranged for violin and piano.

“While the rest of the [Utah Symphony] concert was excellent, Elias’s Concerto Grosso was the crowing jewel of the evening.  Elias gave a brilliant performance, and the work was very well-received–the audience gave a standing ovation at intermission.” Deseret News
Of the violin and piano version: “But instead of being subjected to the strictures this would place on him, Elias instead subjected the dance forms to his distinct musical whimsy. And the result is nothing less than enchanting. With his homage to the 18th-century concerto grosso form, Elias created a work that is refreshingly original and captivatingly melodic. It’s a wonderful showcase for the violinist. One can discern stylistic elements from Kreisler and Paganini in the soloist’s part, yet at no time in the work, which is played without pause, does Elias slavishly imitate any composer. His musical and harmonic language is manifestly his own. As a composer, Elias certainly has much to say and in a way that is infectious and direct.” Deseret News 2/1/05

 A virtuoso neo-Baroque interpretation of the traditional four movement Baroque dance suite (Preludio, Corrente, Sarabanda/Pastorale/Sarabanda, Giga) played without interruption, including ripieno and concertato parts for strings.

“Conversations With Essie,”
for female narrator and chamber ensemble
2002, (24:00)
Commissioned and premiered by the Moab Music Festival
[Female Narrator and Vln, Cl, Cb, Perc, Banjo, Pa]

“But this year, to commemorate the [Moab] festival’s 10th anniversary, Barrett decided on a slightly different approach. ‘I wanted to do something special to celebrate our anniversary and to celebrate Moab,’ Barrett told the Deseret News. So he commissioned a piece written especially for the festival by Utah Symphony associate concertmaster Gerald Elias.” DN 8/25/02

The narrator provides a dramatic reading of the reminiscences of Essie White, a pioneer of the west who ran her own ranch in the harsh wilderness outside of Moab, Utah from the 1930s.  Composed for the 10th anniversary of the Moab Music Festival and premiered on the first anniversary of 9-11.  In four movements in a folksy accessible style reflecting the alternating poignancy and humor of Essie’s narrative.  “Conversations” has also been performed at the University of Utah, and in New York City by North/South Consonance.
As an aside, Essie, then in her 97, mostly blind and hard of hearing, attended the premiere.  It was the first classical concert she ever went to.  Her whole family was there with her.  She said she really enjoyed it.  She passed away about a year later.

Second String Quartet, 1999 (10:00)
Premiere, Cathedral of the Madelaine Arts Festival

“The evening’s pleasant surprise was the premiere of Elias’ own Second String Quartet. The piece was every bit as witty as Elias’ program notes, in which he told his two sources of inspiration to show ‘just how perverse the workings of the human mind can be.’ The one movement work was based the ‘insulting’ noise his printer made in Italy and the ‘jingle’ signaling a specific Tokyo train stop. The urban-sounding piece had a quality of childlike wonder mixed with good-natured angst. The phrasing and articulation accentuated this mood, the one movement (‘Furioso-Adagio-Allegretto-Furioso-Prestlo’) was a delight from start to finish.” Deseret News 3/1/99

Based upon musical motives inspired by the pugnacious mechanical sputtering of my computer printer (first movement) and a jingle at a Tokyo subway station (last two movements).  Three highly concentrated inter-related movements played without interruption.  A challenging piece, no doubt, but still very playable.  The Second String Quartet was a finalist in the 2002 International Contemporary Music Contest of Undine, Italy.

First string quartet “When Mr. Mozart Came Home from the Ball,”
for string quartet and narrators.   (19:00)
Variations on a Theme by Mozart, kv.379, movement 2, Premiere 1998,
Abramyan String Quartet, Recorded 2000 Developed for young audiences.
*There is also a revised version for string orchestra and one narrator which is particularly effective for orchestral education and outreach performances.

A young person’s guide to string playing, this theme with variations connected by unconscionably witty musical and verbal recitatives explains the potential of string instruments in a classical music context.  Included in the music and narrative are snippets of many other popular and classical pieces that the listener will have fun identifying. Recorded by the Abramyan String Quartet, 5,000 copies of the CD were donated to public schools throughout Utah.

Overture in the Classical Style for Chamber Orchestra, (9:00)
Premiere 2005, Utah Philharmonia)
[2 fl, 2 ob, 2 bn, 2 hn, 2 tpt, timp, strings]
*There is another orchestration with revised winds available.

“Elias was on the podium and deftly led the chamber ensemble through his delightfully witty and appealing score. The Overture is tonal, but with captivatingly dissonant harmonies thrown in. Akin to Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony in character, Elias’ piece is actually much more indebted to Mozart. With its occasional biting harmonic language, lyricism and a generous dose of humor, the score is deceptively straightforward. This could very well have served as the overture to Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ or ‘Don Giovanni,’ but as with the Concerto Grosso, Elias cleverly adds his unique perspective to familiar musical forms. The piece is urbane, stylish and highly entertaining.” Deseret News 2/16/05

Shades of Don Giovanni!  A truly tonal overture in the style of Mozart and the form of the mid to late 18th century sinfonia, with a middle ‘movement’ sicilienne featuring solos by concertmaster, bassoons and flutes.

“V’adoro Variations” on a theme by Handel,
for violin solo and CD, 2005 (10:00)

“The 10-minute piece deftly maneuvers through various aspects of love, from the contentious to the unifying. Musically, it moves from dissonance to consonance. The work culminates in a baroque gigue and a coda with a delicate counterpoint to a recording of the aria itself.”  Deseret News 1/30/06 

Based upon Cleopatra’s gorgeous love aria “V’adoro Pupile” from Handel’s opera Giulio Cesare, I first performed this set of variations in collaboration with choreography conceived and performed by my daughter, Kate, in an April ‘06 premiere at Middlebury College, Vermont.  It is, however, fully suitable for performance on its own.  Handel’s theme is not heard until the coda of the piece, a duet between the violin solo and the surprising entrance of Cleopatra’s voice.

“Mack the Knife”Fantasy for string quartet, (5:00) 2008.

This biting over-the-top, free-wheeling arrangement of the Kurt Weill classic from Threepenny Opera comes to a suitably comic/violent crashing climax.  Composed for the Ictus String Quartet of Lima, Peru.

The Grasshopper and the Ants, for Children’s Choir,
based on a fable by Aesop, 2001 (5:00)

Children’s chorus with accompaniment of easy violin and easy percussion.  Based upon the Aesop fable.

ORCHESTRATIONS

For violin and orchestra:
Sonata for Violin and Orchestra (23:00)
Orchestration of the Aaron Copland Sonata for Violin and Piano,
published by Boosey and Hawkes, 1993.

Premiere 1990, Colorado Springs Symphony on the occasion of Copland’s 90th birthday. Other performances by the Utah Symphony, and in 2000 for the Copland Centennial by the Pittsburgh Symphony and Hartford Symphony.  First commercial recording with Andres Cardenas, violin, and the Sinfonia da Camera, Ian Hobson conductor available on Albany Records

“Bravo to Elias for providing the repertoire with a superb orchestration that can easily stand along side the orchestrations of Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakov.”  Salt Lake Tribune

“Even more pleasurable was the selection that followed, associate concertmaster Gerald Elias in his own orchestration of the Copland Violin Sonata. On this evidence Elias has done his work well, seldom violating the simplicity of the scoring, from the distinctive woodwind chords of the opening Andante, here seemingly looking ahead to the Third Symphony, to the down-home rhythms of the finale, with its echoes of ‘Appalachian Spring.’” Deseret News 9/30/95

Copland never composed a major work for violin and orchestra, yet his sublime three-movement Sonata from 1942 suggests so many of the colors reminiscent of the great orchestral works he wrote in the 1940s, like Appalachian Spring and Rodeo.  The violin part in this orchestration remains exactly the same.  The piano part has been rewritten for an orchestra containing full strings and winds, reduced brass, lots of percussion, and keyboard.

“Pasquinade,” Caprice for Violin and Chamber Ensemble,
by Louis Moreau Gottschalk (6:00)

Premiere 2001, North/South Consonance
[Violin Solo, pic, fl, tpt, perc, string quintet]
*Also arranged for violin and piano; and, believe it or not, for 8 flutes and full orchestra, in which version it was performed at the 21st International Flute Festival in Lima, Peru in May,’06]

Transcription of the charming Creole piano work by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the New Orleans born virtuoso pianist and composer who preceded Copland’s Americana style by a full century!  In the violin versions, the writing is for virtuoso,bravura effect, a la Wieniawski.


For string orchestra:

Andante from the Sonata for Violin Solo in A minor
by J.S. Bach, 2006

“Since the slow movement [Brandenburg 3] only consists of two chords (the first violinist or harpsichordist in Bach’s day was expected to improvise something), performances of this movement today vary greatly. Elias’ solution was to interpolate the Andante from Bach’s Sonata in A minor for Solo Violin. Elias did a wonderful job of orchestrating this piece for strings. It was played with an expressiveness that captured the music’s enthralling lyricism.” Deseret News 12/11/06

For soprano and chamber orchestra:
Three Venetian Arias: “Quella fiamma,” by Francesco Conti (attrib. Benedetto Marcello), Pur Dicesti, O Bocca Bella,” by Antonio Lotti, Che Fiero Costume,” by Giovanni Legrenzi, 2007

I transcribed these dramatic and moving Baroque arias from keyboard score to string orchestra plus harpsichord, for a Vivaldi By Candlelight performance by the incomparable American soprano, Celena Shafer, in December 2007.

CADENZAS

Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major,
op. 77 1997 (rev. 2005)
Premiere 1997, Utah Philharmonia

Mozart Violin Concerto in G Major, 1986 Premiere 1987, Sydney Symphony

Mozart Violin Concerto in A Major, 1985 Premiere 1985, Boston Pops

TRANSCRIPTIONS
For solo violin:

Andante, from “Death and the Maiden” string quartet by Franz Schubert, 2011 (also arr. for two violins)

For violin and piano:
Intermezzo Interrotto from the Concerto for Orchestra by Bela Bartok, 1985

Intermezzo from the Hary Janos Suite by Zoltan Kodaly, 1985

Pavane by Gabriel Faure, 1985

“The Moon and I” from The Mikado, by Arthur Sullivan, 2005

Papageno’s Aria from the Magic Flute by Mozart, 2006

For two violins:
Gavotte from the Classical Symphony by Serge Prokofiev,1985

For four violins:
Second Round of the Goblins for four violins, from Antonio Bazzini (6:00)
Premiere 2004, Nova Concert Series, Salt Lake City

“The concert marked the first time that the four [concertmasters] have performed together outside of the Utah Symphony, and the evening was an unqualified success. As an encore, the concertmasters played the Bazzini in Elias’ hilarious arrangement for four violins.” Deseret News 3/21/04

A comic parody of the virtuoso violin piece by Bazzini with some visual gags, including ‘The Wave’ and a staged argument with melodramatic tearing up of the music.

 

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