Nix has performed traditional classical repertoire, new classical, and original music on guitar, lute, and mandolin, throughout the United States and Asia. He has composed solo music, songs, chamber music, symphonic works, electronic music, and opera.
His awards and commissions include: the Massachusetts Music Teacher's Assn. composer of the year in 1992, and Grants to perform "New Music From the Northeast", a program of original music and works by composers from New York and New England.
Original compositions by Nix can be heard on "Preludes, Airs, and Dances" a DC of solo guitar works, the Moser/Nix Duo CD "East & West", and the Providence Mandolin Orchestra's "Songs without Words", His works have been featured on the WGBH classical music show "Morning Pro Musica", heard throughout the Northeast.
In collaboration with visual artist/poet Tracey Brockett , he formed NixWorks, a multimedia performance ensemble.
"... breathtakingly beautiful to hear."
--Peter Mix, "Acoustic Musician", September 1997.
"Nix's "Three American Folksongs," impressionistic settings of American folk song is outstanding both for composition and interpretation. Colorful, intense, and dissonant by turns, the piece is a stellar addition ... and is given a definitive performance here."
--Marilyn Mair "Mandolin Quarterly", Vol. 2, No. 3; Summer 1997.
Guitar: Manuel Valazquez, 1978
The art that I find most interesting sits at the juncture of two or more ideas, styles, or juxtapositions: The intellectual and emotional, folk; popular and classical, ancient and modern, etc. Each piece has been chosen with these qualities in mind and placed within the structure of one of three types of music: Prelude (music of contemplation), Air (music of song), and Dance (music of movement).
Prelude, Air, and Dance, Michael Nix (b. 1953)
Prelude, Air, and Dances combines the baroque style of an instrumental suite by Bach with the lush harmonic influences of South American guitar styles.
Prelude is an ostinato "pattern" work based on the little Bach Prelude in C for keyboard, and the D minor prelude that we guitarists play, syncopated for an energizing effect. Air is a slow movement with a motive moving over a chromatic bass line. Vals looks toward those wonderful Antonio Lauro pieces, and is meant to occupy the place of the Courante in the baroque suite. Choro is based on the Brazilian models and I use the repetition and return of the rondo to replace the paired dances. Gigue uses Bach's binary dance and allegro movement form as a vehicle for the development of a motive taken from the first two movements.
Asturias (Prelude-Leyenda), Issac Albeniz (1860-1909)
Albeniz used the traditional music of Spain as the root of his piano compositions. Based on a transcription by Andres Segovia, this music sounds as if it were written for the guitar. I changed my approach the work after seeing the Flamenco troup "Noche Flamenca" at Jacob's Pillow. I alternate some of the explosive, anxious, and downright harsh with passionate tender moments.
Wintersong, Michael Nix (b. 1953)
"Wintersong" combines American jazz harmonies with rich South American rhythms. The A section was composed as an etude for flute and guitar, the B section was added later when I was invited to prepare a piece for a small jazz ensemble. Finally, the work was arranged for solo guitar.
Andante Largo, Fernando Sor (1778-1839)
The "Mozart" of the Guitar, Fernando was a classical period composer writing operas and performing as a guitar virtuoso in Paris. He combines the lyrical classical style, with a sure control of voice leading. In the I find his control of dissonance in the F major cadence of the B section, and the following transition back to d minor stunning. There is such power and longing in the diminished chord, and final phrase of the section. One can hear the vocal phrasing of the work.
Nao me toquas, Zequinha Abreu (arr. Nix)
I became acquainted with the style while playing with a flutist who took some choro lessons with some Brazilian players at New England Conservatory. Later, while in The Moser/Nix Duo with mandolinist Charlie Moser I heard the Mair-Davis Duo playing choros, and my own research led a recording of Jacob do Bandolim. Choro mean "to cry" in Portuguese, and is a traditional style that emerged in the late 1800's. The style incorporates native Brazilian dance tunes and folk rhythms with European classical music. Nao me toquas translates as "Don't touch me..."
Variations on Greensleeves, Michael Nix
When my daughter was born, I took my guitar into the hospital ward. All of the babies were crying. I softly played Greensleeves, and soon the babies were all quiet. I was quickly offered a job. I dedicated a variation set to my daughter. I conceived of this first as pedagogical set for my students, using guitar and lute styles progressing from Renaissance divisions to a rather jazzy major variation, to a contemporary classical idiom then, back in time toward a Sor-like setting in parallel thirds, and finally a restatement of the theme in artificial harmonics.
I'll Fly away, Trad.
A uniquely American style of guitar playing grew out of the ragtime era. The steady alternating bass played by the thumb emulates the left hand of the piano player, and the syncopated upper part is reminiscent of ragtime composer's use of old banjo-plantation melody rhythms. This style was recorded in the early part of the 20th century by such players as Mississippi John Hurt, Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly), and the Reverend Gary Davis. The insistent bass reminds me of Renaissance lute dances so I set this gospel favorite for classical guitar.
Position Three (Homage Ã Satie), Michael Nix
Position Three grew out of a collaboration between a choreographer, a poet, a visual artist, and my self. Each artist approached the theme individually, then came together to work out the performance. The title refers to a ballet stance. Because the atmosphere of the theme we were given was sweet, sad, and somewhat ethereal, I drew from the piano music of Satie, for a slow, timeless quality with little growth or development.
The Nelson Suite, Michael Nix
The oldest continuous contra dance in the United States is held in the Nelson, New Hampshire Town Hall. In the early 1980's I lived in the town next door. I was teaching at Keene State College, and writing a few feature articles for the Keene Sentinel, the local paper. I was asked to write on the Nelson dance, and managed to wrangle an invitation to sit in and play chords behind the fiddlers to get an "inside" view of the music.
I so enjoyed myself and the music that I composed a concert suite for solo guitar of six dances commonly played in Nelson. Some of the melodies are very familiar to contra-dance and Celtic musicians, others were based on melodies found in a collection of authentic Nelson "square dance" melodies by Newton Tolman and Kay Gilbert.
I had occasion to perform the suite in Colrain (Coleraine) Massachusetts at a fund raiser for a performing arts space and gallery. The Coleraine Jig (which actually opens the Nelson Suite) was a source of intrigue. In a tour of the Historical Society I learned that there has been exchange of artifacts and pleasantries over the years between the sister towns in Massachusetts and Ireland.
Thoughts From the Artist
The classical guitar has been called an "Orchestra in a Box". In the hands of a master, Andres Segovia, or Julian Bream, the guitar is capable of producing breathtaking colors. It is this multi-timbre aspect that I love about this instrument, and in my own work, I attempt to draw color from the instrument to illuminate the character of the piece, a phrase, a contrast, a mood--the possibilities are limitless!
Segovia was quite vocal in his disdain of the electric guitar and its players. Indeed from the cultured European viewpoint of the early 20th century, rock and roll, jazz, and blues players were a lewd, rowdy bunch playing loud, uncultured music.
In the 1960's the paradigm changed. The Beatles brought a European sense of style and intellectual acceptance to electric pop music. John Cage, the Princeton composers, and a number of other musicians had introduced electronic sound into the academic music sphere and concert stage. Moog invented a workable music synthesizer triggered with a keyboard, and Walter (now Wendy) Carlos stood the music world on it's ear with the lush and beautiful recording "Switched On Bach".
There still exists a fairly strict paradigm in the contemporary concert world's definition "Classical Guitar" which I hope to radically expand.
To this end, I am searching for and writing new material for the guitar that reflects our "post modern" culture. We have instant access to information, art, and culture from all over the world through electronic means. Every day we are bombarded with sounds and cultural bits from a great many sources, process them, and integrate them in our daily lives. Picking up this cultural clue, you hear on my concerts traditional classical repertoire, a jazz influence, some Celtic folk music.
I also plug the nylon strung guitar (my orchestra in a box) into electronics and process the sound in a search for more, new, interesting, beautiful, and useful colors. I combine the sound of the guitar with sounds that I make on a synthesizer, or record from the real world and process it. The themes of the compositions are somewhat timeless, looking ahead to new unknowns, while keeping the ties to the past. New and old sounds, textures, and themes are combined, processed, and recombined.
Points of interest
The Foundation of My Work
-The ability to synthesize a wide variety of styles.
-How the works sounds is important--the energy, and the use of tonal color, the orchestration or choice of notes, and how the music is played.
Ã¢Â€Â¢I view the best music as that which lies at the intersection of the intellectual, the emotional, and the technical. It is the balance of these three elements that interests me as composer, player, and listener.
Ã¢Â€Â¢One of my contributions is of new lyrical pieces that look both forward and back in their references, and influences. The combination and recombination of styles and influences forge new work that references modern culture.
Ã¢Â€Â¢I am fascinated by the folk music or music that people might gather and play spontaneously-folk and popular dance and song. The Nelson Suite for example is a collection of folk dances that I hear played in Grange Halls and parlors here in New England. The Choro combines the Brazilian street and folk dance music with the formal, developed concert stage music meant for passive listening.
Ã¢Â€Â¢What does it mean to be a classical guitarist and composer in our contemporary American culture? We are bombarded with a wealth of styles and influences via. our electronic media in the Post-Modern wired culture. My reaction is to draw upon the multitudinous influences, and synthesize them through the filter of classical music practice. I use harmonies and rhythms from jazz and rock, classical textures, folk dances and melodies, references to Latin guitar styles, and little bits of what ever else may cross my path. I am a stylistic integrator and synthesizer.
The Nelson Suite, for example is a concert suite made of little dances still played at contra-dances in New Hampshire. Prelude, Air, and Dance combines harmonies and rhythms of South American guitar styles with Bach's high Baroque compositional technique and structure. Wintersong draws from lyrical jazz and folk influences. My arrangement of I'll Fly Away is drawn from American folk and ragtime guitar playing. Greensleeves Variations draws upon styles from Renaissance Lute divisions to modern jazz.
Michael Nix has composed solo music, songs, chamber and symphonic works, electronic music and opera. His work combines traditional classical techniques with influences from electronic music, folk, jazz and world music, and avant-guarde--influenced by early study of avant garde theater. He has worked in collaboration with dancers, poets, and visual artists. Nix has gained attention for his performances of new classical music for acoustic, amplified and electric guitars alone, with tape, computers, and other technologies.
Nix is currently on the Massachusetts Touring Program as a member of The Moser/Nix Duo, performing music for mandolin and guitar. As a member of the Monadnock Classical Guitar Duo and as a soloist he was on the New Hampshire Touring Program for four years. He was a featured performer for the Connecticut Classical Guitar Society's Andres Segovia outreach program "The Guitar About Town.
An interest in performing his own music led to the formation of of Mythos, a flexible chamber ensemble performing newly composed, and older chamber music in the mid 1980's.
Nix completed the libretto for a children's opera, "Liombruno" with music by Salvatore Macchia, which was premiered at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1989.
In 1983 he was co-conductor and concert master with the 24 piece guitar orchestra at Keene State College. In that year the orchestra performed a tour of the Phillipines, Hong Kong, and California with guest soloist Alice Artzt. The group performed in concert halls, on television, and made a recording for Radio Hong Kong.
In 1988, he performed a concert at the Bushnell Hall in Hartford CT, commemorating Andres Segovia's 1931 performance in the Colonial Room Concert Series. Madam Emilita Segovia was the honored guest at the performance.
In 1991 he was awarded grants to perform "New Music From the Northeast", a program of compositions by composers from New York and New England.
He was the Massachusetts Music Teacher's Association's composer of the year for 1991. He composed the song cycle "The Very Rich Hours" on poetry by Sue Standing, for soprano, cello, and amplified guitar for the MMTA.
Nix produced a John Cage memorial concert in 1992 incorporating musicians, dancers, visual artists, and improvisational theater. Tom Leamon in a letter to Merce Cunningham said "It very appropriate and authentic and funny and touching and we were glad to be there..."
In 1994 year he composed a setting of "Three American Folk Songs" for the Providence (RI) Mandolin Orchestra premiered at the University of Connecticut, which the orchestra performed on a European concert tour of American mandolin orchestra music. outstanding both for composition and interpretation. Colorful, intense, and dissonant by turns, the piece is a stellar addition to repertoire for mandolin --Marilyn Mair "Mandolin Quarterly", Vol. 2, No. 3; Summer 1997.
Recently Nix has formed the NixWorks multi-media performance with visual artist, poet, videographer Tracey Brockett, bringing together multiple creative influences and genre: music composition, performance. poetry, theater, film and visual art. They have also formed "The Multi-media Project" an arts non-profit to promote concerts and creation of multi-media performances.
Check out the artist's website:
1. Prelude, Air, and Dances-Michael Nix: Prelude
6. Asturias (Prelude-Lyenda)-Isaac Albeniz
7. Wintersong-Michael Nix
8. Andante Largo, Op. 5, No. 5-Fernando Sor
9. Nao Me Toques--Zequinha Abreu (Arr. Nix)
10. Variations on Greensleeves-Michael Nix
11. I'll Fly Away-trad gospel (Arr. Nix)
12. Position Three (Hommage Ã Satie)-Michael Nix
13. The Nelson Suite-Michael Nix: Coleraine Jig
14. Swallowtail Reel
15. The Hare's Foot Rant
16. Mrs. Grant's Strathspey
17. Hornpipes-Staten Island, Cincinnati
18. Planxty Browne