Masterprize Finalist: Pierre Jalbert



Pierre Jalbert
Photo courtesy of Masterprize

Pierre Jalbert, currently living in Rome as a recipient of the Rome Prize and Fellowship for 2000-2001, says that his involvement in the Masterprize competition has already had a significant impact on his career. For the semi-finals, the Budapest Symphony recorded the piece and he traveled to Hungary to hear the sessions. “It was a fabulous experience. And now, as a result of the finals, there will be more broadcasts and a performance with the London Symphony, and a CD distributed through the BBC Music Magazine,” he explains. “The opportunity to reach listeners has been tremendous. This is what composers dream about.”

He wrote his entry, In Aeternam, (translated as Into Eternity) for the California Symphony where he has been the Young American Composer-in-Residence since 1999. It was composed as a memorial to Jalbertís niece who died at birth, but also incorporates the memory of hearing his own sonís heartbeat for the first time. Barry Jekowsky led the premiere performance in April of 2000.

After spending time in Rome, Jalbert says heís now more sensitive to what it means to be an American composer. “I did notice more American influences, such as Ives, Copland, and Bernstein, than I thought were there before.” But the impact of living and working in a foreign place moved beyond music. “One thing that Rome completely changed in my mind was the concept of historical time. I used to think of the Baroque and Renaissance as occurring very long ago, but after seeing some of the ruins from ancient Rome, such as Nero’s Golden House or Hadrian’s Villa, and viewing some of the ancient Roman frescoes and architecture which inspired the likes of Raphael and Borromini, one’s concept of time completely changes and the Renaissance and Baroque periods seem almost like recent events.”

While working in Rome and laboring under the weight of so much history, Jalbert completed his largest orchestral work to date. Titled Symphonia Sacra, the 3-movement, 28-minute long orchestral work was again written for the California Symphony and premiered under Jekowsky in May 2001. Jalbert explains, “This was, in a way, a Rome-influenced piece. The churches here, some of which date back to the 4th century, really blew my mind, and the many opportunities to hear Gregorian chant, some of which is used in the piece, were inspirations for the work.”

Like advertising, Jalbert thinks prizes are most useful for the attention they draw. “It is always encouraging to be recognized. But mostly, I think awards are useful for getting your name and music in front of other musicians. Perhaps, they will remember your name, and if they like your music, may want to commission a piece. Or perhaps they might mention your name to someone else who might be looking to commission a workÖbut I don’t think they should be used as a way to place a value judgment on a composer’s work. The music should speak for itself.”

Win or lose the Masterprize honor, Jalbert has already been commissioned to compose another work for the California Symphony as well as pieces for the Albany Symphony and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. And though heís had a great year in Italy, he says heís ready to head home to Texas. “Mostly, I’m looking forward to getting my family settled back in Houston. And I look forward to returning to work at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University where I teach. It’s been an amazing year in Rome, but it’s now extremely hot, and I’m looking forward to the pool in our community in Houston.”