by Katlyn Moncada
The Sheldon turned 100 years old last week, and celebrated the occasion with some of the best musicians known today. St. Louis’ own Peter Martin was commissioned to write an original composition, titled “This Present Past,” which was featured at the concert hall’s anniversary gala on Oct. 11. The critically acclaimed jazz pianist and composer—who was featured in the 2005 film “Good Night and Good Luck” and performed for the president at the White House this year—is no stranger to the Sheldon stage. He wrote the piece as a double quartet – a string quartet with of two violins, viola and cello, and a jazz quartet with saxophone, piano, bass and drums – fusing the two genres in both sound and form.
“I’m a jazz musician, so it’s definitely got a jazz foundation to it, but it has a lot of classical tones,” Martin says. “It’s a real hybrid piece. I’m hoping to the listeners it will come off as something unique and not jumping from style to style and movement to movement, but a unified American piece with a lot of different influences.”
Martin says he wanted to include some of his favorite musicians and was fortunate to be able to form his dream team to accompany him for the evening. Among them, the legendary opera singer Christine Brewer.
“I have written a special movement, kind of the main crux of the piece right in the middle movement, that will feature [Brewer's] beautiful voice and everybody playing along,” Martin says. “Of course she’s a great opera and classical singer, but she’s also really game to try a lot of different things. That part of the piece is going to be the part that will pull it all together, with all eight musicians and Christine on stage.”
So, how does this particular arrangement of music pay tribute to the Sheldon and it grand milestone? Martin wanted to represent the history of the Sheldon Concert Hall, but also pay tribute to it as a forward-looking organization.
“When I realized how much they were looking forward to using this celebration to have some great programming and look toward the next hundred years, I realized I had to write my kind of stuff—and so [the piece is] very modern.”
What is even more unique about the inspiration behind the piece is that Martin created the music in its entirety from the very stage it was to be performed on, in The Sheldon.
“I love the piano there—it’s probably the piano I’ve played more than any other, except the one in my house. I’m very much at home there, and have been doing a lot of the writing on the stage. It gives me a great chance to hear how it’s going to sound at the premiere.”
One particular night on the Sheldon’s stage seven years ago remains one of Martin’s favorite memories in his career so far.
“Me and my family were displaced by [Hurricane Katrina] and a lot of my musician friends were spread all over the country,” Martin says. “I put a concert together as a chance to play with some of my friends and favorite musicians I had been missing. We raised money for Habitat for Humanity, as well. We had such a great time with Ellis Marsalis, Nicholas Peyton, Jeremy Davenport and a bunch of great New Orleans musicians. The concert went on for almost four hours. It was a very emotional and musically pleasing evening for the audience, and is one of my happiest musical memories.”
When Martin is not touring, composing or producing work, he spends time practicing and honing his craft at his home in St. Louis. He is currently working on his next album, to be released next year.