Tag Archive for Neely Bruce

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

1. Where We Live: “The Life and Legacy of American Composer Charles Ives”

Neely Bruce, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, is a guest on this show about the legacy of composer Charles Ives. Bruce is the only pianist who has ever played all of the Ives music for solo voice, in a project called the Ives Vocal Marathon, which took place at Wesleyan in 2009. He is also the co-editor of a new collection of Ives songs, a former member of the board of the Charles Ives Society, and the chair of the Artistic Advisory Committee of the society.

2. The New York Times: “Don’t Dismiss ‘Safe Spaces'”

In this op-ed, President Michael Roth argues that while “safe spaces” can be taken too far on college campuses, the much-maligned concept actually “underlies the university’s primary obligations” to its students. He advocates for creating “safe enough spaces,” which “promote a basic sense of inclusion and respect that enables students to learn and grow—to be open to ideas and perspectives so that the differences they encounter are educative.” Roth further explores this topic and many others in his new book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College CampusesHe was interviewed recently about the book on several radio shows, including The Jim Bohannon Show, The Brian Lehrer Show, WGBH On Campus Radio, and Wisconsin Public Radio, among others, and published op-eds in the Boston Globe and The Atlantic.

Bruce Performs Final “This Is It” Recital, Ending 6-Year Project

Neely Bruce performed his final “This Is It” concert March 31 in Crowell Concert Hall. (Photo by Alexa Jablonski ’22)

After publicly performing almost 16 hours of his solo piano compositions, Neely Bruce, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music played his final concert on March 31, concluding a six-year project.

Bruce, who took up piano at the age of 8, began the series titled “This Is It! The Complete Piano Works of Neely Bruce” in 2013. He performed a total of 17 CD-length recitals at Crowell Concert Hall during this time.

“I thought it might take 12 (recitals), but it ended up being 17,” Bruce said. “This was a great opportunity to take stock of my whole life as a composer for the keyboard.”

Bruce has composed more than 300 original songs in addition to three full-length operas; five one-act operas; works for orchestra, chamber orchestra, and wind ensemble; chamber music; electronic music; and documentary film scores. He also set the Bill of Rights to music. Read more about his work on neelybruce.com.

“I never set out to be a composer of such an extensive oeuvre for piano,” he said.

This spring, Bruce is teaching 18th-Century Counterpoint and Music of the 19th Century.

In March, the Center for the Arts Radio Hour featured a conversation between Neely Bruce and composer, scriptwriter, and essayist Michael Kowalski.

Bruce Named Music Ambassador for the City of Middletown

Neely Bruce, left, a professor of music and American studies at Wesleyan University, and Walter Frank, a masters student in piano performance and composition, work on some music Tuesday in Bruce's office from The Sacred Harp. Bruce was named Middletown’s Music Ambassador on Jan. 5, 2019.

Neely Bruce, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, left, and Walter Frank, a masters student in piano performance and composition, work together on music. (Photo courtesy of The Middletown Press.)

Neely Bruce, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, was named Music Ambassador for the City of Middletown in 2019. He received the honor during a reception Jan. 10 at the Municipal Building in Middletown, Conn.

Bruce, a composer, pianist, conductor, and scholar of American music, was previously an artist-in-residence at Middlebury College, Bucknell University, the University of Michigan, and at Brooklyn College. He is the chorus director for Connecticut Opera and music director at South Congregational Church in Middletown.

His compositions include three full-length operas; five one-act operas; works for orchestra, chamber orchestra, and wind ensemble; about 300 solo songs; chamber music; electronic music and documentary film scores; and many hours of solo piano music and other keyboard works. Recent major works include Circular 14: The Apotheosis of Aristides, for eight soloists, two choruses, and large orchestra. He is currently engaged in a series of 17 CD-length recitals comprising his complete works for solo piano.

An article in the Jan. 5 edition of The Middletown Press provides accolades for Bruce’s work as a composer and musician including:

“Neely Bruce’s importance in contemporary American music has never been sufficiently recognized…. Bruce’s art ranges from the most difficult and virtuosic contemporary writing to simple tonality, and moves from one idiom to the other effortlessly and convincingly—something hardly anyone can do without sounding forced. Bruce seems equally at home in every style he uses…. This is one of the most significant releases to come my way in quite a while.” — Timothy Taylor, professor of ethnomusicology at UCLA.

Bruce earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa; he received his DMA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This spring, he’s teaching courses on 18th-century counterpoint and music of the 19th century.

LA Times Features New Dramatic Oratorio by Neely Bruce

The Los Angeles Times offers a preview of “Circular 14: The Apotheosis of Aristides, a new dramatic oratorio composed by Neely Bruce, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, which has its world premiere Jan. 23 at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.

The piece tells the story of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a diplomat and little-known Portuguese hero to many thousands of Jews during World War II. In June 1940, nearly 120,000 refugees fleeing from Nazi persecution amassed down the road from the Portuguese consulate in Bordeaux, France. Though Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar issued a vehement directive to deny safe haven to the refugees, Sousa Mendes still issued more than 30,000 visas in a matter of months. The article likens him to Oskar Schindler, the factory owner famous for saving the lives of more than 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust. In contrast, Sousa Mendes’ “contribution to history hasn’t received the same recognition mainly because Salazar took great pains to bury his story, Bruce says.”

According to the article:

After Sousa Mendes’ actions were discovered, his case went to the Supreme Court of Portugal, where he was essentially given a slap on the wrist. The punishment wasn’t severe enough for Salazar, so the dictator had Sousa Mendes stripped of all diplomatic privileges as well as his license to practice law. When Sousa Mendes married his second wife, Andrée Cibial, the couple were not allowed to marry in Portugal. Family members found it hard to secure employment.

“The petty cruelty involved was just ridiculous,” Bruce says.

Sousa Mendes died in poverty in 1954, and he was buried in a wooden box in the cemetery of Franciscan monks.

It’s a beautiful yet tragic tale, filled with larger-than-life characters — all the hallmarks of great opera, Bruce says, adding that the piece has been in the works for more than five years and that he ended up writing the libretto himself.

“I wasn’t writing a fairy-tale opera. I was writing an opera about real events, so I wanted to be as accurate as possible,” says Bruce, who has often visited political issues in his compositions and once set the Bill of Rights to music.


6 Faculty to be Appointed to Endowed Professorships

Rob Rosenthal, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, the John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology, announced that six faculty members are being appointed to endowed professorships, effective July 1. They include:

Anthony Braxton and Neely Bruce, professors of music, are being jointly awarded the John Spencer Camp Professorship of Music, established by a Wesleyan Trustee in 1929.

Jill Morawski, professor of psychology, professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, will become the Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor. The Osborne Professorship was established with a gift from Wesleyan’s 1861 class valedictorian.

Laurie Nussdorfer, professor of history, professor of letters, is appointed to the William F. Armstrong Professorship, established in 1921 with a gift from Armstrong’s estate.

Joel Pfister, professor of English, professor of American studies, formerly Kenan Professor of the Humanities, is being recognized with the Olin Professorship, established in 1863 to fund a professorship of “rhetoric and English literature.”

Joe Siry, chair and professor of art history, will become the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of the Humanities (a position also held by Clark Maines). These professorships were established in 1976, with an endowment from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust.

Brief biographical sketches of all six recipients follow:

Bruce Performs Music of William Duckworth, Hosts Piano Tutorial

Seated, Neely Bruce, professor of music, performed the piano music of William Duckworth, standing, on July 12 in Crowell Concert Hall.

Bruce performed Duckworth's "The Time Curve Preludes" and "Walden Variations," as well as the "Thoreau” movement from Charles Ives' Piano Sonata No. 2 (the Concord Sonata).

Bruce acknowledges the audience following his performance.

Bruce also hosted a short tutorial for interested musicians in the audience. (Photos by Bill Tyner '13)

Bruce Honored for Lifelong Commitment to the Arts

Neely Bruce, professor of music.

Neely Bruce, professor of music, received  an Arts Advocy Award from the Middletown Commission on the Arts on April 4.

Annually, in honor of National Arts Advocacy Day, the Middletown Commission celebrates an individual and a group who have shown extraordinary support and initiative for the arts in the city.

Bruce was granted the individual award for his lifelong commitment to the arts.

Bruce is a composer, conductor, pianist and scholar of American music, past chorus director for Connecticut Opera, and director of music at South Congregational Church.

Bruce Resurrects ‘Flora’ for Spoleto Festival 2010

Flora was the first ballad opera performed in North America, and one of the most popular opera’s of its time – the mid-1700s. Opera fans have long been eager to hear and see it performed, but a full scale revival faced a bit of a problem: only 18 pages of the opera’s music has survived. Recreating this piece in the style and scope faithful the original production would be a daunting task, but one Neely Bruce, professor of music, professor of American Studies, was excited to undertake.

The result of his work will be premiered at the 2010 Spoleto Festival, in Charleston, S.C., and was applauded by The New York Times. Spoleto runs from May 28-June 13 and is one of The United States’ largest annual arts festivals. Bruce said recreating Flora was “a big job” but one that was well worth the effort, saying the libretto had always been “extremely funny with a strong sense of language, and it’s quite salacious, with stock comedy situations — some of them very broad, almost slapstick.”

5 questions with … Neely Bruce

Neely Bruce, professor of music.

Neely Bruce, professor of music.

The following is the second installment of The Wesleyan Connection’s new feature, “5 Questions.” This issue, accomplished composer and Wesleyan Professor of Music Neely Bruce is our guest.

Q: I see your piece Vistas will be performed at the “Hearts Pounding and Skins Taut” concert in late October at Wesleyan. For what instrument was this piece originally composed?

NB: Vistas at Dawn is a short (approximately three minute) piece for organ and vibraphone.

Q: For what musician did you compose this piece?

NB: I wrote it for Ronald Ebrecht, Wesleyan University Organist, to play. Over the years I’ve written two major works and several smaller pieces for him. Ron has been a staunch advocate for new music for the organ for years, and has encouraged his faculty colleagues and our students to write all sorts of music in all sorts of styles for that remarkable instrument. This has been going on for more than 20 years, and dozens, perhaps hundreds of new organ works have seen the light of day because Ron asked people to write them and offered an opportunity to get them before the public. Vistas was originally written for a tour that he did in Russia with a Russian percussionist, although he’s played it many times in the US with several different vibes players, including Wesleyan’s own Jay Hoggard. It’s something like a pop ballad—slow, languorous, very chromatic, sometimes almost atonal, sometimes with jazz-like quasi-standard chord changes.

Q: Aside from hearing Vistas at the Center for the Arts in October, where can people see you perform publicly this fall?

NB: October is an exceptionally busy month, even for me. I’m playing the world premiere of Twelve Fugues by Gerald Shapiro, chair of the Music Department at Brown and one of my closest friends. (Shapiro and I were freshmen together at the Eastman School of Music). I’m playing these pieces at Wesleyan’s Crowell Concert Hall on Saturday October 10 at 8 p.m. and at Brown on October 14, with a little Stravinsky and Ravel as the warm-up. The Bill of Rights: Ten Amendments in Eight Motets is being performed at Mitchell College in New London on October 20. For