Empyrean Ensemble
& Nicholas Tolle

Sam Nichols, director

In a silvery-toned black and white image, Nicholas Tolle is seen on profile playing the cimbalom backlit by light coming in from two large windows.
Recital Hall, Ann E. Pitzer Center

Empyrean Ensemble
Sam Nichols, director • Matilda Hofman, resident conductor
featuring Nicholas Tolle, cimbalom (artist-in-residence)

Nicholas Tolle has made it his mission to get the cimbalom (the Hungarian hammered dulcimer) in front of as many living composers as possible. He joins UC Davis’s professional contemporary music ensemble, the Empyrean Ensemble, for this concert at the end of his week-long residency. The concert features works for the cimbalom by classical composers of different regions and centuries: Hungarian composer György Kurtág’s 1961 “Tre Pezzi” and the more recent 2015 “Etudes” by Korean-American composer Juri Seo. The cimbalom is also featured in “Five Animated Shorts” by Steven Mackey, a composer and alumnus (B.A. music ‘78) of UC Davis who won a GRAMMY award in 2012.


Juri Seo: Etudes for Solo Cimbalom

Gerard Grisey: Prologue for Solo Viola

Zachary James Watkins: New Work

— Intermission —

György Kurtág: Tre Pezzi, op. 38

Kurtág: Tre Altri Pezzi, op. 38a

Steven Mackey (B.A. music ‘78): Five Animated Shorts

Free, no tickets required

About Nicholas

Nicholas Tolle is one of America’s premiere cimbalom artists. In 2019 he won third prize in the Budapest Music Center International Cimbalom Competition where he was the only finalist from North America. In November 2022 he made his twelfth visit to the Lucerne Festival to perform the works of Unsuk Chin and György Ligeti. He has performed as soloist in Pierre Boulez’s Repons with the composer conducting at the Lucerne Festival in 2009, the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal with Péter Eötvös in 2012, and with Steven Schick at UC San Diego in 2017. He has appeared as a soloist with Collage New Music and Orchestra 2001 performing Steve Mackey’s 5 Animated Shorts, and with numerous orchestras performing Kodály’s Háry János Suite. Based in Boston, MA, he plays regularly with such groups as the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Emmanuel Music, and Sound Icon, and with his own group, the Ludovico Ensemble. He has performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, and the New York Philharmonic. A leading interpreter of new cimbalom music, he frequently performs with the International Contemporary Ensemble and Ensemble Signal, and has also performed with the Talea Ensemble.

Inspired to study the cimbalom by György Kurtág’s music, Nicholas Tolle is deeply committed to expanding the instrument’s repertoire. He has commissioned numerous solo and chamber works, has worked with composers such as Louis Andriessen, George Benjamin, Pierre Boulez, and Hilda Paredes, and has had pieces written for him by Marti Epstein, John Harbison, Brad Lubman, Mischa Salkind-Pearl, Juri Seo, Andy Vores, and many others. He has presented lectures on composing for cimbalom at Princeton University, Tufts University, and the Eastman School of Music. A Tanglewood Music Center fellow in 2006 and 2007, Nicholas studied percussion at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and the New England Conservatory. He is featured performing Boulez’s Repons in the EuroArts documentary Inheriting the Future of Music: Pierre Boulez and the Lucerne Festival Academy, and in Kurtág’s music for cimbalom and voice on soprano Susan Narucki’s 2019 album The Edge of Silence, which was nominated for a 2020 Grammy award. His recording of Kurtág’s Seven Songs from The Edge of Silence was named one of the best classical tracks of 2019 by The New York Times.

Ann E. Pitzer Center, Davis, CA

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