Carnegie Mellon University

Ricky Ian Gordon

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A Composer for All Times

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Composer Ricky Ian Gordon (A '80) was thrilled to be back on the Carnegie Mellon campus. He was in town working with the Pittsburgh Opera, preparing for the November 2008 East Coast premiere of his new opera based on Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."

Gordon recently joined other Pittsburgh cultural leaders at a workshop where they discussed the new opera and Gordon's ties to the university.

Elizabeth Parker, the Pittsburgh Opera's Director of Community Development, elaborated, "[Gordon] considers [Carnegie Mellon] his spiritual musical home, where he got his start as a composer."

Gordon had originally come to Carnegie Mellon as a pianist, but clarified, "I had this revelation that the only reason I played piano was to investigate the composers. ... I switched majors and my whole life changed. I treasure this place because I was awakened here."

Christopher Hahn, artistic director of the Pittsburgh Opera, is delighted to have Gordon on board. He is confident that Gordon's modern opera is a unique way to connect with the Pittsburgh community.

Hahn lightheartedly explained, "It is very unusual for us to have ... a living composer. It turns everything on its head and we like that. We believe we've got an audience that is completely willing to embrace Monteverdi all the way through to Gordon."

Years in the making, the opera played last year to very strong reviews with the Minnesota Opera Company and Utah Opera Company. Gordon said, "It definitely sits in the world between opera and musical theater."

The 60-piece orchestra features banjo, guitar, saxophone and harmonica, creating as he says, "an epic American sound." The cast is tremendous, with 18 soloists and numerous smaller roles. Some of the singers slated to perform this November took part in the Minnesota world premiere, while others are from the Pittsburgh Opera.

Aside from his obvious talent, Gordon has an infectious and bright enthusiasm for his work. Hahn is excited to have Gordon's help.

"He's completely dedicated to reaching out and enriching people," added Hahn.

Gordon feels his audience can connect with the story's timeless subject matter illustrated by the hardships the Joad family encounters in the depression-era Dust Bowl. Noting Steinbeck's call for better collective solutions to such social problems, he explained, "It is a story that resonates in all times."

Related Links: Ricky's Website  |  School of Music  |  College of Fine Arts  |  Pittsburgh Opera