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Niccolo Athens’ “High Point Trio” for clarinet, violin, and cello was composed in 2010 for a small music festival in upstate New York. The trio presents a contemporary take on the Baroque musical style — its last two movements, in particular, evoke dance forms of 17th-century used often by Johann Sebastian Bach in his suites. The music is transparent and tonal, and uses familiar Stravinsky-like cadential and melodic formulas, with the final “Gigue” straying briefly into thornier harmonic territory before resolving back into D major by the end of the work.
Niccolo Athens (b. 1988) was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. He began his musical life as a violist, and started studying composition privately with Timothy Kramer in 2004. In 2010 he received his bachelor of music in composition from The Juilliard School, where he studied with Samuel Adler. In 2014 he was awarded a Fulbright grant, which allowed him to spend the following academic year in residence at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. While in China, he undertook research on stylistic trends in contemporary Chinese concert music and continued his studies in composition with Ye Xiaogang. In the spring of 2016 Niccolo completed his DMA at Cornell University, where his primary teachers were Steven Stucky, Kevin Ernste, and Roberto Sierra. Ensembles which have performed his work include the Juilliard Orchestra, the New Juilliard Ensemble, the Momenta Quartet, the Villiers Quartet, the Olmos Ensemble, loadbang, the Sierra Duo, the Talea Ensemble, the East Coast Contemporary Ensemble, the Longfellow Chorus, the Princeton Singers, the Cornell University Glee Club and Chorale, the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio, and the San Antonio Symphony.
During the summer, Niccolo has attended the Interlochen Center for the Arts, the Eastern Music Festival, the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, the Aspen Music Festival, the Staunton Music Festival, and the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau. He has received two BMI Student Composer awards, in 2006 and in 2009, and in 2012 he received a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Other awards include first prize in the emerging composer category of the American Art Song Competition for Composers, and first prize in choral music from the Longfellow Chorus Competition for New Works.
Niccolo received scholastic distinction from Juilliard in recognition of his research on the music of American composer Alan Hovhaness, whose work is a special passion and area of interest for him. This work, “The Walls Between the Worlds Grow Thin,” was later cited in a 2011 article about Hovhaness which appeared in the “Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.” Hovhaness’s music was also the subject of his recent doctoral dissertation, “The Music of Alan Hovhaness.” In 2009 he began studying Mandarin at Columbia University, and he has pursued this interest up to the present, spending the summer of 2011 studying in Beijing at Minzu University. In 2009 he also scored new network IDs for WNET 13, a public television station based in New York. He currently teaches theory and composition at the Faceart Institute of Music in Shanghai.