Paul Richards, composer
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Critical Acclaim for Paul Richards

Below is a sampling of what critics and listeners around the world have written about my music. Click a button to read each review.
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• American Record Guide, September/October, 2013 by Scott Kilpatrick

PAUL RICHARDS: WITCH DOCTOR

Paul Richards (b. 1969) is head of the composition and music theory area at the University of Florida. If this album is any indication, his music is wild (though tightly controlled), infused with jazz and ethnic flavors, and given to nonstop energy.

‘Witch Doctor’, an eight-minute Louisiana swamp boogie for brass and percussion, is based in part on the hymn ‘I’ll Fly Away’. ‘Eddying Towards the Day’ is a five-minute whirling dervish. ‘The River with Only One Bank’ begins and ends peacefully, but is all manic energy in between. ‘If You Could Only See the Frog’ is a whirling dervish in uneven meter and Turkish harmonic language.

Two of the works have soloists. Mikey Arbulu, recently graduated from the University of Florida, is the very good clarinetist in ‘Snake in the Garden’, a frenetic, 12-minute study about Adam and Eve’s eviction from the Garden of Eden. UF professor Jonathan Helton is the able saxophonist in ‘Bat out of Hell’, a demonic, perpetual-motion sort of ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’.

Excellent readings, fine band.

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• Bandworld, January, 2013 by Ira Novoselsky

WITCH DOCTOR: THE WIND ENSEMBLE MUSIC OF PAUL RICHARDS

The University of Florida Wind Symphony first introduced me to the imaginative world of Paul Richards. It is most fitting this stellar ensemble has been chosen to do a complete CD devoted to this composer. The title composition pretty much speaks for itself with its voodoo imagery and boogie nuances. Snake in the Garden, of course, is a reference to the Garden of Eden with twisting instrumental lines slithering through the music. Eddying Towards the Day is an energetic five and a half minute samba that never ceases its drive until the very end. The River with Only One Bank harkens to the ancients first view of the majestic and evocative ocean. Bat out of Hell is another work with a title needing little explanation other than the macabre journey of a lone bat. If You Could Only See the Frog is based on a children's song from Bulgaria and combines a simple infectious tune with exotic rhythms and meters. Paul Richards is a composer most worthy of your attention and this recording serves as a solid introduction to his music.

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• Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, May 31, 2012 by Grego Applegate Edwards

Paul Richards, Fables, Forms, and Fears

Paul Richards is a younger composer (b 1969) (younger than I am anyway) and judging by his CD Fables, Forms and Fears (Meyer Media MMO7008) one of the more accomplished and interesting of his generation.
The CD presents seven of his compositions, written between 1996 and 2003. They are each in their own way quite eventful and inventive. They range from solo pieces (“The Great Octopus,” for solo guitar) to small chamber configurations (“Hypercube” for percussion and piano; “Cypriot Structures” and “Falling On Lobsters in the Dark” for violin, guitar and piano; “Rush Hour” for horn and piano; and “Asphalt Gypsy” for violin and guitar) to larger groupings (“A Butterfly Coughs in Africa” for clarinet choir).
In all of it we hear Richards’s own brand of neo-classical modernism, tempered sometimes by the motor-impulsive qualities of minimalism, but sans the repetition. It is music that bears the stamp of very solid compositional craftsmanship but also the lucid spark of inspiration. You do not hear the moments of less-than-inspired passagework that you might in a lesser composer. The thematic material is engaging and the development of it filled with drama and musical logic.
The artists involved in these recording acquit themselves very well. There are some excellent performances all around. The Duo 46 configuration of Matthew Albert Gould on guitar and Beth Ilana Schneider-Gould on violin, with or without the addition of Nathanael May at the piano, gives character and well-executed dynamics to the pieces they grace. But everyone puts in sympathetic readings, from Kenneth L. Broadway on percussion and Paul Basler on horn to the piano work of Kevin R. Orr and the University of Florida Clarinet Choir.
This may have been out for a few years, but it's well worth tracking down if the music-as-described sounds interesting to you. It's a CD that does not stint on musical content, yet has much charm as well.

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• Broad Street Review, April 7, 2009 by Tom Purdom

Freud’s riddle as musical comedy

What do women want? In The Loathly Lady, Freud’s famous cry of despair becomes a quest forced on a knight as the penalty for his crime against a woman. Merlin and the Viennese Sage accompany the knight on his journey, along with an incredible outpouring of comic rhymed couplets by librettist Wendy Steiner and a musical score by composer Paul Richards that enhances the couplets and adds a few twists of its own.

The Penn Humanities Forum signed an all-star early music team for this, its Irvine Auditorium debut production. Soprano Julianne Baird is one of the best-known early music specialists in the world, and the other female parts were sung by three members of the best-known early music vocal group, the Anonymous Four. Piffaro provided the historic winds, and the historic strings were bowed by one of Piffaro’s best partners, a New York viol consort called Parthenia.

The knight’s quest forces him into encounters with a female lineup that spans the centuries. He interrogates Queen Titania, Sheherezade, Jane Austen’s Emma, Eliza Doolittle, Virginia Woolf and Tennyson’s Lady of Shallot. Period instruments accompany the medieval scenes and modern instruments take over when the women from more recent eras step into the spotlight.

Next: An animated film

Steiner is working on an animated film version of this “early music musical.” Critics received a DVD of the pilot in their press kits, and the Penn premiere accompanied a concert-style production with large-screen projections taken from the animator’s paintings and storyboards. The result was a complicated multi-media experience that combined on-stage acting and costume changes with the elegant fantasy world projected on the screen. When Emma sang about her ideal husband— the “Mr. Knightley,” who is both passionate and respectful— the screen backed up the song with images of the upright Jane Austen gentleman and the upright life he and his wife would lead together.

In addition to its other virtues, Richards’s score contains some old-fashioned standout numbers in the great tradition of operatic arias and Broadway hits. Emma’s song and Titania’s dream of motherhood are both appealing ballads. Sheherezade’s paean to female sexual passion is a driving tango that turns comic when the knight realizes she’s answering everything he says with the same description of physical desire.

…The Loathly Lady touched on important matters as it delivered a full evening of music, comedy and visual pleasure. The Penn Humanities Forum presented the premier of The Loathly Lady as a gala celebration of the organization’s tenth anniversary. It was a perfect choice and a glittering success.

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• JamesWebbReview.org, July 11, 2008 by James Webb

Snake in the Garden is a truly fantastic tale of the devil's first disciple being exiled from Paradise. It's one of the finest soundscapes heard in decades and should find its way onto the stages of orchestras everywhere. Richard Stoltzman devours the challenging solo part with customary skill and surety but then digs far beneath the emotional surface - especially in the closing lament where the term “quietude” is definitely defined. Kirk Trevor and the Slovak Radio Orchestra are the perfect foil, easily keeping up with their “sake in the jazz” as the music bounces from scene to scene. God's orchestration combines power and obedience to heavenly affect. Mercí mille fois.

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• Fanfare, 31:5, May/June, 2008 by William Zagorski

Paul Richards (b.1969) is the son of a New York Cantor who shows his Jewish roots in Snake in the Garden, a piece of loosely programmatic music chronicling Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The devil, in the form of the snake, is represented by the solo clarinet line – replete with klezmer inflections and ably projected by Richard Stoltzman. Jazz licks abound. Richards is, like Davidson, a purveyor of multiple styles, this time put to use in a single piece. He is a bold harmonist and a fine orchestrator. The title of his second piece, Trip Hammer is defined by the composer as “a feature of a medieval water wheel where simple cams on the driveshaft would trip a hammer, or series of hammers, for a wide variety of industrial uses, from production of clothing to weapons of war.” The hammer is heard in the very first bars and marks the beginning of a tightly reasoned eight-and-a-half-minute odyssey that effectively ranges form the most humanistically gentle impulses to the most inhumanely brutal.

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• Classical Guitar Magazine, April 14, 2008 by Steve Marsh

…Without exception, all involved in this project give outstanding performances, the superb quality of playing easily matching the high musical content from a composer who, on the evidence of this material never writes anything unworthy of full attention. This is riveting, attention-grabbing contemporary chamber music, full of impressionism, great rhythmic ideas and countless mood changes. Although not absolutely necessary to assist the aural pleasure of listening to this distinctive music, the titles infrequently provide a nice descriptive “pictorial” backdrop for the listener as in “The Great Octopus” (who, after swallowing a guitarist, begins to play his instrument), and “Rush Hour”, a jittery composition for horn and piano and subtitled “Five O'Clock Drive Getting Nowhere On The Road” and a work that really does sum up the emotions we have all experienced when stuck in endless traffic queues. If you want to listen to first class, modern-day chamber music played exceptionally well, then seek no further.

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• American Record Guide: First Takes, April, 2008

…Paul Richards’s disc Fables, Forms & Fears is a suave amalgam of influences. The Great Octopus combines acoustic guitar and digital media with boppy rhythms in a sort of techno hocket. Richards is a deft appropriator of style and impression of style, as in Cypriot Structures, a gypsy-inflected piece for violin, guitar, and piano. A constant peppy energy and programmatic humor pervades Rush Hour for horn and piano; the repeated piano notes, for example, are the stopped traffic at a light. The horn hero triumphs in the end and rips away. The rippling clarinet is happy; Falling on Lobsters in the Dark shares the lively eclecticism.

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• SpokesmanReview.com, February 15, 2008 by Travis Rivers

…Richards’ “Trip Hammer” was an ear-grabber filled with swirling figuration in the strings and woodwind alternating with syncopated rhythmic snaps and blows from the brass and percussion.

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• Planet Hugill, October 4, 2007 by Robert Hugill

Paul Richards is a young American composer who writes in a complex, yet approachably melodic style. Born in New York in 1969, Richards comes from a musical family (his father is a cantor). He studied at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Arizona and is now professor of composition at the University of Florida. In other words, Richards is a member of that amazing group of American composers who are embedded in academe, write well crafted, well thought out music which is eminently performable. It almost goes without saying that these composers are also nowhere near as well known as they ought to be.

This new disc showcases Richards’s chamber music, written between 1996 and 2003. Whilst the music on the disc is genuine chamber music, this does not mean that the instrumentation is conventional. The pieces here are written for such combinations as violin, guitar and piano, violin and guitar, piano and percussion.

In all these Richards shows a fine ear for different combinations of timbres and is immensely sympathetic to balance problems inherent in the combination of violin, guitar and piano. At no time do you feel that the piano overwhelms the other 2 instruments, as it quite easily could. Of course it helps to have sympathetic interpreters as Richards does here.

The disc opens with ‘Hypercube’, a work from 2001 for percussion (Kenneth L Broadway) and piano (Kevin R. Orr). Here Richards makes a patchwork of six independent musical compositions according to a mathematical algorithm. The result is kaleidoscopic with some lovely imaginative textures and insistent rhythms.

Insistency (and incisiveness) of rhythm is often a common element in these pieces. ‘The Great Octopus’ (written 1996) for guitar and digital media is a fascinating combination of Latin American flavoured rhythms on the guitar and digital events. It is in fact a tale of an Octopus ‘who, after swallowing a guitarist, begins to play his instrument’! The piece is superbly realised by Matthew Albert Gould.

‘Cypriot Structures’ from 2003 is a trio of pieces for violin (Beth Ilana Schneider-Gould), guitar (Matthew Albert Gould) and piano (Nathanael May). Each piece represents a site in Northern (Turkish) Cyprus (‘The Walls of Famagusta’, ‘The Ruins at Salamis’, and ‘The Castle at Kyrenia’). They were commissioned for musicians in residence at Eastern Mediterranean University. The first piece, ‘The Walls of Famagusta’ is lively and rhythmic with a lovely exotic cast to the melodic outlines. Richards never apes foreign manners, but teases you with fragments and hints. ‘The Ruins at Salamis’ are altogether quieter and more atmospheric whilst the final movement ‘The Castle at Kyrenia’ seems to hint at gypsy elements in amongst the lively and interesting ensemble. I did not find that any of the pieces evoked memories of the places in Northern Cyprus (which I have visited). But that doesn't matter, they give plenty of scope for the imagination.

‘Rush Hour’ (written in 2000) is a dramatic piece for horn (Paul Basler) and piano (Kevin R. Orr). The strenuous piano part is well realised by Basler and the at times strident horn part is perhaps very apt for the subject matter of the piece.

‘Asphalt Gypsy’ from 1999 is a lively and tango-ish little piece for the unusual combination of violin (Beth Ilana Schneider-Gould) and guitar (Matthew Albert Gould). Richards explores the different timbres of the instruments and the piece is relished by the performers.

‘A Butterfly Coughs in Africa’ (2003) is written for clarinet choir. The University of Florida Clarinet choir under David Waybright give a fine performance and no allowance needs to be made for the sound of the group. Richards generates the entire charming work from the opening 5-note gesture.

The final work on the disc ‘Falling on Lobsters in the Dark’ was originally written for rock band but has been re-worked for the same instrumental combination as ‘Cypriot Structures’. The result mirrors much of the other material on the disc, with lively, insistent rhythms combined with short, perky melodies.

Richards’s style is approachable but requires work; none of these pieces is strictly easy listening. But they do respond to work; there is much to discover on repeated listening.

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• The Palm Beach Post, January 18, 2006 by Sharon McDaniel

…The most persuasive work arrived first: the ice-breaker, Trip Hammer (2002) by north central Florida composer Paul Richards. The work won the orchestra's 2002 Fresh Ink Competition and Mechetti premiered it the same year.

Richards beautifully exploits a large orchestra in the succinct, 10-minute piece. Its highly defined theme, alternately lyrical and percussive, borrows from a Copland-Bernstein America. Its dynamic rhythms and surging energy borrow from Latin America.

Trip Hammer is an accomplished, memorable work deserving wider recognition. Monday, it got just the right start: Its 36-year-old composer, associate professor of music at the University of Florida in Gainesville, introduced it in person on the Kravis stage.

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• Palm Beach Daily News, January 18, 2006 by Joseph Youngblood

…The concert opened with Trip Hammer, by University of Florida composition teacher Paul Richards. Professor Richards was in attendance and spoke briefly about the piece, comparing its texture to that of collage in art or of cross-cutting in film. According to Richards, a single musical figure generates all the musical ideas of the piece.

Those ideas assigned to the brass were the easiest to isolate: they were assertive, often syncopated, and projected with clarity and precision. Lyric string passages alternated with animated woodwind figuration. The percussion provided punctuation. Although the work is essentially atonal, it is not disturbingly dissonant.

Trip Hammer utilizes a large orchestra; the audience was able to hear the sound of the full orchestra, and the sound was very good. The work was quite well received.

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• TC Palm, January 17, 2006 by Danny Kind

The evening's first work, Trip Hammer, composed in 2002, was introduced by its composer. Richards explained that, taking a cue from the medieval mechanism for which it is named, the short work used one theme to trigger multiple ideas.
Trip Hammer was an exciting work. It opened with percolating rhythms that hopscotched back and forth between groups of instruments. As textures and timbres shifted, so did tempos; a tuba lumbering along, with sharp jabs from the other brass instruments, would pass into a fluid melodic passage in the strings.

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• Jacksonville Times-Union, January 14, 2006 by Alyn Wambeke

    … Paul Richards' brief 2002 orchestral piece, Trip Hammer, opened the program after onstage remarks from the composer. The structure of Richards' piece, based on a steadily rhythmic medieval water wheel, allowed for a collage of emotions and expression united by that constant tempo.
…It was a practical fit for a program of Liszt and Berlioz because it required the same sort of large orchestra. But it complemented those 19th century works for reasons beyond the logistical: Liszt and Berlioz were both bold innovators for their time, and it's easy to imagine they would have appreciated Richards' fresh approach to movement and beautiful orchestral coloration.

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• Jacksonville Times-Union, February 20, 2004 by Alyn Wambeke

    … The premiere of Gainesville-based Paul Richards'; first symphony, “Premonitions,” was also an emotional investment for the audience last night.

It may have been Richards' earnest on-stage introduction of his music, or our imagining his first-night jitters, or our knowing that to get here he'd had to earn first place in last year's high-pressure “Fresh Ink” competition --- but mostly it was the sincerity of his musical experimentation that had the crowd rooting for his success.

It must be fun for the orchestra to have a chance at working through something totally new to them, and that showed in their energetic performance of this rigorous piece. The five-movement composition played with juxtaposed opposites --- tonal and atonal, frenetic and serene, popular and classical references --- to good effect. Its beautiful second movement, a gentle imagining of an other-worldly folk song, called on the orchestra to approximate a nine-note scale, and featured some striking moments from the ensemble's principals.

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• Folio Weekly, Jacksonville, FL, June 7, 2002 by Jeff Grove

The JSO recognizes composer Paul Richards as number one

No question about it, Paul Richards is happy to have won the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra's second biennial Fresh Ink competition for Florida composers (“Out With the Old,” May 14).

“What’s great about it, particularly, is the opportunity that it opens up,” Richards says by phone from his home in Gainesville, where he is an assistant professor of composition at The University of Florida.  “To write for professionals and to get paid for it is what I’ve been shooting for.”

Still, Richards might label such competitions a necessary evil. “I wish we didn’t have to have them, but we do,” he says. “If there was more of an audience for classical music, orchestras might be able to do what they did a hundred years ago, which is to play mostly contemporary music with an occasional old piece.”

Richards' Fresh Ink submission, an eight-minute tour de force called “Trip Hammer,” bustles with tuneful syncopated themes lobbed back and forth by the orchestra’s constituent sections. At a free JSO concert on May 23, during which three finalists entries were performed, “Trip Hammer” emerged victorious.

Fabio Mechetti, the JSO’s music director, conducted the concert and judged the competition along with composer Russell Peck. The orchestra’s musicians were polled as well, with what Mechetti calls “an overwhelming majority” voting for Richards’ piece.

“Trip Hammer’ was a better constructed, orchestrated and persuading piece from an artistic point of view,” Mechetti says, praising Richards’ attention to detail. “His control over the thematic materials and his ability to produce a score that, although technically demanding from the musicians’ point of view, is as close as one can get to a finished product [knowing that Fresh Ink is a work in progress].”

Richards’ prize is a commission to write a new work that the JSO will premiere on Feb. 5, 2004.  Currently fulfilling several other commissions, Richards hasn’t decided what to do for Jacksonville. The orchestra will influence his choice through the other works on that program, and possibly by specifying a length. With an audible grin, however, Richards says, “I’ve had daydreams about Paul Richards’ Symphony No. 1.”

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• The Tucson Weekly, May 2, 1997 by Emil Franzi

… But the CCO really proves itself in the four-movement, 17-minute Catalina Dances, by the 27-year-old Paul Richards, who’s had three works premiered by the CCO and received his master’s degree from UA. I hear Stravinsky, Walton, Hindemith, and a couple of other guys who really understood rhythm. And if that says “derivative”, so what? So was Bach. This is a complex set of dances, and like other 20th-century music that stayed in hiding during the atonal occupation, it’s fun and listenable.

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• The Arizona Daily Star, May 2, 1997 by Ken Keuffel

… Performed with vigor and precision is “Catalina Dances” by Paul Richards, a former UA composition student. This four-movement work incorporates jazz and rock elements into a complex rhythmic format, without letting them sound like clichés.

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• The Tucson Citizen, March 8, 1993 by Daniel Buckley

… Richards has a strong, pure melodic gift, an ear for color, and an appreciation for contrast and variety within formal constraints. His manner of combining and contrasting brass sonorities in the opening movement was very effective, as was the movement’s floating section for soft woodwinds and percussion. The dramatic finale, with its emphatic rhythms, virtuosic writing and roundhouse passing of melodic material was likewise impressive.

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• The Arizona Daily Star, March 8, 1993 by James Reel

University of Arizona student composer Paul Richards pulled off an impressive feat yesterday – he held his own against J.S. Bach and W.A. Mozart in a concert by the Catalina Chamber Orchestra.

Soloist Jacquelyn Sellers joined the ensemble and conductor Enrique Lasansky for the premiere of Richards’ Concerto for Horn and Orchestra.  The orchestra commissioned the work, written especially for Sellers, through a grant from Meet the Composer, Inc.

Richards is enrolled in the UA masters’ program, studying composition with Daniel Asia. His concerto places him squarely in a neglected American composing tradition without sounding at all derivative.

Tonality firmly rules an aural realm in which strong rhythmic forces stand somewhat higher on the social scale than melody.

Richards’ concerto is far from tuneless. The opening movement, in particular, displays a strong thematic cohesion. But the work leaves its greatest impression with its forcefully cut rhythms, especially the complex, syncopated finale.

In part, the concerto helps revive the American Neoclassical tradition that was prematurely abandoned 30 years ago. Much life remains in that tradition, as this concerto proves.

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