American composer George N. ‘Nick’ Gianopoulos is well-known in the classical music community of Southern California, where he has been based for 15 years. A native of Syracuse, New York, the composer did his initial musical studies in the state university system of New York before relocating to Los Angeles.
Gianopoulos’ compositions (there are nearly 50 opus numbers) have been growing in popularity in recent years. To my ears, one reason for this is that they inhabit a kind of “sweet spot” in contemporary classical music. Gianopoulos’ works are original and fresh — and also audience-friendly.
Performances of Gianopoulos’ music have been presented throughout the United States as well as in Europe, Israel and China. His compositions have been commissioned by various arts organizations including the Santa Barbara Symphony and Glendale Philharmonic, the Long Beach Opera and Chamber Opera Players of Los Angeles, Piano Spheres, Tala Rasa, Symbiosis Ensemble, Helix Collective and the Malkin-Trybeck Duo, among others.
The composer is also Manager of Artistic Administration at the Colburn School of Music in downtown Los Angeles.
I became acquainted with Gianopoulos’ compositions through the recommendation of several Southern California music friends who encouraged me to seek out performances of his works online. Later on I became personally acquainted with the composer through another avenue – his incredible YouTube music channel.
As it turns out, in addition to his work as a creative artist, Gianopoulos curates a music channel that is an indispensable resource in the classical field. Over the years he has uploaded thousands of audio recordings along with their scores – in so doing focusing not only on past masters, but also on the composers of today. In this sense, he provides an important service to living composers who wish to expose their creations to a larger universe of music-lovers (and potential performers of the pieces, too).
Because of his music channel’s large subscriber base, each new upload typically receives hundreds of opens/views within a matter of mere hours — such is the potency of the channel’s expansive reach.
Speaking from my own personal perspective, Nick Gianopoulos’ music channel has also been an invaluable vehicle for showcasing many worthy Florent Schmitt compositions that are extreme rarities — thereby spreading awareness and sparking interest in these works among a new generation of music-lovers and performers.
In my communications with Mr. Gianopoulos over the past five years, I’ve came to realize that the artistry of Florent Schmitt holds particular value to him. Recently, I asked him to explain how and why this is the case. Highlights from our very interesting interview are presented below.
PLN: Please tell us briefly about your musical background and how you became a composer.
GNG: My path to classical music was a bit less-than-traditional. My first college course I ever took was the Introduction to the World of Music [at SUNY Oswego] where I learned about Richard Strauss tone poems, Wagner operas, Tchaikovsky symphonies, and the music of Debussy as played on the piano by the professor.
It was a new and very magical word that I had not been fully exposed to in my first eighteen years of life!
I was immediately enraptured and began listening and studying about the music as much as I could. I enrolled the following semester in an Intro to Music Theory course, where I learned where the notes are on the staff, key signatures, and basic rhythm notation.
Then the following school year I started in a “group piano” class with my primary mentor, Professor Robert Auler, and quickly advanced to private lessons. By the end of my undergraduate degree, I performed a half-recital of music by Mozart, Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninov, alongside faculty performances of some of my earliest compositions.
It’s been several decades of writing music since then!
PLN: Let’s back up just a bit. What was your background in music prior to attending college? Did you have an interest from an early age, and did you have family members who were musical?
GNG: My background is probably unlike most other classical composers in that my family was not musical at all, and I didn’t really have any innate interest in music while growing up. As a teen I started getting into classic rock music, which then led me to some progressive rock, which in turn led me to people like Frank Zappa. From there, this paved the way to some contemporary composers – but that was all a bit later.
I was also very much into jazz in my late teen years, which is some of the foundation of what I still listen to today.
PLN: Thank you for that grounding, which helps me understand some of the flavor I find coming through in your own compositions. Exploring a bit more about your musical influences or inspirations, are there certain styles that inform your creativity? Do you have particular instruments or voices to which you feel particularly drawn?
GNG: One of the exciting aspects of composing is exploring new sound possibilities, instrumental combinations or ensemble textures. While I have composed extensively for many instruments in various combinations, I wouldn’t say there are one or two that I’m regularly drawn to. I like to approach each project by having a studied understanding of the instruments’ mechanics and making it as well-written of a work for those instruments that I can imagine.
There are many styles and genres of music that influence me, but I think from a concert-music perspective, I’m most drawn to music of the late nineteenth and early-to-mid twentieth centuries — in particular Russian, American, and especially French music.
PLN: Regarding Florent Schmitt, when did you first become aware of this French composer and his music?
GNG: I first learned about Florent Schmitt’s music probably about a decade ago, through the Internet. I suspected that there must be more to this era of French concert music than just the well-known Debussy and Ravel works. I came across Schmitt’s Saxophone Quartet and felt that it really captured a spirit that I was hoping to find when I set out to learn more about the music from this era.
From there, I learned about Schmitt’s Dionysiaques for concert band, several piano works, and other chamber pieces as well.
PLN: When you first encountered Florent Schmitt’s music, what struck you as notable about his musical style — things that you felt were particularly special? And in that regard, in what ways does Schmitt’s compositional style speak to you?
GNG: What really resonates with me in Schmitt’s music is the richness of his harmonic approach. The harmonies not only move quite quickly — which creates, for me, a strong sense of aural excitement — but they are also dense and complex, and not easily detectable in the first listen.
His scores need to be studied and analyzed thoroughly to fully understand how the music functions. Once you do this, you begin see just how beautiful his scores are, and how novel and unique a lot of his notational approach is.
Schmitt clearly had a vision of the soundscapes he wanted to create — and how to bring them to life through the performers.
PLN: Turning to your own compositions, what key projects are you working on at the moment? Are there events on the horizon in terms of performances planned for 2023 or beyond?
GNG: During the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve had the time to reflect on the music that I’ve written until now, and the music I hope to write. When I started in music, I was already a bit older than most people who work in the classical field — and while very eager, I was pretty inexperienced. I had good ideas musically, but did not know how to fully realize them or communicate them as clearly as I do now, through musical notation.
With regards to this, I would say that Schmitt’s approach to notation has helped me become a better composer!
This is somewhat a long-winded way of saying that I’ve been spending much of my time lately re-familiarizing myself with my earlier works — re-notating and, in many cases, re-writing portions of them.
Additionally, there are numerous projects which I hope to realize in the months and years ahead, including finishing up several works that have been “in-progress” for far too long!
PLN: In addition to your work as a composer, you have become known for your music channel on YouTube where you post scores to go along with performances, thereby enabling people to “see as well as hear” the music. How did this initiative begin, how extensive is it, and what is its level of engagement with viewers?
GNG: I started my YouTube channel more than a decade ago, but the road has not been steady and there have been some bumps along the way. My current and active channel has been in existence for about five years and currently has more than 30,000 subscribers, over 2,500 video uploads, and nearly 16 million views. There are almost 1,000 different composers represented.
I started the channel as a way for me to grow musically and to study the scores of the music that I love. The channel gave me a firsthand way to look at scores in an intimate manner that I could then share with others who also wanted to study the music. It quickly grew to become a resource that academics and musicologists rely on for their own classroom demonstrations and seminars.
Eventually, I came to realize that it was, essentially, the best way for me to make a meaningful difference to my composer colleagues around the world. So I opened up my inbox to submissions. I’ve received at least 1,000 submissions already, with a huge backlog of works to be uploaded in the coming months and years.
This is one small way that I can help out other living composers around the world with just a little bit of my time and effort.
PLN: Speaking personally, I’m very grateful that you have included a fair number of scores by Florent Schmitt among your YouTube uploads. How many of Schmitt’s pieces have you uploaded to date?
GNG: As of now, I have 33 works of Florent Schmitt on my YouTube channel — the most popular one being his Sonatine en trio, Op. 85 in the composer’s version for flute, clarinet and piano, which has attracted nearly 30,000 views so far.
Thanks to you, I have been able to widen my scope of this composer’s output by identifying and finding rare or hard-to-get performances of his works and sharing the sheet music scores.
At the moment, I have at least a dozen additional works of Schmitt planned to be uploaded in the near future, coming from all genres that he wrote in.
PLN: For those who are interested in exploring your own artistry and compositions, are there several pieces you could recommend that they investigate first?
GNG: Thank you for asking! Yes, there are a number of pieces that I think are nicely representative of my musical voice; here are several for people to explore:
- The Last Silent Voice, an Opera in One Act, Op. 32b (2018)
- Clockwork for Percussion Trio, Op. 34 (2015)
- Birds of Paradise for Flute, Op. 38 (2016-18)
Thanks to Nick Gianopoulos’ YouTube music channel, there are numerous additional pieces composed by him that you can access in addition to the ones he references above. More broadly, music- and score-lovers can explore the varied riches of his channel – all 2,500+ uploads – from here.
I know I speak for hundreds if not thousands of music-lovers when I say how grateful we are for the service he’s providing for living composers as well as past masters of the craft. It is a labor of love for Nick Gianopoulos to prepare and upload so many scores for our listening pleasure and educational benefit.