A Colorado Composer On The Music That Made Him A Pulitzer Finalist

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Photo: Carter Pann, composer
Composer Carter Pann

Composer Carter Pann didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize this year. But the Boulder resident came very close with a piece called “The Mechanics: Six From the Shop Floor.”

It’s a whirling, rhythmic piece written for the four saxophonists in the nationally known Capitol Quartet. The Pulitzer committee last month named Pann a finalist for the prize -- a sort of honorable mention in Pulitzer-speak. (Composer Henry Threadgill won the 2016 award.)

The panel praised Pann’s music for its “rhythmic interplay of precision and messiness that is by turns bubbly, pulsing, dreamy and nostalgic.”

Pann felt called to write the piece after seeing the Capitol Quartet in concert. The 44-year-old composer actually cornered the four saxophonists backstage and asked them to let him write a piece for them -- something Pann says he’d never done before.

“Every day I set about writing this piece, I pictured all four gentlemen of the Capitol Quartet to be dressed as old-time auto mechanics, smudged with grit and grease, performing in the middle of my brother’s taxicab stand,” Pann writes in the liner notes of the recording.

Pann, who has taught composition at the University of Colorado since 2005, talked with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel about his music, his inspirations and his next move after recognition from the Pulitzer committee.

Check out some samples of Pann’s music below -- including “Slalom,” a piece partly inspired by family ski trips to Steamboat Springs that Pann remembers from childhood.

“Hoist” and “Balance” from “The Mechanics:"

"Slalom," for orchestra:

“White Moon Over Water” from “The Piano's 12 Sides:”

“Limbo,” from “Love Letters" for string quartet: