March 23, 2013, 6pm, Book Passage, San Francisco, CA (1 Ferry Building)
April 13, 2013, San Francisco, CA
April 27, 2013, Napa, CA
April 29, 2013, Indian Wells, CA
May 19, 2013, Belvedere, CA
June 16, 2013, 4pm Silo’s, Napa (Napa Valley Jazz Society concert)
July 11, 2013, 5:30pm, Viansa Winery, Sonoma, CA
August 17, 2013, San Francisco, CA
November 14, 2013, Washington DC (Smithsonian National Museum of American History) Private event with Nolan Gasser Ensemble
November, 2014 (exact date TBD), Bing Auditorium, Stanford University, CA
Fall 2014 (exact date TBD), Fox Theater, Redwood City, CA
The Secret Garden: A Triumphant Premiere
On March 1, 2013 two years of discussions, planning, and plenty of hard work came to fruition – in multicolored splendor – as Nolan’s first opera, The Secret Garden, debuted at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, CA before a packed crowd of 2000 adults, families, and children, who gave the production a rousing standing ovation! Over the next 9 days, San Francisco Opera and Cal Performances presented 4 more packed performances of The Secret Garden – as the opera received great reviews, not least from the esteemed music critic Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle; Kosman praised every aspect of the opera, calling it a “wholly charming and inviting operatic treatment of the classic children's novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett.” His praise of Nolan’s music was palpable: “Gasser’s intimate and supple score, deftly orchestrated, conveys both the narrative detail of the story and the emotional and natural flowering that is its principal theme; … the sultry, rhythmically hypnotic sounds of India in the opera's prologue give way nicely to the cleaner and more forthright sounds of the North English moor… and Gasser sprinkles his tonal harmonies with enough dissonant spice and sparkle to keep things interesting”; Kosman even offered a rare comparison: “The piece’s pliable rhythms and sonic transparency bring to mind the operas of [Benjamin] Britten.” It was, in short, a triumphant conclusion to a long process – as well as the heralding of a bright and hopeful future for Nolan’s first operatic venture.
As visitors to this site will recall,in early 2011, San Francisco Opera and its General Director David Gockley commissioned Nolan to write a “family opera” – with the noble aim of opening up the world of opera to new and younger audiences. Nolan and his librettist partner, the great novelist and playwright Carey Harrison, selected Burnett’s classic 1910 novelas their top pick, which was happily accepted by David – who quickly began to assemble a team to produce the opera. This included veteran SF Opera director Jose Maria Condemi, the brilliant visual artist Naomie Kremer, and the talented conductor Sara Jobin. By May 2011, Nolan and Carey were penning the opening bars of the opera.
As Nolan has expressed on many occasions, there is nothing quite like writing an opera, and its demands – as well as joys – are beyond that of most any other genre a composer can tackle, not least when it is a composer’s first! There were indeed many challenging moments, but for the most part, the process was smooth and enjoyable, not least by virtue of the congenial partnership between Nolan and Carey, who worked brilliantly together, despite their transcontinental distance (Carey lives in Woodstock, NY). Jose Maria and Naomie were also inspired collaborators – Naomie via her innovative and delightful video projections, Jose Maria for his creative stage direction and story-telling additions. David was likewise a valuable contributor to the development of the opera, not surprising given his long history of new commissions (over 40), as was Patrick Summers of Houston Grand Opera, who provided some valuable direction in the drive to cut the opera to the targeted 1 hour 40 minutes. Last, but not least, it was the terrific cast who delivered the opera to its glorious debut, led by the three fabulous leads: Sarah Shafer as Mary, 14-year old Michael Meo as Colin, and Scott Joiner as Dickon; the rest of the cast – Philippe Sly as Craven; Laura Krumm as Martha; Erin Johnson as Mrs. Medlock; Ao Li as Ben Weatherstaff; and Marina Harris as Susan – was drawn from the pool of Adler Fellows at SF Opera, and each owned and delivered their roles magnificently. Sara Jobin did a terrific job leading the great 10-member chamber orchestra. In all, Nolan is extremely grateful to these and the many other talented and dedicated individuals from SF Opera and Cal Performances who helped make a dream come true for Nolan, and a new and rich experience for so many opera attendees!So, what’s next for The Secret Garden? Steps are now being taken to move toward a minor, yet important revision of the opera; such is a natural process – particularly as it never received an actual “workshop”, as is common in large productions like operas. This next, revised version will open at Houston Grand Opera, hopefully in spring 2014 (TBD); very importantly, this version will be recorded and filmed for release by the esteemed Naxos Records label as a blu-ray DVD, to be overseen by Grammy Award-winning classical producer Blanton Alspaugh. After that, other companies around the country (and abroad) will pick up The Secret Garden, several of which have already begun discussing dates. Stay tuned for future, exciting updates!
Forthcoming Naxos CD: Cosmic Reflection & Sonoma Overture
Benny & Joon: The Road to an Off-Broadway Debut
In January of this year, Benny & Joon took its first real step toward Broadway, with a 29-hour reading in Manhattan. It was a thrilling and highly education experience for Nolan – his first of this kind – and happily it was a big success! For 3 straight days, in a theatrical rehearsal space on 8th Avenue (between 35th and 36th), a collection of young, talented, and season actor/singers (with Broadway credits from shows like Wicked, Hair, and Avenue Q) worked their tails off to learn the script and songs of a partially complete Benny & Joon; they were joined in the Reading by the creative team of Nolan, lyricist Mindi Dickstein, and book writer Kirsten Guenther, along with an excellent director Allegra Libonati, music director / pianist Vadim Feichtner, and an excellent staff – plus, of course, the show’s fearless producer Larry Hirschhorn (whose latest production, Christopher Durang’s play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, just opened on Broadway to rave reviews). The songs and book were immediate hits with the staff and cast, who took on their roles – Benny, Joon, Sam, Ruthie, Larry, Mike, Waldo, Sarah – with aplomb and full dedication; and such great voices!
The point of a Reading is two-fold: first, the aim is for the creators to actually “see what they’ve got”, to figure out which songs work, which don’t, and which are missing, as well as what parts of the Book need revision, etc. – that is, to see what is needed to re-shape and complete in order to get the show ready for the stage; the second aim is for the producer to confirm that the raw materials merit continued involvement – that is, time and money. A Reading simply involves the actors standing – or sitting – in front of music stands and a piano to the side (Nolan provided some keyboard additions in the actual Reading), and thus no staging, props, sets, lighting, etc. As such, it takes a level of imagination and experience to know if the material presented in a Reading has “what it takes” to go the distance. The Benny & Joon Reading took place at a second location, the Ripley Grier Studios on 8th, between 55th and 56th, on the 4th day, in front of a small gathering of friends and invited guests – including several producer colleagues of Larry. Happily, the outcome of the Reading was fully positive: the creators got a multitude of clarity on what worked and what needs re-thinking, as well as how to flesh out and complete what remains; and best of all, Larry received full confirmation that Benny & Joon has “what it takes!” Indeed, a few of his trusted producer friends came into the Reading skeptical that the film could translate to the musical stage, and left fully convinced that it was – and moreover that Nolan’s, Mindi’s, and Kirsten’s material was primed to take it all the way to Broadway!
Armed with this reinforcement, the creative team has now begun the process of revision and completion, with an aim to finish a draft of Benny & Joon by the end of the summer 2013. Much else needs to be done as well, including the securing of a director – which Larry is overseeing now – and the all-important act of raising money. But the team is growing, including some of Larry’s fellow producers, his favorite general manager, Joey Parnes, and a plan is now set to mount an off-Broadway production by fall 2014. Much to do between now and then, of course, but there is great confidence that Benny & Joon will rise before too long on a marquee on one of Broadway’s fabled theaters.
Next up: Hollywood
It is well known to friends of Nolan that he has long desired to someday set his composing sights on Hollywood – to write music for movies, and possibly television. There are many challenges, of course, to achieving success in tinsel town, but perhaps the most daunting of all is having the right connections. In truth, Nolan had never really made a concerted effort – until now! In the wake of the hard effort, and success, of The Secret Garden, he reached out to a few friends, and with great fortune linked up with a wonderfully kind and well-connected physician in Los Angeles, who happens to have a good many Hollywood elite as patients; being a fan of Nolan’s music, he generously offered to introduce Nolan to some folks who would have the power to make his film scoring dream come true.
The first episode of this endeavor is now complete, and it was a smash success! Through his friend’s help, Nolan was able to meet with several “big shots”, and happily some very concrete discussions were had, giving him great confidence that a scoring duty will soon be on his docket! In addition, Nolan has connected with some very elite entertainment agents and lawyers – both of whom are needed to get anything done in Hollywood – thereby putting the full “team” together to maximize success in this very competitive market. Admittedly, this is all very vague, but fear not – details of some exciting projects will soon make their way to this website!