Urban gardens (2012)

for piano and chamber orchestra

Listen a performance here: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

The score is inspired by the Urban Gardens that are becoming a new, exciting presence in our cities. In such a setting I imagined the piano as an urban memory and the orchestra as a green, vegetal presence that surrounds it. Doing that, I created in my mind three special places to develop the different movements of the score.

The first is indeed idealistic put “On a Concert Hall rooftop”: some echoes of great Pianoconcertos of the past – not their actual notes, rhythms or sounds but just far memories of them – come to visit the piano part, whereas the orchestra is agitated by the pressure of plants that are growing, seeds that are bursting, vegetables that are sprouting.

The second movement is imagined “In a jazz club courtyard”, where the piano, for most part of the section, is surrounded just by wind, brass and percussion instruments. There is something connected with a blues-style ballad, in the main theme, but some other different elements are part of the movement, from a dramatic climax to a variation where the piano part is written in a toccata style. The peculiar ability of jazz to devour and transform everything is evoked in the final section, where the strings also become part of the game: the piano presents some micro-quotes of classical repertoire in a jazz style and the dialog between the two worlds is strongly underlined.

The third movement hails from an urban garden created “On a Studio Terrace” and the general form, the musical materials, and some specific string solutions are connected to the job of recording and editing in a studio. Probably our imaginary plants are now big and strong, because their sound is full of energy and rhythm, and if you think you’re listening to a tomato or to some string beans ready to be picked, you’re not completely wrong.

Press quotes

Emanuele Arciuli was the fluent and adroit piano soloist in the Campogrande piece, “Urban Gardens” for Piano and Orchestra. In three scenes — “On a Concert Hall Rooftop,” “In a Jazz Club Courtyard” and “On a Studio Terrace” — the composer imagines, as he says in a note, “the piano as an urban memory and the orchestra as a green, vegetal presence that surrounds it.” Campogrande’s music sparkles with wit and energy but displays, too, a rich vein of melancholy in the bluesy tune that permeates the second movement. There are touches of Ravel in the writing for piano, but the sound and style is something new and original. The composer, a bearded, lanky 45-year-old, was present. He joined the musicians onstage at the end and received a rousing ovation
– Michael Anthony, The Star Tribune, September 14, 2014

Nicola Campogrande “Urban Gardens” with Abbado/Arciuil is sublime! If all new music is this exciting and full of joy, bring me more!
Alison Young, Classical Minnesota Public Radio

But the strongest impression came from the program’s newest work, an intriguing jazz-flavored, pseudo-piano concerto by Italian composer Nicola Campogrande. Two more Italians spearheaded its world premiere: conductor Roberto Abbado (entering his final season as an SPCO artistic partner) and pianist Emanuele Arciuli. The latter clearly had a special kinship with the composer’s style, for he took what could have been an agitated, overly busy opening movement and made it a cohesive blend of bustle and calming pastoral. And that’s appropriate, for the work is called “Urban Gardens” and is intended to summon the spirit of rooftop oases and verdant courtyards. It sounded something like a modernist homage to George Gershwin with its bluesy, slow movement and evocation of urban landscapes. Arciuli handled its ample demands impeccably, whether scurrying about the keyboard hyperactively or laying florid lines atop the orchestra in a style reminiscent of Oscar Peterson’s orchestral excursions
– Rob Hubbard, The Pioneer Press, September 14, 2014


solo piano – –  perc. (1) – strings

alternative version:
piano, vl, va, vc


Duration 20′

Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota

World Premiere
September 13, 2014 Saint Paul
September 14, 2014 Minneapolis
(Minnesota – USA)
Emanuele Arciuli (pno), Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Roberto Abbado (cond)

Published by
Breitkopf & Härtel
EB 9452


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September 13, 2014

Saint Paul, Minnesota (USA)

Emanuel Arciuli (pno), Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Roberto Abbado (cond)
World Premiere

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