Brad Mehldau’s latest album is called Variations on a Melancholy Theme and features the pianist and composer performing with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
Combining classical form and jazz harmonization, the album comprises a theme and 11 variations, followed by a cadenza, a postlude and an encore.
“I imagine it as if Brahms woke up one day and had the blues,” Mehldau says. “The theme itself has a wistful character, perhaps a feeling of resignation. There is some sense of finality and ending to it when heard for the first time already. So as I composed, a narrative challenge emerged — namely, how to embark on a story that begins with a conclusion. While the theme evokes melancholy, I let it be used as a springboard for other happy, wild, violent, and reckless emotions as the variations progress.”
Mehldau and Orpheus performed Variations on a Melancholy Theme on tour throughout Europe, Russia, and the U.S., including a 2013 performance at Carnegie Hall. Mehldau had originally composed the piece for pianist Kirill Gerstein.
Mehldau’s last album was Suite: April 2020, a solo recording that he made during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. The majority of the proceeds from that recording went to the Jazz Foundation of America’s COVID-19 Musician’s Emergency Fund. At the beginning of 2020, Mehldau won his first Grammy Award for his album Finding Gabriel.
Variations on a Melancholy Theme is available June 11, 2021, via Nonesuch Records.