Christopher Norton’s “Idaho Suite”

Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES

A few months ago I shared news here of Christopher Norton’s new in-house publishing company 80 Days Publishing, reviewing the first piano solo work to emerge, the excellent Jazz Piano Sonata.

Since that review, Christopher has been busying himself both as a composer and publisher, collating piano works and other compositions for publication through this growing business.

In this review I will highlight my favourite so far, the recently published Idaho Suite for solo piano. 

Six Character Pieces

The Idaho Suite is a new six-movement work written for members of the MTNA Collegiate Chapter at the University of Idaho. The premiere took place in November 2017, with each of the original dedicatees performing.

Norton - Idaho Suite for Solo Piano COVER for Andrew Eales

According to the introduction:

“The pieces vary greatly in style because they were written based on videos of the students talking about themselves, their interests, and backgrounds. Christopher Norton has in effect written 6 musical pen portraits.”

In terms of the level of the pieces, I would suggest that they broadly orbit around ABRSM Grades 7-8.

The Suite opens with the glorious ’C’ me later, (written for Paul Zeller) whose expansive harmonies and chord clusters all lie surprisingly well under the hand, and speak to a positive, Copland-esque Americana.

The more lyrical and reflective The Darker Side of Blue (written for Roger McVey) is a beautiful study in sonority, but requires large hands (able to stretch a tenth) in order to perfectly realise it’s harmonies and syncopation without spreads.

The euphoric Sunlit Peaks (written for Megan Rich) follows – an astonishingly vivid piece of piano writing which proves to be a hugely effective scherzo.

The jagged, angular syncopations and dissonance of Unchained (written for Melody Morrison) are followed by Aerie, which is wonderfully evocative as it depicts (at least in my imagination!) the flight of the bird of prey (and was written for Morgan Kline).

The Suite concludes with Leaving’ It All Behind, which was written for faculty advisor Jovanni-Rey de Pedro, and is another more energetic and jazzy piece to provide the Suite with a fitting finale.

Taken as a whole, the Suite very much lives up to its title, proving to be an infectious and at times evocative portrayal of the different characters contained within its six movements. Each pieces stands well on its own; as a Suite they combine to be an effective contemporary concert work which I suspect would be a real crowd-pleaser!

Concluding Thoughts

The publication is a simple affair which follows the same house style established with the Jazz Piano Sonata. The attractive high-quality cover conceals an excellent score printed on cream paper, with well-spaced notation. No fingerings are provided, as these are left to players’ discretion.

I have written here before, and happily now repeat, that Christopher Norton is deservedly “one of the most famous and beloved educational composers alive today”. 

With the publication of these (and other) concert works, we can hopefully see Christopher’s more advanced compositions make their way more frequently into collegiate and professional recital programmes. It is certainly exciting to explore the range of musical expression and colour that permeates these pieces.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, published composer and author based on Milton Keynes UK.

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