Category Archives: Large Ensemble

ATUM (2016). Performed by ZOFO Duet & ELEVATE ENSEMBLE

ATUM: Everything and Nothing (2016)
Concerto for Piano 4 Hands and Wind Octet
Composed by Nick Vasallo

Elevate Ensemble (
Gina Gulyas – Alto Flute
Jonathan Szin – Bass Clarinet
Marko Bajzer – Bassoon
Kris King – Contrabasson
Dominic Favia – Trumpet
Graham Taylor – Trumpet
Kensey Chellis – Trombone
Lucas Jensen – Bass Trombone

ZOFO Duet (
Eva-Maria Zimmermann
Keisuke Nakagoshi

Conducted by Chad Goodman

Video by Tyler Casey Productions
Audio by Zach Miley
Recorded on October 26, 2016 @ San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Premiered on October 2, 2016 7pm at Hume Concert Hall
@ San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Program Notes:
Composed from July 10th – July 30th 2016. I make musical decisions, connections, and structural models based on extra-musical phenomena. In this case, a pre-constructed narrative based on ancient Egyptian mythology.

In the beginning there was only a primordial watery abyss (Nu). A mound of earth rose from Nu and upon it Atum created himself. He created Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture) out from his body. Shu and Tefnut went to explore the dark waters of Nu. After some time, Atum believed that they were lost, and sent his Eye (of Ra) out into the dark chaos to find them. When his children were returned to him, Atum wept, and his tears were believed to have turned into the first humans. Atum said he will destroy the world, submerging everything back into the primordial waters, which were all that existed at the beginning of time.

Ein Sof (2015) for orchestra

Ein Sof (2015) 8 min.
for orchestra
Composed by Nick Vasallo

Performed by the University of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. Directed by Nicolas Waldvogel.
November 17, 2015 at First Congregational Church of Berkeley

Video recorded and edited by Clubhouse Studios.
Audio recorded by Bob Schumaker.

Composed sporadically throughout the tumultuous month of August 2015. Ein Sof is understood as God prior to his self-manifestation in the production of any spiritual realm. Ein Sof is both perfectly simple and infinitely complex, nothing and everything, hidden and revealed, reality and illusion, creator of man and created by man. Ein-Sof must be constantly redefined, as by its very nature, it is in a constant process of self-creation and redefinition.

Pages from Nick Vasallo - Ein Sof (full score) 1

Ein Sof (2015)
for orchestra
Full Score (Digital)

The Eternal Return (2015) for concert band

The Eternal Return (2015) 9 min.

*World premiere performed by Drexel University Concert Band
Directed by Dr. Wesley Broadnax
June 7, 2015 Mandell Theater, Philadelphia, PA

Filmed by Herb Adis. Edited by Nick Vasallo.
Audio recorded by Sleepless Sound. Mixed and mastered by Nick Vasallo.

Composed from December 16, 2014 to January 10, 2015. The Eternal Return is basically the theory that there is infinite time and a finite number of events, and eventually the events will recur again and again infinitely. Consider the world as a super-complex chess game. If games of chess are played one after another forever, eventually a game will be repeated since there is only a finite number of possible games. It is the same with the world; eventually events will recur in the same order. The world is an eternal process of coming to be and passing away. The process, however, has no beginning or end. Eventually every combination of matter and energy will be realized and repeated an infinite number of times.

The structure of this work is based on the cycles of The Great Year. A term that ancient civilizations use to describe the slow precession of the equinox, a period that takes about 24,000 years. Different cultures refer to this cycle by different names, but one thing is clear, it was known to virtually every ancient culture throughout the globe. As humanity’s consciousness expands and contracts, and the cycle plays out, just like a solar year with its seasons, it results in great ages of enlightenment and dark ages of misery. Indeed, the archaeological record shows a broad decline of ancient civilizations beginning about 5000 years ago, a long worldwide dark age and then finally a rise in consciousness with the renaissance continuing to the present day.

Musically, the different ages are structured using duration in relationship to their actual lengths of time. They form a palindromic cycle: Iron Age, Bronze Age, Silver Age, Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age. Each age has a different musical focus, texture, and sound world depicting their respective Greek mythological descriptions. The piece could repeat forever as the end connects to the beginning.

Pages from Nick Vasallo - The Eternal Return 1

The Eternal Return (2015)
for concert band
Full Score (Digital)

The Moment Before Death Stretches on Forever, Like an Ocean of Time… (2015) for Wild Rumpus

The Moment Before Death Stretches on Forever, Like an Ocean of Time… (2015) 8 min. 15 seconds
for Wild Rumpus

Performed by Wild Rumpus
Bethanne Walker – flute, Sophie Huet – bass clarinet, David Waugh – bari saxophone, Weston Olencki – trombone, Mckenzie Camp – percussion, Margaret Halbig – piano, Dan VanHassel – electric guitar, Vanessa Langer – soprano, Mia Nardi-Huffman – violin, Joanne de Mars – cello, Eugene Theriault – contrabass

Video recording by Taylor Joshua Rankin
Audio recording by Zach Miley
Recorded at Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA on May 8, 2015


Composed from February 22nd-March 18th 2015 using an Excel spreadsheet. There are no measures, downbeats, or barlines. The structure isn’t delegated by melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic elements. Just absolute time. I am constantly searching for different ways of saying what I want to say.

the title for thiS piece is taken and modified from a line in a movie.
I wanted to write something that sounded pulsating with energY;
eterNal and evolving.
the universE doesn’t draw in straight lines.
I am beginning to not feel the organicism in neatly oRganized
teleoloGical music.
I want to communicate with our primal side psychoacousticallY.

Pages from Nick Vasallo - the moment before death stretches on forever, like an ocean of time... (FULL SCORE) 1

The Moment Before Death Stretches on Forever, Like an Ocean of Time… (2015)
for flute, bass clarinet, bari saxophone, trombone, percussion, piano, electric guitar, soprano, violin, cello, contrabass
Full Score w/ Parts(Digital)

Ozymandias (2014) for The Living Earth Show and Friction Quartet

Ozymandias (2014)
10 min.

Travis Andrews – guitar
Andrew Meyerson – percussion

Otis Harriel, Kevin Rogers – violins
Taija Warbelow – viola
Doug Machiz – cello

Singing Bowl – Emily Orum

Filmed by Taylor Joshua Rankin. Edited by Nick Vasallo.
Short film “Elefante” written & Directed by Pablo Larcuen.

Audio recorded and mixed by Zack Ohren at Sharkbite Studios in Oakland, CA. Additional recording by Zach Miley at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Travis Andrews April 26-27th 2014.

Composed from December 2013 to January 2014. A tone poem based on Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias”. The rise and fall of empires; in the end only their art withstands the brutality of time. Broad strokes…

I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear –“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.’
–Percy Bysshe Shelley

Video premiere:

Black Swan Events (2011) for electric guitar, drums, and orchestra

Black Swan Events (2011) 16 min.
Thrash Metal concerto for electric guitar and orchestra

*This piece has not yet been performed in public.

I. Allusions
II. Disorders of Sense and Motion
III. Nebulous
IV. Conquest and Reign

Directed by Brandon Hunt and Taylor Rankin.
Filmed at The Crowden Music Center in Berkeley, CA on August 17, 2013

Edited by Brandon Hunt (
Electric guitar cadenza was composed in collaboration with Victor Dods.
Produced and recorded by Nick Vasallo.
Mixed and mastered by Zack Ohren.

Electric Guitar – Victor Dods
Drumset – Luis Martinez
Flute – Toni Chimienti
Oboe – Paul Perazzo*
Clarinet – Philip Halseth*, Beth Ratay
Bassoon – Robert Alfaro
Horn – Amberle Mitchell
Trumpet – Todd Minson
Bass Trombone – Israel Santiago*
Percussion – Taylor Rankin
Violin, Viola – Otis Harriel*, Nicholas Morales
Cello – Douglas Machiz*, Austin Graham
Bass – Aaron Shael
Conductor – David Waugh

*Not in video

I seldom name a work before composing it but the discovery of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s concept of the “black swan” inspired me to structure the entire work around this central idea. Based upon Taleb’s criteria, a “black swan event” is a surprise to the observer, has a major impact, and is rationalized in hindsight – as if it could have been expected (e.g., the relevant data [was] available but not accounted for).

 One of my primary goals with Black Swan Events was to create an environment where two worlds collide and become one. I wanted to treat the appearance of Heavy Metal (“metal”) as a surprising event that has a major impact upon the structure of the work. By the end of Black Swan Events, the world of “metal” – represented by the electric guitar and drums –becomes so prevalent and enmeshed within the orchestra that its initial arrival, in hindsight, no longer seems surprising. The relationship between these two worlds – metal and western art music – transforms from instability to resolution and synthesis.

 Composers strive to find their own distinct voices and most of these composers, consciously or unconsciously, want their voices to ‘speak’ through their music. The unifying principle in Black Swan Events takes this idea literally. Using experimental software to analyze the spectrum of my extreme metal scream, I developed chords that modeled the scream’s spectrum. I wanted a conceptual relationship to exist between my voice and all of the musical materials in Black Swan Events so that every note is, conceptually, a remnant of my scream. Essentially, I used a spectral-matching orchestrational tool to duplicate the spectrum of my scream and with this solution I built a chord. The primary motivic materials of the piece were built from the collection abstracted from the original spectral data. I also collaborated heavily with Victor Dods, the original guitarist for this work, and incorporated his musical input into the collection of motifs. These motifs play an essential unifying role in Black Swan Events.

 While metal is the first and primary black swan event, the piece incorporates several others. I will demonstrate how polystylist and eclecticist philosophies interact in Black Swan Events to produce a highly pluralistic yet unified work, creating a music both alluding to and drawing upon the experience of other genres – born out of personal practice. References and allusions to Neurosis, George Crumb, J.S. Bach, Kanye West, Eddie Van Halen, Stravinksy, Ligeti, Beethoven, and spectralism abound in Black Swan Events. It is my intention to illustrate how my own style functions within the ongoing dialogue of these disparate sources of music.

op74 Dissertation cover_Page_01

Black Swan Events (2011)
for electric guitar, drums, and orchestra
Full Score (Digital)

Antares Rising (2010) for wind ensemble w/ taiko group

Antares Rising (2010) 8 min.
for wind ensemble w/ taiko group
Premiere: May 15, 2010. University of California, Santa Cruz
2011 Truman State University/MACRO Composition Award

World Premiere performance by
The UCSC Wind Ensemble
Directed by Rob Klevan
Watsonville Taiko
Directed by Ikuyo Conant

May 15, 2010
UC Santa Cruz

Taiko is very open-minded when it comes to collaborating with other styles of music, and a good example of this occurred with my own experience playing with Watsonville Taiko. I joined Watsonville Taiko in 2009 as a passionate supporter of its art form. Eventually, Taeko D’Andrea, their business manager and also performer, discovered that I was also a composer and was researching Taiko as part of my doctoral studies. She showed some of my compositions to Ikuyo Conant, Watsonville Taiko’s sensei, and they invited me to collaborate. I was delighted and immediately thought of a joint-collaboration with the UCSC Wind Ensemble — since Rob Klevan had previously expressed interest in commissioning a new piece from me. I asked Taeko if I could adopt “Asayake,” one of Watsonville Taiko’s signature pieces, as a basis for my new piece. Ikuyo, the composer of the piece agreed.

I spoke at great lengths with the composer of “Asayake,” Ikuyo Sensei, about what the piece means to hear and how she would like it to be represented. She began explaining what the word meant in Japanese and how there is a duality in taiko, and the challenge for me — was to recognize that duality and find the third aspect. I studied the piece for weeks before writing anything. I transcribed it digitally and laid out the entire form including all of the repeats. I pondered on the idea of duality, of yin and yang; two extremes that meet and compliment each other in a mutually beneficial way. Around this time I was studying the music of the 20th century composer, Gyorgy Ligeti, and one of his statements seem to fit into my process of enlightenment: “one often arrives at something qualitatively new by unifying two already known but separate domains.” Ligeti’s statement instantly conjured the idea of two separate domains: Earth and Wind — Membranophone and Aerophone — Taiko and Wind Ensemble. In our practice drills, Ikuyo constantly reminds us to “stay grounded” and send our energy to the Earth. Taiko is a much “grounded” type of energy. However, a Wind Ensemble is the exact opposite. All of the sounds dance in the air and point up — the energy is ascending. I created textures of contrast between the two ensembles: the taiko sextet would provide a stable, grounded sort of texture while the Wind Ensemble would provide a sense of eternal ascension. When the two extreme culminate, there is an explosion of both upward and downward motion: the third element is combustion. When two energies are pulling each other in different directions and neither is giving way — there will be a rupture.

“Asayake” translates to “morning glow” or “sunrise colors.” The synesthetic implications of the piece instantly spoke to me. I began imagining the landscape of the piece, the image of the sun rising soon became something much larger. I began picturing a Red Giant star rising…then a Red Supergiant star! Imagine witnessing the grandeur and frightening power…I chose as the subject for this star to be Antares, known as the heart of the Scorpio constellation. Antares glows bright red and has been often mistaken for Mars, the planet of war, hence, Antares ancient Greek name which means, “against Mars.” Antares glows 10,000 times brighter than our Sun and is 500 times its size. Many of the old Egyptian temples are oriented so that the light of Antares plays a role in the ceremonies performed there. Antares is so massive that someday it will develop an iron core and eventually explode as a brilliant supernova, which musically occurs near the end of “Antares Rising.”

Pages from Nick Vasallo - Antares Rising (2010) 1

Antares Rising (2010)
for wind ensemble w/ taiko group
Full Score (Digital)

Shred (2012) for string orchestra

Shred (2012) 9 min.
for string orchestra
I. Multiverse
II. Long Deaf Hate
Premiere: June 7, 2012. California State University, East Bay
Commissioned by CSUEB String Orchestra

Philip Santos – violin
Julia Adams – viola
Joseph Hébert – cello
Aaron Shaul – bass

Program Notes
Composed from April 6-10th 2012. Shred is my first attempt at representing the sound, the feel, and the attitude of thrash metal into a concert music setting. The first movement—Multiverse—explores several important thrash metal guitar techniques such as pedal tones, tremolos, and highly syncopated rhythmic lines. Long Deaf Hate, the second movement, utilizes the same techniques as the first yet there is a more direct emulation of a thrash band. In this movement one can perceive layers of guitar, drums and vocals. In addition, the intervallic content used to compose a majority of the movement comes from a famous song from the seminal thrash band Slayer. A quotation of this song appears near the end; the movement builds up to this moment of parody.

Pages from Shred (complete) p1

Shred (2012)
for string orchestra
Full Score (Digital)

Expand the Hive (2008) for orchestra

Expand the Hive (2008) 5 min.
for orchestra
Premiere: November, 21, 2008. University of California, Santa Cruz
2008 UCSC Student Orchestral Competition winner

Nicole Paiement conducts the UCSC Orchestra on this world premiere performance November 21, 2008 @ UC Santa Cruz

When I moved to Santa Cruz in the Summer of 2007, I became obsessed with a certain trichord. It was constantly lingering in my head. I eventually decided to compose an exercise exploiting allthe transpositional and inversional possibilities along with its natural motivic aspects. While the construction of the compositional space was quite systematic, the actual composition and “fleshing out” of the material was an act of proclivity; strictly intuituve. This piece is a giant expansion of the cell. I composed the introduction separately from the bulk of the material…I felt thatthe beginning must sound like a powerful force, slowly starting up and eventually engulfing everything in its path. The title has to do with the swarming effect of particular ideas, and the expansion or spreading out of the cell. Despite the chromaticism and use of every pitch set resultant of the trichord, this piece sounds tonal because it functions within itself.

Pages from expand the hive (web) p1

Expand the Hive (2008)
for orchestra
Full Score (Digital)