Vadim Neselovskyi: Happy to Be "Sad"

Putting emotion into his music helped alumnus Vadim Neselovskyi win a prestigious jazz composition competition.
October 1, 2010

Pianist and composer Vadim Neselovskyi '04 knows the mercurial nature of the music business as well as anyone. He's recorded and toured with Gary Burton, and attended the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz's prestigious two-year graduate-level program. On the other hand, a record deal he hoped would open doors ended almost as soon as it began.

Right now, though, he's definitely on the up and up. Neselovskyi recently won the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Composers Competition, sponsored by BMI. His piece "Grust," which means sadness in Russian, took top honors from a field of about 100 composers, said competition producer Leonard Brown.

"It's been great news," said Neselovskyi, who's gotten used to entering competitions and immediately putting hopes for a win out of his head.

The Monk Institute runs parallel competitions each year for instrumentalists and composers; in order to win, composers must emphasize that year's featured instrument—for 2010, the voice. Berklee student Dana Lauren is on the shortlist of singers competing at the October 3 semifinals. The finalists will sing at the Kennedy Center the following night, where Neselovskyi will also perform his piece and formally receive his award.

"Vadim's composition 'Grust'. . .overwhelmingly demonstrates the originality, creativity, and excellence in jazz composition that the institute and BMI wanted to encourage when we established this competition in 1993," said Tom Carter, president of the Monk Institute. "Everyone at the institute is looking forward to hearing Vadim perform his winning composition and receive the award on October 4."

Though it's not a classical piece, "I was really heavily influenced by Chopin's piano concertos," Neselovskyi said. One long melody, accented by "just a little bit of improvisation," runs through the roughly 20-minute-long composition.

The name wasn't just a gimmick—the judges said the piece conveyed "the nuances of what sadness could be," Brown said. "Sometimes it was sweet. Sometimes it was bitter." The piece accomplishes this goal without leaning on lyrics: "Grust" has no words, only vocalization.

The October 4 concert will be a college reunion of sorts for Neselovskyi. "I've decided to invite people who were with me from the beginning," he said: vocalist Amanda Baisinger and bassist Oleg Osenkov. "I love Berklee, and my connection to Berklee has never stopped."

The competition comes with a $10,000 prize. "The main idea of my musical career is to keep evolving, keep learning," Neselovskyi said.

However, the money isn't the end of the award's practical value. Neselovskyi, a German/Ukrainian citizen, is currently applying for a United States green card. "This competition will really help me" with immigration authorities, he said. A "big international award means a lot to them."

That should make everyone happy.