The opening concert for the Keys to the Future featured organizer Joseph Rubenstein, BOAC regular keyboardist Lisa Moore and Blair McMillen in a program practically devoid of common modernist influence.
8 short works (1980s) Howard Skempton (b. 1947)
Howard Skempton, a miniaturist of some reknown in Europe, but little recognized here, was featured in 8 short works selected and arranged by Rubenstein. While evoking a mastery of emotional poignancy, each of the pieces demonstrated a poverty of texture that was vaguely puritanical. The performance by Rubenstein was masterful. Notable among the eight pieces was The Keel Row, which began the concert. It was precious, still, and fragmented into a tiny gem of delight. The ‘Toccata in Memory of Morton Feldman’ was wonderfully conceived as a meditation with a returning Feldmanesque bass note.
Solitude (1978) Leo Ornstein (1892-2002)
Lisa Moore performed a neo-romantic masterpiece which we should be hearing more often. An odd synthesis of Russian romanticism, notably Scriabin’s later sonatas and etudes and Debussy. It was performed exquisitely with immaculate pedal and detailing.
Le jeu des contraires (1989) Henri Dutilleux (b. 1916)
Ms. Moore’s performance of ‘Le jeu des contraires’ by the living French composer Dutilleux was a delight. It was a sprawling, unpredictable combination of atonal scales, parallelisms and bell-like moments. It was miraculously controlled with a gusto often missing from peformances of recent French piano music.
Ode to “Ode to Joy” (1997) Bruce Stark (b. 1956)
Bruce Starks’ ‘Ode to “Ode to Joy”‘ was absolutely the audience favorite of the concert. An odd mixture of variation form and hilarious commentary on the tune combining unexpected mashups of jazz-rock stylings with serious and ecstatic cascades of sound. Lisa Moore thrilled with her precision and phenomenal dramatic buildup to an incredible climax. The humor at times, didn’t quite resonate with the emotional baggage of the tune, however. Chalk it up to it being performed on such a critical election day, perhaps.
Let Down (1997) Radiohead/Christopher O’Riley
After the intermission, Rubenstein returned to the keys to perform Christopher O’Riley’s transcriptions of Radiohead, notably ‘Let Down’ from the OK Computer album. The idea of transcribing such delicate rock for solo piano is fascinating, although frought with the dangers of the impossiblity of recreating the textural varieties and the inharmonicities inherent in the instrumentation and most importantly, Thom Yorkes’ voice. The frailties of the simple guitar part were recreated poignantly, but it was notable how very bald the melody became in the climax of the song without the cymbals and multiple guitars. The performance by Joseph Rubenstein was illuminating, full of detail and wonderful pedal effects.
24 Variations on a Bach Chorale (2002) Fred Hersch (b. 1955)
Blair McMillen closed the concert with jazz pianist Fred Hersh’s colossal 24 Variations on a Bach Chorale. A poly-stylistic and ambitious tour de force, it traced 200 years of textural and harmonic stylings while notably skipping the 20th century, except for jazz. The composition was technically and spiritually impressive yet ultimately a disappointment for failing to create a dramatic arch, suggested by the evocations of the music of Beethoven and Schumann. My favorite moments were the chromatic jazz stylings which maintained the propulsive quality felt throughout the piece. McMillen struggled at times to maintain the requisite energy, sweat pouring off his face, nevertheless he managed to bring the piece to a welcome and energetic climax.
Tonight’s concert promises to be equally enthralling with another Radiohead transcription and the music of Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, Takemitsu, Pärt et al.