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Last Night in L.A.: Concerto without Orchestra

Vicki Ray put together an imaginative, clever program which was beautifully performed in last night’s Piano Spheres concert at Zipper Hall of Colburn School. She’s a marvel; she seems to be able to do any work in any style. In December she gave a tremendous concert, “Vic Ray Electric”, of electro-acoustic music. In January she was pianist for this Monday Evening Concert. I’ve never heard her play any Mozart, but this clip implies she just might do so some time. The theme of last night’s program was piano concertos without an orchestra; her program notes described her selections as forming a rondo with two cadenzas sandwiched between three concertos.

The program opened with Igor Stravinsky’s seldom-programmed Concerto for Two Solo Pianos (1935) which he wrote to play with his son in money-making concerts. Julie Steinberg came south from the Bay Area to provide the second pianist. The performance sparkled; many of us were smiling with pleasure as we listened. The “cadenza” following this was awhirl (2008) by Rand Steiger; Ray gave the world premiere of this piece in her December concert in REDCAT. It’s a duet for single piano, in which electronics take the piano sound and use it to extend, supplement, and challenge the pianist. It was even more enjoyable to hear the second time.

A sure way to win a bet in a “who wrote THIS?” contest would be to play Eros Piano (1989) by John Adams. It’s a work for piano with orchestral accompaniment, written as a tribute to the jazz great Bill Evans, to composer Toru Takemitsu, and to pianist Paul Crossley. There’s not a single Adams machine chugging away in this work. You’ll find the piece recorded in “American Elegies” with Adams as conductor, along with typically great Upshaw performances of five Ives songs and a delightful Feldman piece. Vicki Ray played the work as written and asked Adams if she could transcribe a few orchestral elements to enable the work to be played for solo piano, and we heard the premiere of this version of the work last night. This would have served as the high point of many another concert.

But Vicki Ray closed the program with a work by Julia Wolfe, my lips from speaking (1993). This tribute to Aretha Franklin was written to be played by six pianos in a British festival for mutiple pianos. It was then rearranged for Lisa Moore in a version for piano solo and tape. Ray’s performance was invigorating, thrilling. We could have stayed as long as she was willing to keep giving us encores, but she closed the evening with her own arrangement of “My Funny Valentine”, for toy piano. A treat.


Comment from Sarah Cahill
Time: February 5, 2009, 2:59 am

Vicki Ray is a fantastic pianist and a generous and gracious person. What a fascinating program! Thanks very much for telling us about it.