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In a remarkable article in today’s Washington Post, Pearls Before Breakfast, Gene Weingarten examines what happened last Friday when, as an experiment, Joshua Bell busked in a Washington DC subway. What happens, why it happens, and the role that beauty plays in our lives are explored. I’ll let it slip that only 3 people spent any time listening and only one recognized him. A provocative and chilling experiment which explores the spiritual malaise of America more than it touches upon obvious classical/thanatological, arts education, etc. issues.

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Last night, the third and final concert of the Keys to the Future series featured pianists, Tatjana Rankovich, Joseph Rubenstein, Polly Ferman. Ms. Ferman, a noted tango performer, closed out the concert with a set of Argentine compositions, many of them inspired by the Tango.

Winged (1995) Bruce Stark (b. 1956)

Stark’s work has been featured in every concert of the series and for good reason. He has an unusually rare gift in creating a recognizable voice, combining compelling content with forms that make sense and are full of surprises. Winged, one of his first ‘acknowledged’ compositions did not fail to deliver in all of these regards. Inspired by the notion of flying angels, it began high in the clouds, aloft, shimmering and luminescent. For the full 10 minutes the piece continously explored impressionistic canyons and mountains with often beautifully static moments and without for a moment seeming cloying, minimalist or new-agey. Tatjana Rankovich admirably drove these pianistic ecstasies with aplomb and joy.

Ballade (2000) Sarah K. Snider (b. 1973)

Snider’s Ballade was a composition inspired by the 4th Chopin Ballade often employing polyrhythms (such as Chopin used in the last set of three etudes) and romantic musical devices while maintaining a contemporary harmonic palette. The piece would have been more sucessful if the material had more salient characteristics. The form was interesting and compelling throughout.

Toccata (2001) Pierre Jalbert (b. 1968)

Rankovich continued her blistering performances with Jalbert’s ragged and intense Toccata. An American composer from Vermont, the piece combined scalar motifs with powerful clusters in a thrilling manner. The violence however, never seemed formless and without intent, and often surprised with its variety of textures and discontinuities of motion.

Waltz (1997) Ricky Ian Gordon (b. 1956)

Gordon’s Waltz was intensely sentimental and beautiful, reminding one of Satie throughout its length, which was perhaps a little much. Rubenstein performed with varieties of pianissimo piano playing which were delightful.

Elegiac Cycle (3 selections) (1999) Brad Mehldau (b. 1970)

Jazz composer Brad Mehldau’s cycle was melodic without seeming overtly jazz-inspired but could have had a bit more variety in its accompaniment figures and textures.

Romance No. 1 (2006) Joseph Rubenstein (b. 1969)

Rubenstein performing Rubenstein was a delight in this world premiere, subtitled ‘river of night’. It is rare that one hears a pianist composer so technically accomplished. The piece was filled with intimate colors and varieties of quiet textures that charmed throughout.

Adios Nonino (1959, arr. 1975) Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)

Uruguayan pianist Polly Ferman began her survey of recent Latin-American piano literature with tango innovator Piazzolla’s Adios Nonino a piece written directly after his father had died and full of deep sentiment. The varieties of textures always employed by Piazzolla did not disappoint, however there was a sense of the piece being a medley which was at times distracting. Ferman’s sensitivity to the genre was evinced throughout with her subtle rhythmic variations and emotional voicings.

Milonga Sureña (1979) Juan José Ramos (1930-1995)

Ferman began the next part of the concert with a brief talk about the Milonga, a faster and rural tango form. In Ramos’ Milonga, Polly Ferman’s dramatic and natural phrasing created a saucy and ferocious authenticity.

Milonga (from Aquel Buenos Aires) (1971) Pedro Saenz (1915-1995)

Saenz’s contribution to the genre was full of seconds and percussive effects that intensely demonstrated this tense and obsessive form.

Paris Desde Aqui (2001) Daniel Binelli (b. 1946)

Bandoneon master Daniel Binelli’s waltz was a musical depiction of the city of lights that suceeded admirably in creating a living cityscape.

Levante (2004) Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960)

Golijov’s Levante closed the show with a vaguely deconstructed suite of Cuban rhythms morphing into a tango. While admirably interpreted, it demonstrated to this listener, the dangers of deconstruction. A composer cannot merely take apart – the important step is the reconstruction, the innovative way that the living material once decoded, is put back together into convincing newness. And as in Kline’s composition the night before, at the edges of complex rhythmic layering, the listener is often left with moments of metrical confusion produced by rote formulae.

All in all, a wonderful survey of recent and lesser known piano compositions, admirably performed throughout with attention and intense emotion.

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In the second concert of the Keys to the Future series, Tatjana Rankovich, organizer Joseph Rubenstein, and Lora Tchekoratova performed in a program rich in compelling melodic and textural content.

Music for Piano (1997) Franghiz Ali-Zadeh (b. 1947)

Tatjana Rankovich began the program on a piano with a beaded necklace inside. Middle Eastern vocal melodies caused this necklace to resonate in a pleasant (if ultimately obsessive) almost insectoidal buzzing. Occasional outbursts in the lower ranges contrasted with these exquisite Eastern melodies ultimately climaxing in a storm of bass scales. Ms. Rankovich notably performed with precision and a finely atuned sense of the vocal quality of the melodies in Music for Piano.

Éphémères (4 selections) (2003) Philippe Hersant (b. 1948)

Philippe Hersant is practically unkown in the U.S. and apparently (thanks to not being a Boulezian) not quite as well known as he should be in France. Ms. Rankovich performed 4 pieces from his 24 piece cycle, Éphémères inspired by haiku by Basho. Of particular interest was the tempestuous ‘Ouragan’. Scalar motives in the bass exploded into often brilliant gales of color and rhythmic excitement. Rankovich evocatively drove the hurricane like a savage god. ‘Vallee du sud’ called forth memories of the bell-like sonorities of Debussy but with a personal and extended melodic touch that did not feel to be foreign to the style. Hersant is definitely a composer that should be much more widely known outside of France.

Brin (1990) Luciano Berio (1925-2003)

Brin is a wonderful miniature and utilized Berio’s signature rapid scalar figurations to interrupt a static and jewel-like sound world. Rankovich performed Brin with marvelous microscopic abandon.

Fifth Romance (1984) Joseph Fennimore (b. 1940)

Fennimore’s Fifth Romance attempted to combine jazz, show tune pianisms and Scriabinesque harmonies to mixed effect. The romance was never confusing and often surprising, but I was left feeling that parts of this feast of romantic moods were undigested. Nonetheless it was a remarkably executed composition and its exposed origins evinced an immense technical imagination. Tatjana Rankovich performed with intelligent pizzazz this stylistically exposed composition.

Nocturne No. 5 (1996) (Tchekoratova) Lowell Liebermann (b. 1961)

Bulgarian pianist, Lora Tchekoratova continued the program with Nocturne No. 5, a piece obviously influenced by Chopin and Scriabin although updated to varying degrees harmonically and melodically. It was voiced with marvelous delicacy and precision by Tchekoratova. Some of the harmonic shifts were not always convincing, but the clarity of the upper lines propelled the piece to good effect.

Mambo No. 1 (2006) Phil Kline (b. 1953)

Phil Kline’s piece was an exciting post-minimalist/totalist extravaganza of sections, each one exploding into the next. Often, as the section climaxed, complex rhythmic indulgences seemed to interfere with the emotional crescendi underway. I was left feeling that the piece was a bit self-indulgent although interesting in its compellingly brilliant material.

Rain Tree Sketch II (1992) Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996)

Takemitsu’s brilliant extensions of the pianistic language of Debussy and Messiaen is under-recognized. Rain Tree Sketch was performed to scintillating and fluidic effect by Tchekoratova. Chords interrupted by dark octaves formed the primary textural motivations behind this wonderful compositiion.

Für Alina (1976) Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)

Concert organizer Joseph Rubenstein next performed Arvo Pärt’s uniquely fractured plainsongs to marvellously spiritual effect. In a lesser composer’s hands such repetition of texture and register would fall flat. It is only with Pärt’s singular mindset and commitment that the meditation unfolds so convincingly.

Exit Music for a Film (1998) Radiohead/Christopher O’Riley

The second of O’Riley’s Radiohead ‘transciptions’ could more accurately be qualified as a ‘paraphrase’. It was intensely compelling and performed with accurate and decadent flair by Joseph Rubenstein. A real testament to the group’s compositional talents is how, through these arrangements, the philosophical intensities are maintained.

Five Preludes (2003) Bruce Stark (b. 1956)

Bruce Stark’s music was performed to wonderful effect again in tonight’s program. His 5 short pieces further explored how jazz stylings and American folk music influences can be used without merely evoking the achievements of the ’50′s. The explosive 5th prelude was fascinating in how it simultaneously and without feelings of pastiche evoked both Bartok and Gershwin.

Tonight is the third and final night of the series featuring a mini-survey of recent Latin-American piano music, an angelic invocation by Stark, and one of Joseph Rubenstein’s own compositions. It looks to be a doozy!

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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.

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Six weeks to the concert and I’m told we now have $850 towards our goal of $1000. Amazing! (And of course if we go over, our musician friends will get a little extra than the pittance we’re planning on giving them).

I was going to try and say something funny and encourage you guys to send us a few bucks, but instead, I’ll be reflective. Mainly because I’m a little hung over. And my ears hurt from working on an organ piece. And what with the rehearsals, the people I hear are coming and the success so far with the fund-raising I can get away with it. So, please excuse me while I shine something philosophical…

One of the things about online communities is that we’re all creating something new together. We’re creating a vibe, a place, a way of communicating and also we’re making friends. Fine, we all know that. And the strangest thing about online communities has always been that until very recently – they all were basically a dream. They didn’t resonate into the real. One glitch and whoops, the community would vaporize. Lose that email address and it was almost like Joe from Kalamazoo didn’t even exist anymore. But something has changed recently. Call it critical mass, or just the mirror breaking from the sheer scale.

In David Gerlertner’s book, Mirror Worlds, he talked about how the next step for the computer revolution was the mirroring of the world into the network. Think Google Maps. The real world transformed into a virtual place that would let us reflect on its characteristics from afar. Sequenza21 was that, until very recently, a set of virtual characters, symbolizing people, that simulated conversations with posted texts. Frankly, I’d rather sit in a Paris cafe with another composer or two and do that with a glass of absinthe, but those days are sadly gone.

It was then further hypothesized that this network would eventually reflect outward causing a new world to be created. A world which combined the benefits and wonders and freedoms of this real->virtual mapping with the real. The way we share our thoughts here, away from the physical, the freedom which let us say things we might not say to a colleague, all of these possibilities and transformations we’d created here in the virtual, would somehow establish itself non-virtually as something new.

Sequenza21 is now attempting to do just this. Create a brief real musical world, a new music reality derived from a virtual community. We are now reflecting outward and creating projects. People are rehearsing, making travel arrangements; the virtual community of Sequenza21 is going to shine back out into the real. And with your support we’ll be able to do this in a professional and thankful way to our performer friends who we all depend on to realize our crazy musical visions.

Click on the PayPal button below the picture of our own Ian Moss to add your $.02. Any amount is appreciated and frankly, we’d just as soon get 20 gifts of $10 as a $200 gift from one person. And since we’re all so nice here, and this thing is absolutely rocking, we’ve decided that instead of a $100 donation for an incentive, if you give over $50, we’ll throw something cool in. Help make this community something not just cool and virtual and liberating but something really really real.

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