Archive for the “Piano” Category

Vicky Chow performing with Ekmeles at the Avant Festival about a year ago; 2/12/11 (Photo courtesy of Avant Media)

Celebrating John Cage at 100
Avant Music Festival
The Wild Project, NYC
February 11th, 2012

The Wild Project (a tiny venue that is kind of like The Stone with bleachers) is where the Avant Music Festival is going on from now (it started on Fri, Feb 10) until Saturday the 18th. This is the third annual festival, and on this particular night, I witnessed a program that I never dreamed I would have been able to sit through when I was younger and still shunning the works of modern composers like David Del Tredici. An entire program of John Cage in person seems like a lot to swallow, but it seemed to have something for everyone. Read the rest of this entry »

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Photo: Kimono Photography

Think the emphasis should be placed on the first word of toy piano? If so, you’re behind the times! The repertoire and the number of toy piano performers are both steadily growing. And manufacturers like Schoenhut are custom designing and upgrading their toy pianos to make them viable for a plethora of special effects (check out David Smooke’s recent blog post over at NMB to learn more about various extended techniques the instrument is capable of enduring).

Phyllis Chen. Photo: Kimono Photography

A commissioning project organized by Phyllis Chen and run since 2007, the Uncaged Toy Piano composition competition has worked on expanding the repertoire for toy piano. On November 29, December 1, and December 3, listeners will get to hear the fruits of the contestants’ labors. The Uncaged Toy Piano Festival showcases new pieces and several imaginative approaches to the baby grand’s spunky smaller cousin. In addition to Chen (and Smooke), the festival will feature toy piano diva Margaret Leng Tan, toy instrumentalist Angelica Negron, improvisor Miguel Frasconi, avant-folkies Cuddle Magic, and Rusty Banks’ Babbling Tower-to-Tower for toy piano and cell phones(!).

Uncaged Toy Piano Festival

November 29th, 7:30pm: Playhouse at Dixon
Dixon Place Lounge
161A Chrystie Street, New York City (Lower East Side)

December 1st, 8pm: Gershwin Hotel
7 East 27th Street, New York City (between 5th and Madison)

December 3rd, 8pm: Toy Bonanza
37 Arts The DiMenna Center
450 37th Street, New York, NY

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I’m excited to share a piece of music that is very close to my heart: Marc Chan’s My Wounded Head cycle, the third installment of which will be performed this Sunday at The Stone.

The title comes from a set of five chorales from Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion, “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden” (“O Sacred Head Now Wounded”). These chorales have become an obsession for Marc, and each station of his cycle forges a new “road trip” through the notes, patiently spinning them out into strange and beautiful patterns. Number 3, for solo piano, pushes this patience into sublime territory — each bar is repeated ad libitum, with the premiere clocking in around 1:20 — but the rhythms mesmerize, and you may even feel it not long enough.

Pianist Rob Haskins, to whom the piece is dedicated, has deep roots in both Cage and, through the harpsichord, Bach, which goes a long way to explain the — I can only say understanding — that pervades his performance of this music.

Also on the program: Chan’s arrangement of Cage’s In A Landscape for piano, guitar and saxophone.

Sunday, September 25
8pm: Margaret Leng Tan plays John Cage: Four Walls
10pm: In a Landscape, My Wounded Head 3
The Stone

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San Francisco Bay Area composer/performer  Kanoko Nishi wraps up our series of interviews with composers who are premiering new works at the 10th Annual Outsound New Music Summit in San Francisco on Friday, July 22nd.  The Friday night concert, entitled The Art of Composition, starts at 8 pm at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets, and you can also buy them at the door.  Listeners who don’t want to wait that long can get up close and personal with the composers, and learn about their creative process, at a free Monday night panel discussion at 7 pm on July 18th.

Kanoko is classically trained on piano and received a BA in music performance from Mills College in 2006.  Her recent interest has primarily been in performing 20th century and contemporary music on piano and koto, and free improvisation in a variety of contexts. SF Bay Area contrabassist Tony Dryer and guitarist IOIOI, visiting from Italy, will perform Kanoko’s graphic scores as a duo.

S21: How has your classical piano training prepared you – or not prepared you – for improvisation and composition?

I think that one very important element that is particular to musical improvisation as opposed to improvisation in other fields is the role of the musical instruments one performs and interacts with, and classical training for me was just a very deep way of building a relationship with my instruments. What has been helpful is not so much the technique, vocabulary or repertoire, but the time, energy and thoughts spent in the process of acquiring these more concrete skills and knowledge. For me, every improvisation I do is like a battle with the instrument I’m playing, in my case, either the piano or koto, and though I cannot really practice improvising by its definition, it’s only by practicing regularly that I feel I can enrich myself as a person, build my stamina and confidence enough to be a suitable match for my instrument to bring out its full potential. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pianist Marilyn Nonken is performing Triadic Memories on June 4 in Philadelphia as part of “American Sublime,” a festival devoted to the works of Morton Feldman. Marilyn was kind enough to tell us a bit about working on Feldman’s music, as well as some of her other upcoming projects.

-What were your early encounters with Feldman’s music like?

I can’t remember my first live Feldman experience as a listener. One of the first works I remember hearing was FOR SAMUEL BECKETT. My first experience playing Feldman was with Ensemble 21, when we performed VIOLIN VIOLA CELLO PIANO, which was just a transformative experience for me, as a chamber player. After that experience, I very much wanted to find a solo work of his to perform and possibly record.

Listening to Feldman is special because there is that great luxury of time. It can take, in TRIADIC MEMORIES for example, maybe a half-an-hour or forty-five minutes to get acclimated to the environment of the work, and to become familiar with the kinds of things that happen in that special environment. In each of his pieces, I think, there’s an extended period where the materials introduce themselves, so to say.It’s not dynamic in the sense of something happening right away, or a conflict being presented, or a big question being asked — and so I feel it’s best to not aggressively try and “figure out” what is happening.

– Which pieces by Feldman have you performed?

VIOLIN VIOLA CELLO PIANO, EXTENSIONS 1, THE VIOLA IN MY LIFE, INTERSECTION 2, PALAIS DE MARI, and TRIADIC MEMORIES —

– What do you think Feldman meant by titling a piece Triadic Memories?

Feldman’s piano music is all about decay, what he would refer to as a kind of receding landscape …. For me, that sense of resonance and the dying of the sound is perhaps the most important part of the piece. His harmonies are gorgeous, very lush and evocative — but as beautiful as they are, more of the piece is spend listening to them fade.

– When did you record Triadic Memories for Mode? Has your performance of the work changed over time?

I believe this is 2004, recorded perhaps summer 2003. I’m sure my performance has changed — although not drastically. In terms of timing and rhythmic precision, I believe it’s very consistent with the recorded version. I’m still convinced by that “magic” (for me) tempo and the specificity of the rhythms, and the way I first conceived of articulating them. But I do feel that I’ve become more sensitive to the harmonic nuances of the work, as I’ve become more familiar with it over the years —  the way I voice things, and the way I anticipate the decay, I think, has become more personal.

– While they’re not often showy, Feldman’s pieces make significant demands of their own on performers. Can you tell us a bit about those, and how you prepare to perform Triadic Memories in concert?

I feel these works are very virtuosic, despite the fact that they’re not fast and full of passagework. There’s a moment-to-moment control that Feldman requires, in terms of dynamic and timbre and attack, which requires a tremendous amount of physical and mental preparation. To be that attuned to the smallest nuances, and physically in total control, for such a significant span w/o any real “recess” requires a special kind of concentration. For me, there is no substitute for playing the work — in real time, w/o interruption, — daily for at least a week or two before the concert. There is always detail-work to be done (specificity of rhythms, defining colors, making certain that the surface of the work is somehow “flawless” and w/o rupture — but doing everything sequentially, in tempo, is always a test.

– After Triadic Memories, what are some of your upcoming projects?

I’m very excited to be working again with the fabulous pianist Sarah Rothenberg on a four-hand Kurtag program, combining (as the composer himself has done) Kurtag’s JATEKOK with his Bach transcriptions, presented as a concert program on an upright piano. Sarah and I had a fantastic time working on Messiaen’s VISIONS DE L’AMEN, touring and recording it, and this is a very different and intimate kind of project —  I’m also preparing for a recording of American spectralist composer Joshua Fineberg’s complete solo piano music, which will appear on CD with Hugues Dufourt’s recent ERLKONIG — a follow-up to my complete Murail disc. It will feature a new work written for me by Joshua, amd I am very much looking forward to touring with that, as a complete program in itself. And just after this Festival, I’m recording Elizabeth Hoffman’s “organum let open,” a beautiful work she wrote for me last year, based on texts of theatre artist George Hunka. It’s wonderful to be doing such recent music, and inspiring to be working with such talented composers.

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Turkish pianist Seda Röder has been around these parts more than a few times; sometimes for her wonderful playing and sometimes for her wonderful podcasts. Now an Associate at Harvard, since coming over to the U.S. in 2007 (after graduating the Mozarteum in Salzburg) Seda has been a bit of a whirlwind when it comes to new music. Not content to take the standard performer’s trajectory, Seda gives almost equal measure to not onlyconcertizing, but also informing and promoting on behalf of the lesser-known — both newer and older — corners of modern classical music.  Of course, in one of the corners most dear to her lies the work of living Turkish composers, a corner most of us have never paid any attention to.

Now Seda has taken a pretty big step on the way to rectifying that gap in our awareness: first, with the release of her new CD Listening to Istanbul, a collection of six newly-commissioned piano works by Turkish composers both established and emerging; and second, through a marvellous accompanying website that amplifies the CD and the works on it with all kinds of extra information, background, notes and interviews with the composers themselves.

Here composer Tolga Tüzün talks about his work Permanence:

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(Houston, TX) On February 25th and 26th at 8pm and February 27th at 2:30 pm (the third date added due to popular demand), the Houston Chamber Choir and Da Camera present Music for Rothko, a concert program of contemporary music in one of Houston’s most unique performance spaces. All three performances are sold out.

Presented in the interior of Rothko Chapel, the Music for Rothko program includes piano works by John Cage and Erik Satie, Tagh for the Funeral of the Lord for viola and percussion by Tigran Mansurian, and choral compositions by John Cage including Four. Feldman’s Rothko Chapel for soprano, alto, choir, celesta, and percussion, is the centerpiece of the program. The performers include the Houston Chamber Choir conducted by Robert Simpson, pianist Sarah Rothenberg, percussionist Brian Del Signore, and violist Kim Kashkashian in her first Houston appearance in more than 20 years.

New Yorker Magazine music critic Alex Ross recently tweeted: “It’s Rothko Chapel week” in reference to several performances taking place this week across the country of Feldman’s elegy for his friend painter Mark Rothko. It is exciting to find out via Twitter that this piece is receiving so much well deserved attention. Last Fall on Sequenza 21, I wrote about the Houston Chamber Choir and this upcoming concert. But I didn’t know at the time that several other performances of the piece would take place within a short span of time. And now I’m interested in contemplating what will set the Houston performance of Rothko Chapel apart from those taking place in other cities?

In his wonderful collection of writings Give My Regards to Eighth Street, Feldman describes Rothko’s paintings as “…an experience in depth…not a surface to be seen on a wall.” Music for Rothko will be complimented by the fourteen paintings Rothko painted for Rothko Chapel; and this setting is one that venues in other cities will not be able to approximate. Rothko’s paintings seem to move beyond the edges of the canvases, their surface appearances changing constantly thanks to the light coming through the chapel’s skylight and Houston’s unpredictable weather patterns. A fusion between the paintings, the architecture of the octagonal room, AND the live music is in store for the chapel’s capacity audiences.

Rothko Chapel

Music for Rothko takes place February 25th and 26th at 8pm and February 27th at 2:30pm at Rothko Chapel. All three Music for Rothko concerts are sold out.

A standby list will be created beginning one hour before the performances, and if there are unoccupied seats, ticket will be sold for $35 at the door beginning about 10 minutes before the concert begins.

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Russian composer/theosophist/sensualist Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) spent a lot of his life dreaming of a kind of sensory extravaganza, pieces that would submerge the audience in swirling sound, dance, colored light, heady aromas… Yeah, kind of like the 60s, but a little more Old-World refined. One result of Scriabin’s musical synasthesia was that he held very specific views on which colors were inextricably tied to each key and note. As Wiki tells it:

In his autobiographical Recollections, Sergei Rachmaninoff recorded a conversation he had had with Scriabin and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov about Scriabin’s association of colour and music. Rachmaninoff was surprised to find that Rimsky-Korsakov agreed with Scriabin on associations of musical keys with colors; himself skeptical, Rachmaninoff made the obvious objection that the two composers did not always agree on the colours involved. Both maintained that the key of D major was golden-brown; but Scriabin linked E-flat major with red-purple, while Rimsky-Korsakov favored blue. However, Rimsky-Korsakov protested that a passage in Rachmaninoff’s opera The Miserly Knight supported their view: the scene in which the Old Baron opens treasure chests to reveal gold and jewels glittering in torchlight is written in D major. Scriabin told Rachmaninoff that “your intuition has unconsciously followed the laws whose very existence you have tried to deny.”

Scriabin’s grand schemes barely came to fruition during his life, but that’s never stopped later generations from debating, analyzing or even attempting realizations of his ambitious vision. One such attempt is in store for New Yorkers this coming Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 25th and 26th., at the Jerome Robbins Theater (located within the Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th Street). Georgian pianist Eteri Andjaparidze and lighting designer/Macarthur Grant “genius” Jennifer Tipton will be mowing through a wide swath of Scriabin’s piano music, all accompanied by lighting inspired by his ideas on musical colors. More information on time and tix here; And to warm up your ears here’s a recording of Vladimir Sofronitsky playing Scriabin’s Sonata No.4, which will be on the concert:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAeLmHxrYxM[/youtube]

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Two more pieces of recommended listening from the BBC Proms concerts: Robin Holloway’s Reliquary transforms Schumann’s, er, problematic Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart into a genuinely beautiful, affecting work. It’s reminiscent of reconstructions and expansions of 19th century music by Berio and Schnittke, and you can listen to it here until Thursday.

Jonathan Dove’s A Song of Joys for chorus and orchestra is a brief and buoyant setting of Walt Whitman. How appropos to see Galen’s post on the influence of John Adams, because that’s who I would have guessed composed this work if I heard it without knowing the composer. However, Dove isn’t an upcoming student composer–he’s 51 years old, and was influenced by Adams ahead of the curve of plenty of other composers his age. The BBC disagrees with me about Dove’s youth, however, where the announcer matter of factly describes him as a “young” composer. I guess Elliott Carter has raised the average age of composers. I turn 50 in November, and I just started writing pieces again. Wow, I’m a young composer!

You can listen to Dove’s A Song of Joys here (give it a try, it’s under 5 minutes).

Finally, Kathy Supove’s The Exploding Piano concert at Le Poisson Rouge from August is available in full at WQXR.  Just click here to listen to lots of piano and electronics and Kathy making what sounds to me like chipmunk noises (intentionally per composer Michael Gatonska’s request). While the streaming can’t convey Kathy’s brilliant red hair or whatever fantastic outfit she wore that evening, the whole concert is a nice preview of her new CD, The Exploding Piano. A neat feature about this page is that unlike other streaming broadcasts, you can isolate individual works on the program. My favorite was Missy Mazzoli’s Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos. I don’t hear any Adams at all in her trippy work, so there’s at least one young star on the rise owing nothing to Big John.

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The final American Modern Ensemble concerts of the season are happening this Thursday and Friday (June 24 and 25, 8pm) at Faust Harrison Pianos.

Stephen Gosling and Blair McMillen will be throwing-down on works for two pianos by John Adams (Hallelujah Junction), John Corigliano (Chiaroscuro), Mary Ellen Childs (Kilter), Amanda Harberg (Subway), Doug Opel (Dilukkenjon), Frederic Rzewski (Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues), and the world premiere of Deep Blue Ocean by AME founder and Artistic Director, Robert Paterson.

There will be limited seating over at Faust Harrison so you might want to save a couple bucks over the price at the door by ordering online (or ordering by phone at 800.838.3006).  They are even throwing in a free CD for every ticket purchased online.

You can also listen to short interviews with Blair McMillen and Robert Paterson about their experiences working with composers here (Blair) and here (Robert).

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