Archive for the “Piano” Category
Many of our regular s21 readers should be familiar with Amsterdam’s own Samuel Vriezen, both as a visitor here on these pages, as well as a composer selected to be on both of our past s21-produced concerts. Samuel’s always been a highly active explorer, whether in his own or others’ music, poetry, concert production, cross-continent discussions with artists of all stripes, you name it. With a strong interest in Language Poetry, it’s not surprising that his explorations have led him to what I might call “Language Music”.
No composer could better typify this kind of piece than ex-pat American (and former Village Voice critic) Tom Johnson. For quite some time, Johnson’s own brand of ‘minimalism’ has produced a whole series of stunning pieces, often from the most basic and transparent idea and means. The beauty of Johnson’s work is that he’ll take some very simple starting concept or question and, without trying to finesse or “art it up”, follow the process all the way through in the most natural and even mundane fashion. What’s fascinating is how such a simple starting point can end up creating it’s own rich and absorbing musical experience.
Case in point: Johnson’s 1986 piece titled simply The Chord Catalog. The work consists of all 8178 chords you can play using the 13 tones of one full octave, from the 78 2-note chords up to the one 13-tone cluster. The progression unfolds on the piano with absolute regularity, both through the notes and through time. While this may sound dry as dust, what happens over time is a strange tension, anticipation, and eventually even a bit of rich disorientation. It’s also incredibly difficult to perform; Johnson himself had such a hard time mastering it that he was pretty sure there’d be no one to follow. But along came Samuel, who became enamoured enough with the piece to put in all the work necessary to not only master it, but to surpass the master in accuracy and speed.
And now there’s a chance for you to hear Samuel bring his performance of The Chord Catalog to our own shores. He’s winging his way across the pond to give two performances here: the first in Washington D.C. this Monday, October 26th at 7:30pm at Ward Recital Hall, Catholic University of America, 620 Michigan Ave. NE); the second in New York City on Wednesday, October 28th, 8:30PM at Roulette (20 Green St.).
The Concerts are titled “Chord Catalogues” because also on the bill is Samuel’s own 2006 piece Within Fourths/Within Fifths, a work that forms a kind of natural extension to the Johnson.
Just to complete the hat-trick, Samuel also has the world premiere of his piece Sept Germes Cristallins at a concert Friday, october 30, 8PM, presented by the Ensemble Lunatics At Large at the Mannes College of Music (Mannes College Concert Hall, 150 W. 85th St) in a bill that includes Chen Yi, György Kurtág, Ryan Brown, Luciano Berio, William Funk and John Harbison. About the new work, Samuel tells me it “was written at the request of the Flemish literary review, Deus Ex Machina, as a contribution for their Valéry issue. Given that I am a poet and a composer with some background in mathematics, the idea was that I would somehow respond musically to one of the fragments from Valéry’s Cahiers – the extraordinary and humungous collection of thoughts and notes that he diligently was penning down every single morning for many decades. I chose a brief text that compares a sudden memory to the sudden crystalization that can happen in an over-saturated solution, because it suggested musical textures to me. It’s a piece in which every musician has lots of freedoms, with the soprano in control of the pacing, and every now and then a sudden fractal canon crops up.”
So if you’re in any of those neighborhoods then, drop by for some truly astounding music, and say “hi” personally to one of the nicest minds I know (for an in-your-face Dutch guy, that is … ).
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This summary has to be a short one, since I need to finish preparing for my paper presentation tomorrow morning, but today was another excellent conference day. During the day, in addition to papers there was a concert of Tom Johnson‘s extremely minimal Organ and Silence performed by Neely Bruce. At dinner time Robert Carl gave a plenary address about In C, a subject on which he has just published a book. Then we all had some of the justly famous Kansas City barbecue. In the evening Sarah Cahill, a great champion of contemporary music, gave a concert which included two recently completed transcriptions of Harold Budd‘s The Children on the Hill. The piece was originally improvised, and there exist two vastly different recordings, which Kyle Gann has painstakingly transcribed. The pieces are quite beautiful. The rest of the concert was good too, but the other highlights for me were an excerpt of Hans Otte‘s Das Buch der Klange, which is virtuosic, beautiful, and spectacular, and John Adams‘s China Gates, which he actually wrote for Sarah Cahill many years ago.
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It’s high summer, which of course means baseball… which of course means Annie Gosfield… Or at least her 1997 piece Brooklyn, October 5, 1941. You can read about it over at the NewMusicBox archive; seems to me that it’s still the only piano piece out there using two baseballs and a catcher’s mitt (though if you know more I’m happy to hear about it). I just wanted to share this lively performance by Jenny Q Chai, taped live at The Stone. Afterwards head to Jenny’s YouTube channel; you’ll find a lot of other wonderful performances of things off the beaten track.
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Seda Röder is a Turkish pianist who currently teaches in Boston. Those of you who are interested in electroacoustic music may remember her performance back in April during the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival at the CUNY Graduate Center. If you live near Boston, take a look at her website: she will be playing four concerts in the area between September and the end of the year.
Seda has been very active recently, performing and recording works by young Turkish composers including Tolga Yayalar and Hans Tutschku. She believes that most Americans don’t know much about young Turkish composers — I believe she is correct!
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Mauricio Kagel‘s 1984 “Der Eid des Hippokrates” (“The Hippocratic Oath”), for piano 3-hands. Kagel wrote:
This aphoristic composition was inspired by the publication in January 1984, in a medical magazine, of an article on my latest work. Whiling away the time in hospital waiting rooms, I began to think about the generous Hippocratic oath. I could not say if it was because I was wondering about the influence this Greek practitioner had — but there I was, writing a piece for two left hands, while also calling on the right hand [….] One hand keeps on providing a muted drumming, on a corner of the piano, as if transmitting extracts from the early oath in Morse code: “I swear by the doctors Apollo, Aesculapius, Hygieia and Panacea, by all the gods and the goddesses…”
The players here are András Hamary, Markus Bellheimand Armin Fuch, from a 2008 concert.
[We previewed this concert a couple weeks ago, and were hoping to file a quick review following the performance. Due to unforseen circumstances it’s a few days later than we’d like, but reviewer Eric Johnson came through in the end:]
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Xiayin Wang offered two world premieres on her May 18 recital at Alice Tully Hall. Ms. Wang’s career is on the rise, with a number of orchestral appearances, solo recitals, and her new CD release of music by Scriabin on Naxos. The New York Sun recently praised her for a “robust, confident performance,” attributes she displayed here as well. In addition to Haydn, Chopin, Ravel, Scriabin and Liszt, we heard Richard Danielpour’s Second Book of Preludes and Sean Hickey’s Cursive.
Danielpour says that “the Preludes are evocative memories of real life,” but no explicit narrative was provided for any of the seven movements. The opening “Persepolis” hinted strongly at neoclassical Stravinsky, followed by an angst-filled second movement, an “Elegy” resembling Barber, and a spastic rag. I was particularly fond of the straightforward appeal of “Elegy”; not only in the music but Wang’s performance. Simplicity can often create the most eloquent music, and that was surely the case here.
Sadly, I’m not sure anyone but Ms. Wang and Mr. Danielpour really know what the fifth prelude sounds like. Shortly after the beginning of the piece, a particularly rude audience member answered a phone call in the concert hall. She then proceeded to walk out very slowly, talking in a stage whisper all the while. It’s fair to say that the pianist was the only one not glaring at her!
Sean Hickey has firmly grounded his career in jazz and chamber music, as well as composing for film and theatre. Hickey’s notes for Cursive speak of a desire to write seamlessly, a “mostly unbroken line,” but to these ears it was anything but seamless. The piece was filled with seemingly unrelated ideas — more like sketches than cursive calligraphy. Yet Ms. Wang gave a compelling performance, tying the loose threads together. Wang’s enthusiasm and daring shone clearly in her commitment to these two living composers’ pieces.
The standard repertoire was engaging too, every selection displayed wonderfully. Indeed, the most exciting portion of the program was the final movement of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. Ms. Wang practically lifted herself off the bench as she pounded out Ravel’s exotic, even sultry depiction of Scarbo’s moonlit flight. A complimetary highlight was Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 in F Major – a thing of rare beauty, played most delicately. ~~ Eric Johnson
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Interpretations continues its twentieth season of provocative programming in New York City. Founded and curated by baritone Thomas Buckner in 1989, Interpretations focuses on the relationship between contemporary composers from both jazz and classical backgrounds and their interpreters, whether the composers themselves or performers who specialize in new music. To celebrate, Jerry Bowles has invited the artists involved in this season’s concerts to blog about their Interpretations experiences. On 9 April 2009, pianist Teresa McCollough presents a recital of music by Alvin Singleton, Sam Pluta, Gabriela Lena Frank, John Adams, and George Crumb.
I have been asked to write about my upcoming concert on the Interpretations Series, in celebration of its 20th season. As this is my first time playing on this series, I want to talk not only about the upcoming concert and my connection to the program and its composers, but also about my connection to Tom Buckner, its founder and musical director, with whom I share a passion for commissioning and playing new music. It is a tribute to Tom, and his considerable vision and spirit, that Interpretations is reaching the milestone of its 20th year, and I am honored to be a part of this exciting anniversary observance.
Tom and I met a few years ago through our mutual friend and fabulous composer, Alvin Singleton. Both Tom and I had commissioned Alvin for different works, and Alvin thought we might want to get to know each other. Tom and I spoke on the phone for nearly an hour about our shared passion for new music and support for composers, and at the end of that conversation, we had arranged for Tom to bring Alvin’s latest composition Say You Have this Ball of Meaning, to the 2006 Santa Clara New Music Festival, where it received its West coast premiere to great success.
Tom has visited Santa Clara University (his alma mater) several times, and most recently after a very inspiring guest recital, he gave a talk to the students about his experience with new music and improvisation, that was both passionate and realistic. He spoke at length about his artistic process, which included a commitment to learning new works through regular improvisation and rehearsal sessions as a young man honing his craft, living and studying in the Bay area. Tom gathered other artists and composers at his house, where he held regular reading and improvisation sessions, followed by monthly concerts of those works that had been discovered so thoroughly. Along the way, he met many great composers, such as Robert Ashley and Roscoe Mitchell, and other experimental artists who were living and making up the fabric of west coast new music at that time. He created a life in experimental art that is almost forgotten in today’s professional world of learning a new piece just well enough to race to the next gig. Tom suggested a method for hearing and creating new music that recalled a slower time of deeper listening. The students could relate all too well to this leading artist and advocate who mirrored their current image of creating new compositions. Their sound world is as fresh as Tom’s was thirty-five years ago, and with more resources and outlets for communication. The weekly jam sessions that they hold with their bands and ensembles are explorations of new music with living composers and artists whom we will hear from in a few years. Making great music takes time, and it’s one’s process with that art form that makes the journey worthwhile. A venerable series, like Interpretations, didn’t spring up overnight, and great artists become so only after developing a life in music that is not only dedicated, but open to change. Contemporary music can be most accessible, if it is communicated with passion and supported with great resources. The continued success of a series such as Interpretations depends upon its artistic vision and leadership, as well as many years of dedication and hard work. My hat is off to Tom, without whom there might not be so many great works in this genre, or so many artists and composers who have received such generous support.
For my own part, I have chosen a program that I hope will be a tribute to this long-lasting series and which communicates that spirit which I believe exists when composers and artists share an admiration and respect for each other’s unique sound worlds. I have a passion for this music, and a desire to share it with an audience. Whether it is the musical mystery of George Crumb’s music played on the strings of the piano, or the experimental sounds of Sam Pluta’s crushed soda cans interwoven with a palate of piano jazz and improvisation, it is meaningful to me, and related in one way or another. Gabriela Frank’s Requiem explores the symbolism of the Day of the Dead ritual, while John Adams’ Hallelujah Junction is a work with a title that might seem to mean more than it does. Greed Machine by Alvin Singleton explores the timbres of vibraphone and piano through sound and time, while China Gates explores time through its sound repetition and displacement. All of these pieces explore the full range and capabilities of the piano and its inherent percussive possibilities played against a backdrop of various drums, gongs, chimes, and mallet instruments. It is playing, plucking, pounding, and improvising. It is a journey though music which might be inspired by spiritual sources, and inspired music that is musically unique and perhaps, spiritual. It will be a performance open to interpretation for all its listeners, prompted by an anniversary that is a true cause for celebration.
Teresa McCollough performs at Roulette on Thursday 9 April 2009.
For more information:
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It’s pretty easy to drive by Fredonia, NY without realizing you’ve done so…it’s one of the many small communities that dot the I-90 Interstate between Cleveland and Buffalo, practically on the shores of Lake Erie. The surrounding countryside is known for grapes and snow…Norman Rockwell would feel right at home in the town square, and it’s often found in the dictionary illustrating the definition of “quaint”.
Not exactly the place you’d expect to find a new music series, but that’s just the way we like it. Over 30 years ago the composition students at SUNY Fredonia began to fund their student concerts through the Student Association and since 2001 the Ethos New Music Society has fostered a major concert series in Western New York called the NewSound Festival. Within the past two years the festival has featured eighth blackbird, Ethel, Morton Subotnick, Missy Mazzoli and many others.
This year it was decided to focus on the piano as the thread tying the festival together, and as we’re now into our second week it seems to have been a very successful choice. Last week we kicked things off with the husband & wife team of pianist Kathleen Supové and composer Randall Woolf, who laid bare tales of their professional lives, discussed the essentials of living as a freelance composer and performer and gave a wonderful concert featuring two works by Randy as well as Jacob Tel Vendhuis, Anna Clyne and Neil Rolnick with video by Luke DuBois. I’d known both of them by reputation, recordings and Facebook, but it was a treat to finally get to meet them in person – and to find out that they had never been invited to speak anywhere together at the same time made it even more satisfying.
Kathy Supové performing Neil Rolnick’s “Digits” (Photo by Lori Deemer)
On Monday, it was time for some Cage, and Austin’s Michelle Schumann was kind enough to bring her prepared piano kit up to the Arctic Tundra that is Western NY and show the throngs of composers, pianists and percussionists how it’s done – first by giving an in-depth lecture on the history of the prepared piano and demonstration of how to prepare a piano without incurring the wrath of the piano techs (who had already fled the scene), and then by introducing over 200 of our student body to John Cage’s Sonatas & Interludes. When she was finished, those who weren’t thanking us for bringing her in were crowding around the piano to investigate the innocent carnage that was the bolts, erasers, screws and plastic strips that were expertly inserted between the strings.
Investigating the Prepared Piano post-concert (Photo by Lori Deemer)
Luckily we’re still not half-way through our NewSound Festival, in case you happen to be in the area – if you have any questions, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s a breakdown of the rest of the festival:
Bowed Piano Ensemble with Stephen Scott, composer and Victoria Hansen, soprano
Rosch Recital Hall, SUNY Fredonia campus
Friday, Feb. 13: 4pm, Preparation Workshop & 8pm, Lecture/Demonstration
Saturday, Feb. 14: 8pm, Concert, $5 general public
Pianist Amy Briggs and Composer David Rakowski
Rosch Recital Hall, SUNY Fredonia campus
Thursday, Feb. 19: 8pm, Lecture/Demonstration
Friday, Feb. 20: 8pm, Concert, $5 general public
Pianist/Composer Amy Williams
Rosch Recital Hall, SUNY Fredonia campus
Tuesday, Feb. 24: 8pm, Concert, Free admission
Pianist Hilary Demske plays the music of Henry Martin
Rosch Recital Hall, SUNY Fredonia campus
Saturday, Feb. 28: 8pm, Concert, Free admission
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Veda Hille – Indie pop plus Hindemith!
Vancouver’s Veda Hille is an indie singer/songwriter who fashions classical instrumentation and catchy tunes into an erudite pop style. This Riot Life, her latest CD, draws on a wide assortment of influences. Its frequent eschatological references and cryptically, messianic-tinged lyrics (“Ace of the Nazarene,” “Book of Saints, ““Rose of Sharon”) represent a recent find: an old hymnal belonging to her grandmother.
The harmonic sophistication and extended formal designs of her songs reflect Hille’s classical training, as does an unorthodox rendition of “The Moon,” a Shelley setting by Paul Hindemith. Prog-rock inflections are present too; “Book of Saints’” hook cribs the chord progression from the final section of Yes’ “Starship Trooper.” And “Lucklucky” combines minimal ostinati and a chamber orchestration with an abundantly appealing chorus. Who would’ve thought that Hindemith could rock?!?
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Luke Gullickson is a composer, pianist, and writer currently working on a Master’s in composition at UT in Austin, Texas. He keeps a blog, Sonatas and Interludes, where he recently pondered how “new age” can reach out and bleed into even the “avant-garde”:
There’s a problem in new pretty piano music. I call it the “new age” problem. The thing is, we’ve been Jim Brickman-d, David Lanz-d, Yanni-d, and now we can’t hear Keith Jarrett the same way anymore. We are all familiar with the warm sounds of new age piano music; it’s been a weird but persistent classification. On the surface, Jarrett’s Köln Concert, the albums of George Winston, and contemporary postminimal piano music by Peter Garland or William Duckworth sound similar, but the genre underpinnings, and their associated politics, are vastly different in each case. The worlds of jazz, pop, and classical, respectively, have merged together into this zone where superficial similarities are in danger of overriding the differences in intent between these disparate artists.
The argument goes a little farther in Luke’s original post, so take a little time to read it all if you’re thinking about commenting.
(Personally, the first-mentioned few make me groan and zone… But I defy anyone telling me Tim Story‘s 2001 Shadowplay isn’t at heart a Po-Mo masterpiece.)
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