Archive for the “Piano” Category

[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.

In Tribute

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:

Teresa McCollough

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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)
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 (Photo by Lori Deemer)
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

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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From the cover of Kevin Wood's 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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This Fall marks the twentieth season of provocative programming in New York City brought to you by Interpretations. 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. Our fourth concert this season, on 20 November, features composer-performers JB Floyd and Raphael Mostel at Roulette.

JB Floyd:
My concert on the Interpretations Series on November 20th will mark the third time that I have presented my compositions on this prestigious series. These concerts have featured my works for flute and piano, vocal pieces for Thomas Buckner and the Yamaha Disklavier™ and keyboard works that combine the unique features of the Yamaha Disklavier™ as a concert piano and as a controller keyboard.

Though my music is mostly notated there are usually opportunities for improvisation within each composition. Having worked on many occasions with Thomas Buckner I am particularly looking forward to our work together on a new piece of mine, In Crossing The Busy Street for baritone voice and Yamaha Disklavier™. The poem is by Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore a poet whose works inspire musical representation.

Other compositions are for the Yamaha Disklavier™ and will be performed by my talented protégé, Liana Pailodze who is an Artist Diploma candidate at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. It is an honor to be included on this celebrated series that is celebrating its 20th Anniversary.

Raphael Mostel:
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Bela
I am haunted by Bela Bartok. He composed certain musical ideas which pursue me, and unbidden keep coming back to mind. My Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Bela is an attempt to exorcise this musical “possession” using one particularly searing turn from Bartok’s Piano Sonata. I’ve enlisted help from John Cage, Morton Feldman, Leonard Bernstein, Gyorgy Kurtag and many others. Wallace Stevens’ poem seemed to bless this exorcism. My apologies to triskadecaphobes.

A Letter to Benoit Mandelbrot, or, Authenticity
I’d written to Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, asking if he’d never wondered why — since visual representations of fractals are so beautiful — the supposed musical representations of fractals are not? I offered to explicate mathematically. He wrote back inviting elaboration, which I did. But my explanation, he said, “mystified” him. My Letter to Benoit Mandelbrot is a further meditation on music, self-similarity and cheating.

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How does it sound – a double concerto written by a musician weaned on Beethoven, salsa, Stravinsky and Bulgarian folk music? In short – like nothing else!

The Danish composer Anders Koppel (b. 1947) is himself. “My music consists of the life I have lived,” is as close as he gets to a definition of his style.

Anders Koppel grew up with music all day long. His father, Herman D. Koppel, was one of Denmark’s leading composers and pianists, and worked in the living room at home. Anders and his siblings were eye-witnesses to all aspects of the musical creative process and got to know about the smallest components of music. As adults all four became some of the most prominent Danish musicians.

The key words for Anders’ music are energy, collectivity and festivity. After one of the most versatile careers in Danish music, which still includes intense improvisations on Hammond organ, Anders Koppel is now concentrating on writing classical solo concertos. He has written over 20 since the mid-1990s, most recently also a couple of double concertos.

On two CDs from Dacapo you can hear Anders’ mixture of vital energy and classical forms. On one CD his son Benjamin is the soloist in his Saxophone Concertos 1 and 2, and on the other you can hear Anders Koppel’s double concertos: one is for violin and accordion with a definite touch of tango. The other is for saxophone and piano and drags Beethoven along to a nightclub. There are inserted improvisations that give the music freedom and personality – a good indication of the attitude of this congenial composer, who was one of Denmark’s best known hippies in the 1960s and is still a passionate representative of breadth of taste and a zest for life.

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Steve Reich’s seminal 1967 Piano Phase has always been a fantastic challenge for any two pianists. But here is the Russian Peter Aidu (b. 1976) going them all one better, by performing both parts solo, on two pianos at once.

Released on the netlabel Top-40, the complete recording is available to freely download at (There’s also a link there to further information on the pianist and release, and the MP3 download at is fine, but I would recommend NOT visiting directly the Top-40 homepage. There may be some malware lurking there!)

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James CombsJames Combs, composer… Ah, where to start?… I met James years ago, in our formerly-shared hometown of Seattle. Truly a “regular-Joe” in person, giving little hint of the ornate wheels spinning underneath. An anecdote on James’ blog seems a perfect illustration of the man and the work:

A Minimalist Experience
A boring Sunday, really not so much different than any other Sunday.  March 16, 2008, I went for a drive to run some miscellaneous errands.  My wife informed me that we were in some need of household items which could be purchased at the nearest store.  So heading to the store on this boring Sunday, I am ever increasingly slipping slowly, steadily, into a trance state while driving.  I am sure it was not unsafe, and I believe there is a name for it.  Highway hypnosis.  The condition where you arrive at your destination while not recalling much of the way there.  I remember arriving at the store that boring Sunday and noticing the parking lot was quite full.  This pulled me out of my trance to an irritating degree.  Not finding one parking spot, my wife decided to run in and get the couple of items and I would simply drive around the parking lot until she made her way back outside.  So I started driving steadily, cautiously through the parking lot which went in a round about.  The first loop, I was concerned with looking out for other cars, but I have to say by the time I made it to my second lap I was really feeling the track, memorizing all the angles.  By the time I hit the third lap I was steering around vehicles and halting with expert dexterity for crossing traffic through the parking lot, the track.  I can’t remember what lap I was on when my cell phone rang and woke me up from my hypnotic state.  It was my wife wondering why I kept driving past her, waiting outside the front of the store.

Self-taught, James writes smallish, fairly static, elegant and polished yet absolutely irrational piano pieces. Pieces from another century’s drawing room — though that century could only be invented in the here and now. Maybe if we overlayed glass slides of Chopin, Satie, Stravinsky, Feldman, Glass, Eno, then maybe… Each small piece has the quality of a Mark Ryden painting; antique poise and luminescence recalled in a disturbing dream from just last night. James makes no claims to intrude on Brian Ferneyhough’s turf; yet for all their simplicity these modest piano pieces show the most wonderful intuition for line, sonority, weight and color, all at just the right moment. I suppose we could call the pieces “etudes”, but what they teach would be philosophical rather than technical. There’s also a kind of deadpan humor, a bit of Buster Keaton or even Steven Wright (“I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time’. So I ordered french toast during the Renaissance.”) running through the whole ethos. So what kind of music is this? Again, I’ll let James explain:

“Classical” … The meaning of this word pertaining to music obviously is defined as a musical form.  So what is this meaning?  Ask any average guy and he would probably say “like what Mozart and Beethoven composed.”  Hey, he would be absolutely correct.  I mean, there was an age long ago termed the “classical period.”  This period was defined not only within the music, but paintings, architecture, poetry, etc.

So if you ask the average “Joe” what contemporary classical is, they might scratch their head and reference ?  I mean, most likely.  And that’s the problem.  Is rock a period?  Is jazz a period (I know about the age, but we’re talking music)?  The term “classical” is a definite problem.  It links the past to the present under false pretenses.  Imagine Philip Glass or Steve Reich being asked “what genre of music to you compose for?”  They answer “impressionism.”  That is if we swap out the word classical in favor of the word impressionism, both a period so would it matter? 

Does the use of the word classical as a blanket definition of all eras of this form in turn form a bias within academia and elitists?  Meaning, to pick classical as the word might say to some that the era of classical itself is the most relevant to every genre.  Here in Seattle our “classical” radio station rarely strays (some might say deviates) from the baroque, classical and romantic eras.  I would bet that to be the case for every metropolitan city around the world. 

Do you want a solution?  Take out “classical” as the definition of all periods in aforementioned music and replace with “amaranth.”  An unfading flower. 

I compose amaranth music.  I compose amaranth music in a contemporary style.

James first self-produced CD release, Charmed Elixers, is available now on both CD Baby and iTunes.

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Renewable Music‘s long-time American-in-Deutschland, Daniel J. Wolf, had the idea of inviting composers to contribute to an album for piano, simply centered around this moment and season. No publishers, no glitzy “call for works”, just a friendly invitation for any interested. The result is the A Winter Album, twelve piano pieces of quite diverse hues, for each and everyone of us to freely peruse in our gray and inclement hours. The composers may not be known to you, but all the better; they’re a stellar bunch in my book: Dennis Báthory-Kitsz, Jon Brenner, Steed Cowart, Elaine Fine, Hauke Harder, Ben.Harper, Jeff Harrington, Aaron Hynds, Lloyd Rodgers, Jonathan Segel, Charles Shere, and Daniel James Wolf himself. Pianists, warm yourself over these embers; and thanks, Daniel. (photo by Ian Britton)

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