Archive for the “Piano” Category

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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Our regular listen to and look at living, breathing composers and performers that you may not know yet, but I know you should… And can, right here and now, since they’re nice enough to offer so much good listening online:

Stephane Ginsburgh (b. 1969 — Belgium)

Stephane GinsburghI first ran across this fine pianist a few years ago, while searching the web for information about Marcel Duchamp’s prescient, chance-based 1913 “compositions”, Erratum Musical — In 2001, Stephane recorded a number of his own interpretations of Duchamp’s score for the Sub Rosa label. A little of Stephane’s official bio:

Born in Brussels, after graduating from the Royal Music Conservatories of Mons and Liège in piano and chamber music he studied with Paul Badura-Skoda, Vitaly Margulis, Pascal Sigrist and particularly Claude Helffer in Paris for contemporary music and Jerome Lowenthal in New York.

He has premiered many new pieces and been awarded the Pelemans Prize for his activity in promoting music by Belgian contemporary composers. He also plays with the Ictus Ensemble under George-Elie Octors. In 1998 he co-founded with composer Renaud De Putter “le Bureau des Arts”, an active group of artists dedicated to different types of expression and creation including music, dance and literature.

His two recent CD releases, Duchamp’s Erratum Musical and Morton Feldman Last Pieces were warmly reviewed by New York critics. As member of the le Bureau des Pianistes, he recorded three CDs with music by Jean-Luc Fafchamps and Morton Feldman. Upcoming CDs for Sub Rosa include For Bunita Marcus by Morton Feldman and John Adams’ China Gates and Phrygian Gates.

Ginsburgh studies philosophy at the Free University of Brussels.

Stephane’s website has always featured some generous online listening to some deeply committed performances, of music from everyone from Beethoven to Bartok all the way up through Ligeti and beyond. Browse the CD links and you’ll find that many offer MP3s of selected tracks; browse the “Live” link to find even more sound files.

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For the full story on the new aleatoric work seen being performed above on a Bösendorfer at the Two Moors Festival in the UK, take An Overgrown Path. Image credit BBC News 

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Our favorite techno-geek pianist Hugh Sung has come up with a really neat new way to integrate live music with dynamic imagery, animations, and synchronized video clips, all of which can be controlled by the performing musician directly a simple foot-switch.  Think Arditti Quartet meets the Joshua Light Show.  (Perhaps too old a reference for most of you.)  Hugh calls his system the Visual Recital which seems as good a name as any.

You can catch Hugh’s next Visual Recital live on Saturday night at the Darlington Arts Center, 977 Shavertown Road, Boothwyn, PA
(610-358-3632) or if you can’t make it you can watch this sample clip from “Vernacular Dance No. 1″ by S21 blogger Charles B. Griffin: 


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The brilliant and talented piano and TabletPC genuis Hugh Sung has a terrific post about the Sequenza21 concert where he was a star performer.  Hugh is also one of the nicest people alive.

Kyle Gann, who drove two hours down and two hours back to Bard for the concert, has some nice words about the concert here.  Kyle turned 37 yesterday.

Our congratulations to regular Darcy James Argue who is one of the 29 recipients of the latest round of the American Music Center’s Composer Assistance Program (CAP).  The complete list is here

Altman was one of the best.

Update:  Speaking of birthdays, today is Gunther Schuller’s 81st.  Richard Buell tells me that when Schuller was 16 and the first horn of the the Cincinnati Symphony, he auditioned for the Ellington band, playing Johnny Hodges’s charts.

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