Aleck Karis was our guest in Composition Seminar a couple of weeks ago. Aleck has made a name for himself as a pianist unfazed by the thorniest of contemporary scores – as the pianist for Speculum Musicae, he’s long been associated with music of Davidovsky, Carter and Cage.
Now teaching at UCSD, Karis was in town to play a program of music by Davidovsky and two of his pupils, Edward Jacobs and Michael Rothkopf.

His topic in Seminar was contemporary piano technique. He began with an historical overview, addressing fundamental developments in piano technique from Cristofori through Debussy. Then he launched into a catalogue of extended techniques. He brought copies for everyone of a wonderful chart he had devised, showing exactly which harmonics and muted tones are possible on the piano strings.

Aleck also talked about the basic principles of idiomatic piano writing, which I think was particularly helpful to many of our students with limited keyboard proficiency. In this, as in all of his explanations, he was very clear, and very attuned to the needs of his audience, which consisted of about thirty composers and pianists.

Finally, he played the second movement of Birtwistle’s Harrison’s Clocks, a piece that demands fleet fingers and mind-numbing concentration, which Karis appears to have in abundant supply.

seminar photos by Steve Davis

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