Usually after I finish a large-scale project such as The Two-Cents Opera, I find myself somewhat forlorn. After developing a piece for two or three years when it is done, there is almost a sense of loss. This has to do with the nature of musical activities – music is written and performed and gone… fortunately we have recordings, but there is nothing like a live performance and the excitement of being on stage with ten other people is really hard to match.
So I find myself lonely at the piano.The blues which was my first foray into songwriting, and I happened to notice how much the blues is in a way similar to the tango. There is an inherent melancholy of being in tango music, but it is offset by the dance rhythm and the ultimate rubato of the performance. Someone said about tango music that it is “a sad thought that is being danced.”
So I have been writing some tangos… and they may be a little bit French in some ways, as I recall the songs from my childhood – Edith Piaf, Juliette Greco, with actually good words by poets like Prevert and Boris Vian. My first tango was written in the 70s at the request of an artist friend, Robert Malaval, while in Paris. This predated my conversion to classical music.
A version of this tango (with a vocal in French) is on the new release from Unseen Worlds, Piano Works Revisited. Unseen Worlds carefully compiled recordings from Piano Works (Cat Collectors, 1983) and Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory (Cat Collectors, 1984, featuring performances by Peter Zummo and Arthur Russell), and also took the trouble to rescue a special live version of Sonate Modale in Toronto at the Music Gallery (1985), which has never been released. This release also includes my own performance of Variations on the Orange Cycle.
I have an on-off love affair with the piano. I am more often immersed in the synthesizers – hard or soft, physical or virtual – as they really draw me in, but once in a while I just have to return to the piano. It has become difficult to find a decent piano to play out downtown. Often they are not maintained and out of tune, or missing altogether from the performing space. For years I was keen on using alternative tunings such as Vallotti Young or Werckmeister III and I do prefer their more natural harmonies, but at this point I would be content to play a piano in standard tuning as long as it actually works! I had to sacrifice my grand piano as I moved to a smaller apartment… those are the times. And the one I have now – a German Neindorf from the 1920s – is nearly falling apart and I feel a great sadness as the snow falls continually.
I will perform tangos soon…
At a Haiti Benefit on March 12, 8PM – Public Assembly, Brooklyn
At Lafayette Bar and Grill on March 27, 54 Franklin St, 8PM
For details go to: http://www.lesperformingarts.org