Posts Tagged “composition”

“WIZARDS” This Thursday at Carnegie

I’ll be in NY for a day this Thursday, March 8th when my solo piano piece WIZARDS – Three Magic Masters gets its formal New York premiere at the New York Recital Debut of acclaimed Korean pianist Young-Ah Tak. The concert, 8:00 PM at Weill Recital Hall/Carnegie Hall, is presented by the Korea Music Foundation.

—- I’m always surprised at the pieces that catch on. Especially the piano pieces, which have different ‘flavors’ of appeal, some reaching pianists who are more poetic, others pianists who are more power-forward players. WIZARDS wraps both aspects into its compact length – and Young-Ah Tak (no stranger to the S21 community!) is a competition winner who enjoys all sides of what the piece proposes. (She’s played it on many recitals already.)

Young-Ah has had considerable international exposure. Her collaborative New York debut was at Alice Tully Hall with the Juilliard Symphony, and she has appeared at the Kennedy Center, Jordan Hall in Boston, Ravinia Festival, Music@Menlo, the Wharton Center in Michigan, Banff Centre for the Arts, and at major concert halls in her native Korea. She was recently named a Steinway artist, has already recorded on Albany and a current solo disc for MSR Classics, and is assistant professor of piano at Southeastern University in Florida.

(Quite a few players have ‘chimed’ with WIZARDS. Its 2nd recording is just out, and within the past 5 months has been done – by a number of pianists – several times in Florida, in Georgia, in the Chicago area, in Mississippi, in various South American cities, and elsewhere. )

The interesting March 8th program also includes Leon Kirchner’s Piano Sonata No.1 (1948), Muzio Clementi’s Sonata in B-flat Major, Op.24 No.2, the Schubert/Liszt Zwei Lieder Transcriptions and Schubert’s Sonata in C Minor, D. 958.

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This performance follows one day after the University of Minnesota’s Symphonic Band led by Jerry Luckhardt presents my “Israeli Rhapsody”, a big-framed 2007 piece with good history so far (selected 2 years back for Collegiate Honor Bands in both Virginia and MN).

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Hearing Fast = Shallow Content [?]
first of two posts

A week ago Friday I attended a concert at Arizona State University. (The program closed with a super-hot performance of my sax quartet, Parallel Play – I couldn’t ask for a better delivery!)

What stuck out from the program at large, though, was that the music by the younger composers programmed seemed built according to pretty different expectations of just what audience members were meant to get from their listening experience:

Acceptance that this hearing would in all likelihood be their one-and-only encounter with this piece – and therefore the music’s goals / contents / ambitions needed to abide by reduced dimensionality so that everything possible to glean would be doable in one pass through the piece.

Because I operate from a very different premise, I was struck by the thinness of content – by and large – in the works built accordingly. And their markedly slow harmonic rhythm. And their relatively shorter length.

Don’t get me wrong: There were striking sonorities and hooks aplenty – but they were primarily found in the very opening bars where they serve to capture the ear, and set up the listening presumption that some variation on the first material might occur – but also that that’s all there would be /could be. It makes for a tidy presentation, but (for me) is a curiously lifeless way to sustain originality in any artistic statement.

– Sure, we want the basic materials of a piece actively refreshed to our ear from time to time; that’s what Recaps (and Developments) are for. (Not to mention the essence of fugue.) Affirmation and confirmation are for sure important signals in crafting comprehensible forms.

But, by the same token, shouldn’t there be the delight of un-expected discoveries, un-anticipated adventuring in the music? If not these, then how can a piece be memorable? — something savored so much in retrospect that – like a good book – you just have to seek it out for repeated encounters.

Six years back I participated in a panel discussion with 2 other composers of wind ensemble music, and the youngest guy there confided to the room that he builds his movements by the following formula:
Present three distinguishable bits, then toss them about for the movement’s length. Is this today’s industry standard??

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Shana tovah ! to everyone.

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Returning now to the world (after being sidelined for three weeks by an ailment that persisted), I’ve begun to get my piano chops back, practicing 1-2 hours per day. What’s striking to reconsider is how some composers write every time out with the understanding of how a piece feels to play (as well as sounds).

I pulled up as exemplars 3 pieces I’d enjoyed playing in recital in years past: Bach Italian Concerto, Chopin Ballade in F minor, Ravel Tombeau de Couperin. While all three were still ‘in the fingers’, the Bach was relatively swiftly recovered, and the Ravel just purled out straight from my artistic center.

The Ballade was another story, though: It was a feat of will to keep the passage-work clean as both hands lifted, directly repeating the same pattern over (and over) – but one octave higher each time.
Your weight then shifts with each iteration; the positioning of the hands relative one to another also alters; and even the spot at which you strike the key changes, moving front to back. There’s a ‘choreography’ to delivering the music easily, and that was the last thing to be recovered.

It led me to mull again why certain pieces just feel right from the get-go. Bach is sublime this way: Your hands balance beautifully; much of the time you need to assume a very slight ‘grasping’ position to let the notes fall under the fingers perfectly – but when you do, the music feels as natural as sunshine. (For a treat from time to time, I’ll read all the way through the Toccatas, or English Suites – they just flow without knots.)

But the Ravel is in a class by itself. Not only does it fit the hand perfectly, but the balance of activity levels from moment to moment by each hand in turn, or cooperatively, lets you remain oriented by feel alone to the precise weight balance + positioning of the trunk of the body in relationship to the keyboard. Once you do this, playing these passage is as close to effortless as piano music is possible to get.
– And the movements of Tombeau de Couprin have plenty of places where the choreography of the inter-relation of the hands is delicious: Try untangling the inner pages of the Fugue, the chordal melody crossing its lacey accompaniment in the trio of the Menuet, or positioning all those piston-attacks in the Toccata (both soft and plenty loud). It’s an intricate dance whose steps are fascinating and absorbing for each player to work out!

As a composer who has written a fair bit for my instrument — but who waited to open this chapter in my catalog until I felt I had something particular to contribute — I tip my hat to the masters of the past who write with skill and imagination, and yet feeling within themselves what really works for the instrument!

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