Posts Tagged “piano”

MusicMaker (JLZ)

This spring and summer have turned into prime time for my piano music.

Just in the last 4 months or so the music has been performed abroad  in Malta, Hong Kong and elsewhere; in  8 different states, and at the Smithsonian;  twice at  Weill Hall/Carnegie; and was on the repertoire list for the 2012 Kapell Competition.   Two notable recordings appeared during this period,  both  of them devoted to my piano solo music; and the Concerto for Piano and Wind Orchestra ‘Solar Traveller’  received one of three The American Prize in Composition 2012.

The two recordings are quite interesting:

•Three large solo works – Christopher Atzinger (Naxos)

• Two-disc survey of the solo music – Elizabeth Moak

“Art Fire Soul” (MSR Classics): 15 pieces

These two fine pianists couldn’t be more different:  One is a power-forward player whose range features  much finesse.  The other is all color, passion and impeccable technique.   Reviews have begun to appear  (passed along by the artist’s  press reps) and they’re excellent (ex.  August Gramophone).  — It’s quite revealing to put the music through such an acid test. And  largely verifies after the fact the reach  of these  disparate works written over  decades, most of them un-commissioned pieces meant only for myself to play.

In addition, NY videographer Mike Bregman has issued some recent videos focused on the piano music.   Two of them popped up last week.  One of these  - to a  light-hearted, tiny piece I actually wrote at 17, in college: Elizabeth Moak playing – he   has imaginatively  set to visuals from  the great movie “Singing in the Rain”.    This  video’s a creative remix, in part because Gene Kelly is dancing in duple meter —  and my piece is a “Jazz Waltz”,  in  three-quarter time!

Mike cleverly lines things up, catching all the music’s punctuation.      View it at:

Homage to “Singing in the Rain” – Jazz Waltz by Judith Lang Zaimont

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“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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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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October 3 , 2009

My Concerto for Piano and Wind Orchestra gets its world premiere in Baltimore on October 7th , and I‘ll be there. It’s scored for soloist and large wind ensemble; Harlan Parker conducts the Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble with Timothy Hoft as piano soloist. The program also includes Husa’s Music for Prague 1968, and works by Carolyn Bremer and Percy Grainger.

Subtitled “Solar Traveller”, the three-movement Concerto is a half-hour long, and is definitely absolute music. Over the years I’ve written works which center in the vastness, wonder, and beauty of sky and space – music that has to do with appreciating natural cycles and the discovery of whole systems outside our normal frames of reference. These pieces are not program music but they all carry descriptive titles. So does the Concerto; its three movements are “Outward Bound”, “Nocturne (Lunar)”, and “Ad astra per aspera”. Its only programmatic element is an embedded technical feature – each movement’s core material is a progressively smaller musical interval, thus mirroring the compressive forces associated with the propulsion necessary to leave Earth’s gravity.

Quite by chance, the Concerto is timely – just in the past two weeks we’ve learned that NASA has uncovered evidence of water hidden on both the Moon and Mars(!). For myself, living in Arizona has as benefit a state mandate that the night sky not be cluttered with light – I’m someone who faithfully tracks the space station on its night-time visible passes across the sky’s dome, and thrills at the sight.

[“Solar Traveller” was commissioned by partnerships of wind ensemble conductors and pianists at Peabody Conservatory, Eastman School of Music, Indiana State University, Louisiana State University, Shepherd University, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Southern Mississippi. Individual state premieres will take place over this season and the next. ]

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