The first performance of Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift – my piece that was commissioned by a consortium of pianists – is coming up on April 2. Judith Gordon (that’s her at left) will play the work as part of Smith College’s “Music in the Noon Hour” series. (Don’t misread that the way I did at first – that’s not “Music at the Noon Hour”, but “Music in the Noon Hour” – meaning, the program begins at 12:30 pm, not 12 noon!) Scarlatti’s Sonata K. 330 and Debussy’s L’isle Joyeuse will round out the brief program. This takes place in Sweeney Concert Hall in Sage Hall on the Smith campus, and the concert is free and open to the public. I will be there for the performance, and will speak to Donald Wheelock’s composition class later that day.
I met Judy when we were both students at Tanglewood back in the 20th century. I was there as a composition student, but Gil Kalish was kind enough to let me sit in on the piano classes, and I got to hear some marvelous playing and meet some superb pianists. Besides Judy, I remember Bryan Pezzone, who gave the first performance of my Icons for clarinet, piano and tape that summer; and Cheryl Tschanz, who taught at Colby for many years and is now teaching and playing in Florida. If I remember correctly, Judy had been assigned the Chausson Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet, a huge and challenging piece, as well as the Harbison Piano Quintet. I recall hearing that Tanglewood performance of the Harbison and thinking “wow, this is the real thing” – meaning both the piece and the performers. I’m not sure what other new music she played that summer, but during her years of being based in Boston she was a frequent advocate for new works. Lee Hyla wrote Third Party for her (she subsequently recorded the piece for Tzadik), and she has played other pieces by Lee. She’s also been strongly associated with the music of John Harbison, who was composer-in-residence at Tanglewood during our summer there. John entrusted to her the task of recording a rehearsal tape of the piano score for The Great Gatsby, and later made the Gatsby Etudes for her, which are short piano pieces based on material from the opera. She has also recorded the complete piano version of John’s Motetti di Montale with Janice Felty, on an Albany disc rounded out with the three Montale Sketches for solo piano. Several years ago, Judy played another piece of mine, accompanying Lisa Saffer in a piano version of my Rilke cycle, From a Book of Hours. There is a fierce intelligence in Judy’s playing. She imagines a piece with exceptional clarity and intensity – and she has the chops to bring that image to vivid life. I’m delighted she will be doing the premiere of Contraption.
I’ve written several posts about the piece, some of which have excerpts from the score. You can find them here, here, here and here. That last post includes a program note, explaining the work’s title.