My new set of piano preludes, Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift, had its first road test today up at Smith College in Northampton MA. Judith Gordon was at the Steinway, and it was an exceptional, passionate, deeply considered performance. As I wrote below, intensity and intelligence are the words I associate with Judy. I can’t remember the last time I had a chance to work with such a fine artist in such detail on a piece. Her appetite for input and her ability to digest it and make fruitful use of it is amazing. Every performance is a collaboration between composer and performer, but this one felt more acutely so. I also learned a few things about piano playing – for example, I was interested to find out that some tricky rapid disjunct passages in my piece are actually best served by a fingering that does not seek a perfect legato – note to note connections are one thing, but a legato gesture is another, and that may call for a fingering that prioritizes the overall shape and character.
I can hardly wait for the additional performances that will be coming from other pianists in the next couple of years. It will be fascinating to see how different artists handle the piece, whether they find the same passages to be challenging, what they choose to emphasize, and what I will learn about the piece I made. I am already planning to adjust the score to reflect some articulations at the beginning of phrases that Judy plays in the third movement – her joy in the pattern created by those accents bouncing from hand to hand was contagious, and I need to explicitly request that those be brought out as she did.
Here are a some pictures from my trip. A few snowflakes are visible in a shot of the pond on the Smith campus:
Smith’s music department is housed in a handsome building
with a lovely recital hall:
(The hall is pretty, but the sound is a bit boomy, with details getting a little lost in fast passages.)
Here’s Judy in action:
and the two of us later in the day, after the session we did for Don Wheelock’s composition class:
the prop, of course, being the score to the new piece.
So, thank you Judy, thank you Don, thank you to all who offered nice comments on the performance today.