Fishy Pianism

The Poisson Rouge calendar for November looks like a festival of new music piano superstars:

November 9: Marilyn Nonken plays music by Chilean-American composer Miguel Chuaqui, and Frederic Rzewski’s monumental set of variations on a Chilean song of resistance, The People United Will Never Be Defeated! According to the listing on the club’s website, the piece is by “Rzewski/Iverson”. I assume this means that Marilyn has asked Ethan Iverson to create something for her to play at the moment in the score where Rzewski invites the pianist to play an improvisation. If this is what she has done, it is a very smart idea: a non-improvising pianist asking an improvising pianist for input on a piece that is almost entirely notated, except for one spot near the end of the piece. It will very interesting to see what Iverson comes up with.

November 14: Aki Takahashi plays Feldman, Xenakis, and Peter Garland, with the JACK Quartet. I met Aki in 1977 when I was playing in the Gaudeamus Competition for Interpreters of Contemporary Music. I think she was there as an accompanist, I no longer recall. I do remember sitting with her and looking over her copy of Xenakis’s Everyali, (see an interesting essay about that piece here). I still have her three LP set of 20th century piano music (on the CP2 label – out-of-print – and with program notes by Paul Zukofsky – much interesting material at what I take to be Mr. Zukofsky’s site.) – Webern, Berio, Boulez, Stockhausen, Xenakis, etc., and a lot of contemporary Japanese composers. More recently she is known as a champion of Feldman and Xenakis – certainly a nicely contrasting pair.

November 17: Gloria Cheng plays a mostly French-oriented program: Messiaen (the early 8 Preludes), Boulez, Saariaho, Adès, Vivier, and Dan Godfrey. I earlier wrote about Cheng here. Except for the Messiaen, all  the pieces listed are new to me, and, indeed, there are several New York premieres.

November 30: Anthony de Mare does a program of music for speaking pianist, in connection with a CD release. Music by  Laurie Anderson, Meredith Monk, Jerome Kitzke, Derek Bermel, and, again, Frederic Rzewski, which brings us full circle.

French but not French

If you buy Ned Rorem’s suggestion that the world is divided into the French and the German, Gloria Cheng’s Telarc album of piano pieces by Lutoslawski, Stucky, and Salonen is an album of French music composed by a Pole, an American, and a Finn. As Stucky writes in his booklet notes for the album, both he and Salonen look to Lutoslawski as a musical father, while all three composers share “the whole Debussy/Stravinsky outlook”.

The Stucky pieces on the disc are miniatures, a set of Four Album Leaves, and a even briefer set of variations in honor of David Zinman. Throughout, Stucky’s exquisite ear for harmony is in evidence, along with a touch of Ligeti’s influential piano etudes in the faster movements. The Salonen pieces are bigger: YTA II,  Three Preludes, and Dichotomie, the last sonata-like in its dimensions. Lutoslawski’s influence is heard in the emphasis on harmony and texture rather than melody. But there are also traces of Berio and minimalism. When Salonen gets the whole piano resounding, he manages to engage the sound of the romantic, heroic 19th century piano, but without nostalgia. The Lutoslawski Sonata on the disc is a very early work from 1934; it is good to hear this piece, but would that we had a second big solo piano piece from this composer, one in his mature style. We do have his powerful piano concerto – recently recorded by Leif Ove Andsnes and the Bavarian Radio Symphony under Welser-Möst to spendid effect.

Gloria Cheng’s playing throughout the disc is exemplary, commanding fine details, brilliant passage work, and grand gestures. The beautiful piano sound – neither too close nor too distant,  neither too dry nor too reverberant, was captured by Grammy-winning producer and engineer Judith Sherman.