Monday, November 12, 2018
Friday, November 2, 2018
Full confession: it took me several months to get my nerve up to contact the author of one of my favorite music blogs, The Cross-Eyed Pianist, and ask her if she'd be willing to read and review my novel, The Waco Variations. Pianist, writer, concert reviewer, blogger, and music lover Frances Wilson's blog is followed by over 8500 people and as such is one of the top-rated classical music sites in the world. Well, Wilson couldn't have been more gracious. Thanks to my other favorite piano blog, Piano Addict, she'd already heard of my book and was eager to read it.
Wilson's "Meet the Artist" interview series is a popular element of The Cross-Eyed Pianist. As my resume is much more less illustrious than many of the pianists she features, I was surprised and thrilled when she asked me to be part of this series. Her questions and my answers can be found here:
And while you're on her site, peruse her writing, read other interviews, and (especially if you're a pianist), follow the blog. I have for several years; it never fails to inform and inspire.
Monday, October 15, 2018
Long ago, before concert hall and YouTube performances, piano music was presented much the same way that it is in this video: at home and for friends. There's an intimacy and communication that more formal performances can't duplicate, and sometimes (as in the case of this performance), you get lucky and the magic is captured on film.
This short performance features Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's Für Alina and Spiegel im Spiegel, along with two short Debussy selections. Für Alina, dedicated to a friend's daughter, was written as a consolation for Alina's mother when Alina left home to live in England with her father. Spiegel im Spiegel (mirror in a mirror) was originally written for piano and violin, although it has been arranged for many other instruments as well. Both pieces reflect Pärt's unique composition style known as "Holy Minimalism" or "Mystic Minimalism," and both require the pianist to settle into stillness, accept the beauty in simplicity, and play the space around the notes more than the notes themselves. When performing them (or listening to them), there's a sense of time both standing still and expanding simultaneously. I suppose that could be one of the reasons why the music of Pärt is so frequently requested as deathbed music.
The pianist Widney Moore had a long career as a gallery owner and an award-winning textile artist. Later in life, after reading Noah Adams' book Piano Lessons, she decided to learn to play the piano. Each year she prepares a program to take to Sonata--the Vermont piano camp for adults that Adams made famous in his book--and she plays the pieces for Portland friends before she leaves. And while she would never describe herself as a professional pianist, she's a true musician who plays with tenderness, beauty, and peace. When she was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer last November, we feared she'd not live to play another program. Yet, miraculously, here she is, playing better than she ever has--playing with the simplicity and clarity and gratitude that only a life well lived can bring to music.
While I watched Widney play this program last month, I was struck by the power of Pärt's and Debussy's music in the hands of a pianist who has lived the depth of every note. This simplicity, this calm acceptance--this is the "holy grail" we all seek in our playing: true purity of heart.
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Did you know that there are 462 heptatonic modes? I didn't either, until I saw Alexander LaFollett's modal system. Do you know why you should care that there are 462 hetpatonic modes? Because Alex writes beautifully constructed pieces in many of these modes and yet somehow each piece is both accessible and foreign at the same time. I always think of them as communiques from another sound universe.
These three pieces are the first set of Modal Preludes that Alex wrote for the piano. They're youthful works, composed when Alex was a teenager (he graduated from college at age 16--no, that's not a misprint). I've had a long relationship with these pieces, both as a performer and a teacher. They move from a quirky, almost mime-esque first prelude to a stormy second prelude into a raucous third prelude that is anchored by an almost jazz LH rhythm. All three preludes reflect the capricious energy of youth.
Alexander has written for strings, winds, soloists, small ensembles, and (luckily for me), piano, including more Modal Preludes which will appear in the blog on a future date. All this information, along with his bio (and his explanation of his modal system), can be found on his website. Most importantly, the website is where to order these fantastically fun pieces.
To order: https://alexanderlafollett.com/site/
This casual home performance was filmed by Bob Wall.
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
What do you get when a classical pianist/jazz vocalist/composer/lifelong player of Nazareth tangos gets commissioned to write a 1 minute piece for piano? Something Close to Tango, of course.
In Jennifer's words, "tango for me conjures up music of Ernesto Nazareth whose tangos brasileiros my mother loved and often asked me to play for guests." Juxtaposing rhythms and styles from Brazilian and Argentine tango, this one-minute gem is like a stolen glimpse into the lives of others--perhaps seen through an open door or spied from the window of a moving train. We can guess at the story behind the scene, but it always remains tantalizingly mysterious.
I've been lucky to have known Jennifer for decades. We first met in a piano master class for professional pianists and we bonded over a shared love of music, books, and the world of ideas and beliefs. Her compositions include operas, choral works, chamber music, orchestral pieces, art songs, and a few piano gems such as this one. She brings her fierce intellect and passion for beauty to everything she does.
To order this tango (and learn more about Jennifer), visit her website:
This casual home performance was filmed by Bob Wall.
Sunday, September 9, 2018
When I started the No Dead Guys blog a couple of years ago, I thought I was the only blogging pianist with a mission to champion living composers by putting out videos of their music. Last week, thanks to the wonder of modern networking, I found MOVING CLASSICS TV which does what I've been doing on No Dead Guys, only bigger and better.
A musical internet channel founded by Munich-based musicians and enterpreneurs and run by classical pianist, Anna Sutyagina, this site gives contemporary music a creative face on the Internet.
In their own words, "MOVING CLASSICS TV stands for zeitgeist, creativity and new ideas. We present new music videos and interviews with composers from all over the world every week. It is an invitation for all listeners to make a new image of our present times with contemporary music: discover the beauty of contemporary music, listen to our times and experience what we call „echt zeitgeisty“. For the composers from all over the world MOVING CLASSICS TV is a unique platform to present their music, to get exposure and feedback from listeners and sell the music sheets. We are using Social Media for the promotion of Moving Classics composers."
Several of the videos presented on No Dead Guys have been included on MOVING CLASSICS TV, and I look forward to many happy hours perusing and listening to the wealth of beautiful piano music featured on this site, especially those recorded by the expressive Anna Sutyagina. The introspective video I chose for this blog--"For Mattia" by Douwe Eisenga--is a gorgeously-played example of the music featured on MOVING CLASSICS TV.
To visit the site: http://movingclassics.tv
Thursday, July 26, 2018
I heard Alexander play this piece a few days ago in the middle of a swelteringly hot late afternoon concert. The sheer space and complexity of VLA felt like a much-needed splash of cold water in the middle of an over-wrought program—bracing, startling, and uncompromising. I briefly entertained the idea of playing it myself, but then quickly reminded myself that I’m a “tune-and-a-beat” pianist, and besides, when Alexander plays it this well, why shouldn’t he be the featured performer?
Alexander was gracious enough to provide me with his program notes and so here, in his words, the background and interpretation of VLA:
The VLA (Very Large Array) is located on the west side of the Magdalena Mountains outside of Socorro, New Mexico. The VLA is comprised of 39 moveable radio dishes that sit on railroad tracks. The tracks are designed in a Y formation and each span 13 miles. This site has been used by scientists such as Einstein and many others to make some of the most incredible discoveries about blackholes, distant stars and other galactic phenomena.
I was introduced to the VLA by a poet and artist, John Barney, with whom I am collaborating to create a large-scale composition where we are investigating various manmade landscapes in New Mexico and the ways in which they interface with the earth and their natural surroundings. The VLA is a curious landscape, one that I’d not seen the likes of prior to my initial visit. There is a lot left the imagination, as only a small number of the dishes are actually visible at any given point. This is precisely one of the motivations for my particular take on this landscape. I stood and imagined how this array acts as both a transmission and receiving point for humanity to further understand the immensity of outer space.
My interpretation of VLA hinges on the intersection between the human being standing beneath the stars in wonderment and the representation of imaginary waves and threads of sound conducted by the extremely powerful antennae on the dishes into sound. I began the process by creating a work of visual art that represented my concept of the universality of this communication, resulting in a piece that represents the form of a galaxy or distant formation of stars, like a constellation. Further, this piece of art also represents a depiction of a synapse in the brain, linking the ethereal concept of distant life or energy bodies with our thinking apparatus. The artwork emerges from the center of the page, the tone D. From that point, each thread that emerges creates one of the transmissions. If the piece were to be read like a clock, one would begin with the line beginning at the center and moving to 3 o’clock, thus proceeding to read the remainder in a counterclockwise fashion, always beginning in the middle and moving toward the outer parameter of the page. The composition unfolds as a series of waves that I treat like new iterations or readings that recombine and envision the same material in the original piece. Through the application of various processes to understand this material, I create an environment wherein the material dialogues with itself. There are 7 waves, each having distinctive characteristics, temperament and tempi. Each wave explores contrasting timbres within unique textural contexts. Wave 6 is the only point in the piece where I present the entirety of the original thematic material in reverse, directly preceding the restatement of the theme proper.
To order a copy of this (and other) pieces, visit: http://www.ajsmusic.org