Rediscovering the piano

5/25/20232 min read

I guess I should be pleased to note a slight acceleration in the rate of blog production. But this one is long overdue.

I was thrilled to learn that Louise Bessette will give the premiere performance of ‘West Jeddore’ in Halifax on October 14, at the beautiful Lillian B. Piercey Concert Hall, as part of the Cecilia Concert series. Please see the last part of my previous blog for more about this wonderful adventure

Peter Kovner, who commissioned my ‘A deep clear breath of life’ in 2013, asked me what I would most regret not having composed if I were to die ‘tomorrow’. Fresh from the exhilarating experience of composing West Jeddore, I spontaneously responded ‘more piano music…’ I wanted the premiere to be in the Boston area - on Peter's home turf - and I wrote to Yoshiko Kline, whose inspired partnership with saxophonist Jennifer Bill had indeed given ‘a deep clear breath of life’ to the work with that title, to ask her if I could compose the new work with her in mind. The result was the commission of ‘En pièces détachées,’ a group of six piano pieces of widely varying mood: ‘My hands listen to the sun’/’Unbridled’/’Lockdown’/ ‘From a dark time’/ ‘The clock takes a bath’/ ‘Little Richard Dances with Bartók.’ (See ‘Program Notes’ under ‘Texts’)

Yoshiko premiered four of these pieces on the occasion of River School Conservatory’s 44th annual Seminar on Contemporary Music for the Young, on March 31. Her splendid performance was beautifully filmed by her husband Conrad Kline, of Azure Sound, and is now on YouTube (see Video/Links). I was amazed and delighted by the sensitivity, subtlety and intuitive precision with which Yoshiko infused these pieces, and overjoyed to learn that she will perform them again, with the two pieces which had not yet been composed, at a Tanglewood recital with Jennifer Bill on July 11. On the same day, in Halifax, Rhapsody Quintet will premiere my transcription of the quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto, commissioned by Joe Weber - the first opera I ever saw, in 1957, and one which is still very close to my heart.

This weekend will see the premiere of my arrangement of Rob Woodley's beautiful song On the Shore, by Coastal Voice's Men's Choir, with concerts in Westphal (Dartmouth) and Chezzetcook. It's been a deeply satisfying joy to see the singers take this song so deeply to heart, guided by the unerring artistry of director Ross Thompson.

An unexpected and welcome pleasure was the performance of my Three Echoes of the Odyssey in Duluth, Minnesota, by pianist Teresa Vaughan and percussionist Jeremy Craycraft. They accompanied the performance with a PowerPoint presentation detailing Odysseus' adventures as they "occur" in the music. I have not seen the presentation, but the informal recording they sent me testified to a thrilling and insightful performance. Teresa told me that they were delighted at the work's reception, and they plan to record it professionally in the fall.

My sense is that my exploration of the piano has just begun. As I wrote recently in another context: "it is very exciting and stimulating for me to bring fifty years' experience in writing for vocal, orchestral and chamber forces to the challenge of writing solo works for my own instrument."