The Lives of the Piano: 20th Season Concert

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Donald Isler
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The Lives of the Piano: 20th Season Concert

Post by Donald Isler » Fri Oct 30, 2020 8:37 pm

The Lives of the Piano: 20th Season Concert
The Piano and Our Global Community
Curated by Lisa Yui
Manhattan School of Music
October 29, 2020


François Morel (1926-2018): Étude di sonorité
Lisa Yui, Pianist

Drew Hemenger (b. 1968):
from Four Places in New York (2002)
I. The Bell Tower at Riverside Church
II. Christopher Street
III. Union Square, September 14 (in memory of the victims of the World Trade Center Attacks)
Jerry Wong, Pianist

George Walker (1922-2018):
Prelude and Caprice (1941-1945)
Piano Sonata No. 5 (2003)
Jason Thomas, Pianist

Marcos Balter (b. 1974): Dreamcatcher (2018)
Ryan Bridge, Pianist

Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin (b. 1978): "Sirota" from Voices for Piano and three historical recordings (2011)
Inna Faliks, Pianist

Sergei Bortkiewicz (1877-1952):
"The Rocks of Uch-Kosh" from Crimean Sketches (1908)
Pavel Gintov, Pianist

Federico Ruiz (b. 1948): Triptico Tropical (II.)
Alejandro Guillen, Pianist

Eduardo Caba (1890-1953):
Leyenda Keshua (1938)
2 Aires Indios (de Bolivia) (1943)
No. 3 Reposado muy expressive - Danza poco alegre - 1er Tempo
No. 9 Movido expresivo
Walter F. Aparicio, Pianist

Kara Karayev (1918-1982): Eskiz (Sketch)
Ali Mammadoff, Pianist

Kosaku Yamada (1886-1963); from Pieces Dedicated to Scriabin (1917)
No. 1 Night Song
No. 2 Unforgettable Night in Moscow, Sutra at Dawn (1916)
Makiko Hirata, Pianist

Teresa Carreño (1853-1917): Elegie No. 1 Plainte (1869)
Diana Franklin: Joropo (1991)
Kristhyan Benitez, Pianist

Jon Batiste (b. 1986) The Gun Song/The Battle of Booth (2019)
Anthony de Mare, Pianist

Dr. Lisa Yui is a gifted musician who surrounds herself with other gifted musicians. Indeed, the level of the playing on this program was such that I would be happy to hear any of these artists in recital.

Long a faculty member of Manhattan School of Music, Lisa Yui started the Lives of the Piano series as a graduate student, and has continued these (usually) twice a year concerts for twenty years. The topic on which a program is based can be as varied as honoring great teachers of the past, or music about the night, or music written in every decade since MSM was founded, or presenting the Beethoven Ninth Symphony for two pianos.

This evening's program featured music from different parts of the world, often related to the performers' ethnicity, or place of residence, or politics and history the performer has experienced. These factors do not automatically guarantee great art. But the music which was presented, all of it new to me but for one piece, was worthwhile, enjoyable, and a jumping off point for introducing new works to people who hadn't heard them before.

Something else new for performers and the audience of this series was that instead of gathering in what members of my generation remember as Hubbard Recital Hall, now known as Greenfield Hall at Manhattan School of Music, we gathered around our computers at home to listen to performers in New York and New Jersey, but also as far away as Los Angeles (Inna Faliks) and Melbourne, Australia (Jerry Wong.)

Lisa Yui, who is Canadian, began the program with the Étude di sonorité by the French Canadian composer, François Morel. it's a virtuoso piece with a jazzy beat, flourishes, and splashes of notes all over the keyboard, but also delicacy and quiet tone clusters in the middle section.

Jerry Wong next played three of the Four Places in New York by Drew Hemenger, written shortly after the events of the 9/11 attack on the city. The Bell Tower at Riverside Church used chords as chimes, later becoming more massive in volume. Christopher Street was lively, playful and brash. Union Square 9/14/01 had a reflective mood,
and featured motives from My Country 'Tis of Thee and the Star Spangled Banner.

In the era of the Black Lives Matter movement, Jason Thomas decided to present music of a fellow African American, George Walker, from opposite ends of Walker's career. He said that Walker's music gets little attention these days. Perhaps this is so. But I remember hearing some of it in past years presented by pianist Fred Moyer, and others. The early (1941-45) Prelude and Caprice is a delightful work, the Prelude warm and calm, the Caprice light-hearted, sunny and dance-like. Walker's Fifth Piano Sonata, written about 60 years later, is more complex and sophisticated harmonically and structurally, with some lovely languid sections amidst others of turmoil.

Next up was pianist Ryan Bridge playing Dreamcatcher by the Brazilian American composer Marcos Balter. Bridge said this piece relates to the separation of children from their parents at our southern border. It seems to be written in a quasi-minimalist style, and anxious in mood, with fast notes in both hands, mostly in the treble clef, the patterns changing, and with some syncopation, winnowing out near the end to fewer notes in just one hand.

The one work on the program which I'd heard before, and written about twice, was Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin's "Sirota" played by Inna Faliks, this time in her Los Angeles home, from which she now broadcasts weekly "Corona Concerts." (!) I still find it as effective and moving as anything written in D Minor in recent years. Below is part of my 2012 Classical Music Guide review of it from a performance at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival:

"Mr. Zhurbin’s work, Sirota, it turned out, has nothing to do with the pianist Leo Sirota but with Cantor Gershon Sirota of Odessa, where Ms. Faliks was born. Composed for her just last year it ties in with her interest in music with Jewish themes, and Jewish composers. Ms. Faliks explained that Cantor Sirota, who died in Warsaw during World War II, was known as the 'Jewish Caruso.' Perhaps there is a story line attached to this work which was not revealed to us beforehand. The piece began with an extended section in which the pianist plays a repeated pattern of D Minor arpeggios in the right hand while playing changing, expressive material in the left hand. Eventually the arpeggios disappear, replaced by more ominous-sounding material and then, all of a sudden, we are hearing a 1908 recording of Cantor Sirota leading a choir in prayers from the Rosh Hashanah service. And then, somewhat surrealistically, the pianist accompanies them. She is making music together with her spiritual and perhaps even her literal forebears from a century ago! Quite a wild idea!"

Pavel Gintov is Ukrainian, and said the piano can be a symbol of revolution there. The Bortkiewicz piece he played from "Crimean Sketches" (Gintov said he has spent time in that area) was ballad-like, with dramatic melody, brilliant sections with intricate figurations, and a triumphant feel, though it ends quietly.

Venezuelan pianist Alejandro Guillen played the Triptico Tropical (II.) by his countryman, Adrian Ruiz. It had a Latin flair, easy-going and soothing, though leading up to a passionate outburst.

We then "moved" south, as Bolivian pianist, Walter F. Aparicio played music by a fellow Bolivian, Eduardo Caba, for whom, we were told, indigenous life and culture were very important. The Leyenda Keshua was assertive, with a boldly stated theme. Piece No. 3 was slow and thoughtful, with a dance movement in the middle. Piece No. 9 was fast, spinning briskly along, and bringing vaguely to mind an Impressionist piece I couldn't quite identify. It went back and forth between major and minor, ending, in surprising manner, in the minor.

Ali Mammadoff next played Eskiz (Sketch) of Karayev whom, we were told was a student of Shostakovich. In C-Sharp Minor it sounded somewhat like Rachmaninoff with all sorts of interesting improvisation going on.

Makiko Hirata presented music by Kosaku Yamada, whom, she told us, was a famous Japanese composer and conductor. Though the music she played was dedicated to Scriabin it seemed harmonically conservative by comparison. But the Night Song, in D-Flat Major, was lovely, with what seemed the calm of night, and some interesting ornamentation. The Unforgettable Night in Moscow had occasional big washes of sound. Sutra at Dawn featured pulsing right hand F Sharps almost throughout, with an expressive melody in the left hand.

Kristhyan Benitez played two works which contrasted greatly in mood, and era. The first was Elegie No. 1 Plainte by Teresa Carreño, a very famous pianist who, like Benitez, came from Venezuela. It was slow, warm and heartfelt, in a very Romantic way. Joropo, by Diana Franklin, written more than a century later, was a fast dance, with great charm, and energy.

The final performer of the evening was Anthony de Mare, who is known for performing contemporary music, and like Lisa Yui, is an MSM faculty member. Focusing on the scourge of violence in society he played the Gun Song and the Ballad of Booth by Stephen Sondheim, reimagined by Jon Batiste. Early on, the Gun Song was slow, but then there was turmoil as we heard the voices of two assassinated leaders, Malcolm X, and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The music rose in volume as King reached the highpoint of his March On Washington speech, after which de Mare slammed the lid of the piano up against the frame several times, imitating the sound of gunshots. Later on, we heard the voices of Donald Trump (saying he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and get away with it) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In the Ballad of Booth there was a lovely southern-style melody which became louder as the voice of President Kennedy was heard giving an upbeat, hopeful speech.

It was an evening of very fine playing and repertoire which, I'm willing to bet, gave everyone new music, and ideas to think about.

Donald Isler
Donald Isler

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