Pianistic virtuosity is often associated with technical bravura. Franz Liszt, arpeggios, swooning women, the like. There is, however, a yang to technique's yin and that's musical virtuosity, a topic we'll explore this week on Hammered! through the complete piano works of Gavin Bryars.
Pianist Ralph van Raat, in a discussion with Bryars about the composer's newly commissioned Piano Concerto The Solway Canal, said the work used "virtuosity of a different type," adding:
"Virtuosity [as a concept] is much broader in Gavin's music. It's much more about phrasing, long lines and large structures. The music leaves this space for the performer and I think this is one of the reasons his work is so musical, because it is very much from the human being and not severely restricted by a composer's point of view."
Ralph FTW. This is incredibly revealing and provides a powerful framework for listening to Bryars's piano music. Not only will individual works be heard throughout the week, but also, on a special Wednesday edition of Hammered!, we'll offer van Raat's recent album of Bryars' piano music in its entirety with piece-specific commentary from Bryars himself. Hear After Handel's Vesper, Ramble On Cortona and the work that started this whole discussion, the Solway Canal Piano Concerto.
Of course Van Raat's description of Bryars's music also applies to the aesthetics and compositional M.O. of a handful of other composers. One name that immediately comes to mind is Bryars's one-time teacher John Cage, whose early piano and prepared piano works will be scattered throughout the week. We'll also hear from Ann Southam, Alvin Curran, Eve Beglarian, Morton Feldman and even Philip Glass (especially Philip Glass), composers whose expressiveness, like Bryars, stems partly from their remarkable compositional restraint.