Self-Portrait

Week One of Sleeping Giant's December Residency on Hammered!

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Monday, December 05, 2011

Hammered! welcomes the New York-based composer collective Sleeping Giant for a month-long December residency. Composer-pianist Timothy Andres hosts and curates each Monday episode while the rest of the week is filled in with specially curated episodes by the five other Sleepy Gs: Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper, Ted Hearne, Robert Honstein and Andrew Norman.

Monday | Episode 1: Self-Portrait
by Timothy Andres

Hi, Timothy Andres here, along with the other five members of Sleeping Giant. We'll be your composer-hosts of Hammered! for the month of December, delving into near and far reaches of keyboard music, a term we take to mean not only pianos normal, prepared and toy, but accordions, organs and synthesizers, too.

It seems appropriate for a bunch of composers to express their taste via keyboard music. The piano holds an essential place in the compositional process—it's the instrument one is most likely to use to try a new idea, to figure out harmonies, durations, proportions—because it's so flexible. Even if they aren't performers (and many are), most composers tend to at least be operational pianists.

I've always thought that a solo piano piece is a good litmus test of compositional skill. There's not much you can hide behind. It takes a real leap of imagination to bring the piano beyond its "workhorse" role and into something that is really pianistic. Complicating this further is that nobody really knows what pianistic is. It can speak to tradition (ghosts of Mozart and Brahms lurk in Ted Hearne's Parlor Diplomacy) or it can explore the piano's range of strange timbres, in the music of Henry Cowell, George Crumb, or Chris Cerrone. The reason I love the piano is this malleability, the possibility of creating something entirely new with antique technology.

The month's programs commence with a selection of recent piano pieces that have been personally important to me. Ingram Marshall and David Lang were both my teachers and mentors; Ingram's Authentic Presence is a beautiful and characteristically ruminative piece which I perform frequently. Ingram and I share a love for Hans Otte's Book of Sounds, the first movement of which opens the program. The composer-pianist Brad Mehldau's take on Nick Drake's River Man maintains the darkness and shifty harmonies of the original voice-and-guitar song while remaking it in his inimitable keyboard style. I think you'll be able to hear bits of each of these in my own Everything is an onion, imposed on a layered structure that owes much to another composer-pianist, Robert Schumann.

Tuesday | Episode 2: Pianimals: Monster Compser-Pianists
by Robert Honstein

Today's show focuses on composer-pianists, or as I sometimes call them, Pianimals. Our first Pianimal, Timo Andres, flaunts his composerly and pianistic chops on How Can I Live In Your World Of Ideas?, a mischievous jaunt through musical influences past and present. From here we move to Thomas Ades and his opus 27 Mazurkas. Its refracted nineteenth century dance rhythms give way to Frederic Rzewski's soulful, raw-edged take on the traditional American spiritual "Down By The Riverside".

Our fourth Pianimal, composer/pianist Trevor Gureckis, plays his work Unsound Grounds, a beguiling fantasy on an oblique, shifting ostinato featuring some delicious detours along the way. Cecil Taylor's "Crossing" bursts at the seems with his trademark rapid-fire, percussive playing. Not for the faint of heart, this relentless and uncompromising eighteen minute work is Tyalor at this best.

Not all Pianimals are virtuosos. Our final composer, Harold Budd, could not be further from the aggressive athleticism of Taylor's music. In Still Return and A Stream With Bright Fish from his album The Pearl, Budd collaborates with composer/producer Brian Eno to create beautifully spare ambient works made from deftly manipulated piano textures.

Wednesday | Episode 3: Personal History
by Christopher Cerrone

Personal History recounts pays homage to important people in my musical life. The first piece, The Canticles of Hieronymus, is an extended piano piece by my first composition teacher, Ruth Schonthal. Ruth was a charismatic and brilliant woman. As a Jew, she was expelled by the Nazis from her native Berlin and eventually wound up in the United States at Yale where she studied with Paul Hindemith (and apparently one of three people he ever actually let graduate). Her music is a mixture of the German-Romantic heritage and the American minimalist sounds she encountered in the new world. However, Ruth's voice is very much her own, and her music beautifully made. (A cursory reading of her wikipedia page also indicates that Lady Gaga and I studied with her the same time!)

The except from Morton Feldman's "For Philip Guston" that I've included is one of my favorite pieces of music, and it is here performed by one of the most important people in my musical life, Nils Vigeland. Nils, a student of Feldman, introduced me to Feldman's music, and really, contemporary music on the whole. He was a challenging and brilliant teacher (and is a brilliant composer as well). When he first suggested I listen to "For Philip Gustonm," I balked. After all, the piece is over 4 hours long. Nils told me to listen to the section just before the end. The dissonant world of Feldman's music melts into a tonal and gentle lullaby and is simply gorgeous.

"Leaving Without/Palimpsest" is a piece by my other composition teacher, the German-American composer, Reiko Fueting. If Nils taught me about contemporary music on the whole, Reiko instilled in me a sense of formal rigor, and his music reflects that own clarity of design. "Leaving Without/Palimpsest" is a piece that is heard twice. First, as a solo piano piece. Then, the piano piece is repeated with a clarinet part added on top, which completely changes how the piece is heard. This kind of original thinking about form has deeply affected how I think about music.

Finally, two excerpts from my opera, Invisible Cities. Based on the novel by the Italian author, Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities is an exploration of love, death, life, and memory explored through the characters of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. I included an opera on a show devoted to piano music because the whole opera, in a sense, centers around the piano. Like many composers, I wrote a piano-vocal short score when initially composing the work, intending to later create a version for orchestra. But I became so wedded to the piano itself—its ringing resonant harmonies that I not only kept the piano part in the, but I added a second. Two pianos anchor the ensemble of 11 players that very much guides the listener through the work.

Thursday | Episode 4: Music For Accordion
by Jacob Cooper

Last year, when I told people I was writing a piece for accordion, they would often remind me of the two-part Far Side cartoon, which reads, "Welcome to heaven, here's your harp / Welcome to hell, here's your accordion." But the popularity of the accordion has come a ways in the two decades since the publication of that cartoon. One of the hottest instruments right now, it shows up not only in much contemporary music, but in numerous popular songs, movie scores and ads. I was susceptible to its hotness myself and gladly obliged when uber-talented multi-instrumentalist Nathan Koci asked me to write a piece for him. Alter ad Alterum is the result, a work that processes Nathan's sound along with samples of music by Monteverdi.

The other pieces on this set were mostly introduced to me by Nathan. Pauline Oliveros's Hose Sings From Cloud is inspired by a dream of hers, and anticipates her "deep listening" music. Guy Klucevsek, a composer / accordionist arguably partly responsible for the recent surge of his instruments' popularity, draws on the folk music of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the US in his Well-Tampered Clavier. Of the 12 pieces in this collection, the first three and last four are presented here. Magnus Lindberg's Jeux d'anches ("Reed Games") is now a staple of the accordion repertoire, and with its dense arpeggios, is no doubt one of the most difficult of them. The set rounds out with young composer Ted Hearne's phenomenally appealing song I Want Never, which features Koci on the accordion.

Friday | Episode 5: Lots Of Pianos
by Timothy Andres

Music of Julius Eastman, Steve Reich, Gyorgy Ligeti and Timothy Andres.

Hosted by:

Timothy Andres
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