The Witty and Reverent Musical World of Timothy Andres

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Born in 1985, Timothy Andres (occasionally billed, somewhat insouciantly, as “Timo”) works in the post-dogmatic era of contemporary American composition. This means, among other things, that Andres feels as much at home recomposing (and playing) Mozart’s “Coronation” Piano Concerto as he does taking part in a street performance of Mauricio Kagel’s Eine Brise (for 111 bicyclists).

Andres gave these wide-ranging interests an unusually focused expression on his debut recording – an album written for two pianos, and released by Nonesuch in 2010. Titled Shy and Mighty, its aesthetic tips more toward the likes of Beethoven and Chopin (both of whose works are quoted in the piece How Can I Live In Your World of Ideas?) than, say, that of Kagel’s. And yet the title’s balance of adjectives is still appropriate.

Andres's apparent reverence for – and appropriate shyness in the presence of – the old masters in no way precludes a bold, muscular sense of play: even his quotations of Beethoven and Chopin, which come during Ideas, manage to function in a manner akin to needle-drops in hip-hop. Meantime, while some of Andres’s harmonic and rhythmic patterns harken back to the early John Adams pieces for piano, others suggest knottier, more pointillistic writing, like that of Ligeti’s.

Andres is one of many young composers currently in want of more frequent commissioning (and performance) by American orchestras. While he can (and likely will) continue turning out intriguing material for self-organizing chamber forces to play, his initial forays into orchestral writing show no less promise. Bathtub Shrine, written for the Yale Symphony Orchestra in 2009, is an elegy that works dark-hued magic with rising fifths and a steadily accreting section of woodwinds.

A recording of that piece (in addition to several others) is discoverable on Andres’s personal blog. Like Nico Muhly, another young-gun compositional talent, Andres is doing contemporary classical music a service by forswearing the old-school composer’s aura – that of a tortured mystic laboring at his work. He’s witty, conversational and seemingly secure enough in his talents to trust that we won’t mistake his good humor for a lack of seriousness.