Michael Mizrahi Fashions a Cabinet of Curiosities on 'The Bright Motion'

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A founding member of NOW Ensemble, pianist Michael Mizrahi is one of those musicians who is endlessly fascinated by everything (his undergraduate studies were a three-pronged focus in music, religion and physics) and is, as a result, endlessly fascinating himself.

With his debut album, The Bright Motion, Mizrahi brings that coalescence of curiosity to life with six new works all recently written for the piano, many of which custom-tailored to Mizrahi’s own sharp talents. The works seek to contextualize the instrument in its history as a playground for composers like Bach and Debussy while also cementing it as an equally vital presence in contemporary music.

Such a balance is struck immediately with Patrick Burke’s Unravel, which ripples with chromatic scales that literally unravel into a flowing work. The title is also somewhat apt in that it occasionally calls to mind the imagery of Maurice Ravel. From there, Mizrahi constructs a bold narrative that presents a multifaceted portrait of the piano in the 2010s. William Brittelle’s Computer Wave manipulates acoustics to simulate the sound of electronics, pulsing with an energy often found in Brittelle’s electro-acoustic works. The title track, composed specifically for the album last year by Mark Dancigers, creates a similar sense of contemporary calm, an escapist breather from the breathlessly plugged-in world of Brittelle.

Indeed, the balance of works on the album is just as important to Mizrahi as the works themselves. Clocking in at over 18 minutes in two movements, The Bright Motion is shrewdly followed by Ryan Brown’s 9-minute Four Pieces for Solo Piano. The action then flows into a more languid Faux Patterns by John Mayrose, who spends nearly six minutes exploring the oscillation between two notes (F and G-flat). And, in many ways, the album ends where it begins in Judd Greenstein’s First Ballade. By the composer’s own admission, the work collects references from Bach to Chopin to Nicky Hopkins, forming a sentimental mixed tape that captures a wedded sense of composer to instrument. Aptly enough, this piece was written for Mizrahi’s 2008 wedding to musicologist Erica Scheinberg.

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