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Subversive Reverence: Timothy Andres Re-Imagines Mozart's "Coronation" Concerto

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Composer and pianist Timothy Andres's take on the subject of demigods in art is far removed from conventional Romanticism: "We like to imagine that our artists have this kind of divine inspiration. I think if they say they do, they're probably having you on," says Andres. This steely realism seems to temper his admiration for the legends of classical music in works such as his re-composition of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 26, the "Coronation" Concerto, which is paired with the world premiere of Andres's Old Keys in two concerts given by Music Director Jeffrey Kahane and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on March 24 and 25. The program also includes Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor.

The idea of being referential and reverential has always kind of interested me," says Andres, who is also known as Timo and affectionately recalls coming from "that whole world of orchestral dork high school students." As a 20-something composer, however, this reverence has taken on a delightfully subversive and progressive tone in his take on Mozart's "Coronation" Concerto, for which he created a new left-hand accompaniment and original cadenzas.

Andres has always been an artist principally steeped in the classical music of his predecessors. Unlike many of his "new music" peers, who were simultaneously reared in classical and pop musics, Andres's upbringing was dominated by the former style, from the beginning of his formal piano training at age seven through pre-college training at Juilliard School of Music in New York City and up until his college days at Yale University.

The composer's attraction to architecture and design are also telling about his approach to composition. "In music--as I am in design--I'm attracted to good craftsmanship and clean surfaces, and just kind of a more restrained type of aesthetic. I like things that show thought, that you can kind of live with for a while," says Andres. In his mind, musical compositions are just another kind of architecture, built in the passage of time rather than in a physical space. "I'm really more interested in playing around with these relatively subtle elements than creating something really gaudy or creating something that will initially take your breath away--but maybe you wouldn't want to live in that house that is swoopy, fluorescent pink."

The use of understatement is front-and-center in Old Keys, which the composer refers to as "a fool's concerto." Eschewing the pomp and virtuosity that characterizes the Mozart re-composition and Home Stretch, Andres's 2008 piano concerto, Old Keys minimizes the soloist's limelight and in the process, conceives of a new potential for the piano concerto as a medium. "Most of the flash and filigree is in the orchestra parts, and the piano mostly plays the barest melodies and chorales, explains Andres. "There are none of the confrontational soloist vs. orchestra heroics that the word 'concerto' brings to mind."

While Old Keys experiments with the identity of the piano concerto, Andres's version of the "Coronation" Concerto subtly deconstructs the mystique of the genius composer even as it pays homage. This balance between conceptual experimentation and traditional classical music vernacular is ultimately filtered through the thoughtful composer's anticipation of his audience's needs.

For Andres, fulfilling these needs--which lies at the heart of any commission--is akin to constructing a building for a client. "I also think there is a certain similarity in the attitude you take towards your audience, says Andres. "There are buildings and pieces of music that are confrontational, confusing, random. There are ones that are homely and worn-in and ones that are barely disguised phallic symbols, too. These aren't necessarily bad qualities, but I think they become bad if they signify a lack of respect on the artist's part."

The Saturday, March 24 concert takes place at Alex Theatre in Glendale, California at 8 p.m. while the Sunday, March 25 event commences at UCLA's Royce Hall at 7 p.m. For more information on Timothy Andres's collaboration with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, visit the ensemble's official website.