Living in New York City, I am always haunted by the nagging feeling that I am not taking enough advantage of the cultural offerings. I have to confess that most of the time, I go to see things that are offered up to me: free tickets handed off by a friend, or concerts and performances of friends in the dance or music field.
But yesterday I decided to do something different. Craving to hear some live classical music, I searched for something that I knew would deliver technically; but was relatively inexpensive. I figured that I couldn't go wrong if I went to Carnegie Hall, and at $40 for a ticket, it wasn't too daunting.
I had the pleasure of hearing the young Canadian pianist, Ang Li give her Carnegie Hall Recital debut at Weill Hall. The program, entitled "Years of Pilgrimage" celebrated Franz Liszt's 200th anniversary with performances of his original compositions and piano transcriptions as well as music by Debussy and Granados. In addition, Ms. Li gave the U.S. Premiere of Canadian composer, Jerome Blais' Es ist genung! and the world premiere of Canadian composer, Jared Miller's Souvenirs d'Europe, which was commissioned for this recital.
In both of these pieces, it was interesting to observe the enormous depth and breadth of variety that exists in the Canadian composition world. Blais' piece, which was originally commissioned by the Canadian pianist, Barbara Pritchard as part of a project of contemporary piano music celebrating Christmas seemed to draw its influences from the collage pieces of Rochberg and Berio and the spectral ideas of Murail and Lachenmann. Through a combination of quotations from Bach's keyboard music and his own material (between which the pianist apparently alternates at their discretion,) Blais was able to construct a delightfully schizophrenic and highly original work that was executed beautifully by Ms. Li. Her sensitivity to Blais' specific pedaling instructions gave the piano the type of sustaining quality one would expect from a violin or clarinet; truly a striking effect to achieve as a pianist. Her thoughtful, yet spontaneous sounding interpolation between Blais' original material and Bach's quotations caused several audience members around me to burst out into fits of giggles.
In contrast to Blais' style, Jared Miller's impressive new work suggested a wide variety of influences ranging from the piano music of Ligeti and Debussy, to Gregorian Chant, to Latin popular music. Miller, who is a graduate student in composition at the Juilliard School and had backpacked through Europe prior to receiving this commission, describes the tripartite composition as the result of "a personal pilgrimage that has helped [him] approach music in a different way." As a composer who's known in the Canadian press for his "showy orchestration" and "quirky, insistent, rhythmic drive," this piece showed a more personal, almost autobiographical side of the 23 year-old composer.
The first movement, "Fontaines" was inspired by the Cascade Donjon Waterfall in Nice, France and uses colorful piano writing to evoke the perpetual descent of water in this landmark. The second movement, "Origines" was inspired by the significance of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris as a place of worship and as the place where contrapuntal music was born. Through his use of bell-like sonorities, haunting melodic figures and rhythmically juxtaposed canonic-immitation, Miller was able to express the importance of this place in a poignant and heartfelt manner. The finale entitled, "¡La Rambla!" called to mind the hectic and energetic nature of Barcelona's main tourist drag. Frenetic, pulsating rhythms and brief allusions to Latin pop music create a virtuosic finale, which nicely rounds off this new addition to the Canadian piano repertory.
Surrounding these new works were solid interpretations of Liszt, Debussy and Granados ripe with coloristic variety and prodigious technical execution. After her final piece, Ms. Li was greeted with several well deserved curtain calls and performed 2 encores for the enthusiastic audience: a transcription of a Chinese folk song and Alexina Louie's "Memories of an Ancient Garden," whose striking inside-the-piano effects inspired a fresh outburst of "bravos" from the clearly satisfied audience.
For my part, I know whose careers I will be following: Jared Miller, and Ang Li. Taking my chances at Carnegie Hall did, in fact, more than pay off; I felt like I had hit the jackpot of cultural offerings in the city.