Pianist Christina McMaster certainly does not lack ambition, nor innovation. She created her own record label MC|MASTER Records in order to release her debut album Pinks & Blues, the sold out launch of which at St James’s Theatre included a performance by a rapper. This reflects Christina’s eclectic approach, vision and energy in her music making (she has previously collaborated with London Fashion Week and is now joining forces with graduates of Central St Martin’s School of Art & Design).

cunrlhkwiauhvm7

Pinks & Blues presents contrasting music from two key soundworlds in American music in the 20th century: the industrial, pioneering spirit and the rise of the teeming metropolis (demonstrated in works such as Samuel Barber’s ‘Excursions’ and Frederick Rzewski’s ‘Winsboro Cotton Mill Blues’), and Negro spirituals, Southern blues, smoky jazz clubs and the foot-stomping dance scene of New York City. The album also includes new commissions by two exciting young British composers, Freya Waley-Cohen and Richard Bullen, and on two tracks Christina is joined by Jay Phelps (trumpet), Sami Tammilehto (percussion) and Mark Lewandowski (double bass).

The album opens with the first of Barber’s ‘Excursions’, a work whose frenetic “perpetuum mobile” ostinato bassline suggests the fast-moving big city, replete with rattling metro trains, honking taxis and bustling crowds. But by track three, ‘Peace Piece’ by Bill Evans, we’re transported somewhere altogether more calm – the shady deck of a southern villa perhaps. There is a lightness of touch here which suggests both repose and an urging forward. The work is bookended by two Études by Ligeti which contain motifs redolent of Evans, also deftly played.

Richard Bullen’s ‘Scenes from a Deserted Jazz Club’ is highly atmospheric, at once smoochy and unsettling. It is followed by Frederick Rzewski’s ‘Winsboro Cotton Mill Blues’, another work of hypnotic, urgent energy immediately proceeded by the second of Barber’s Excursions, a languid blues number.

Freya Waley-Cohen’s ‘Southern Leaves’ opens with a figure reminiscent of a southern hymn tune which builds in intensity through increasingly plangent chords. It is meditative and dramatic, and provides a good foil for Gershwin’s ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ (from Porgy & Bess, which is of course set in the Deep South). Back to the urgency of the industrial city with Stephen Montague’s ‘Songs of Childhood’, while the album closes with another work by Montague’s, ‘Southern Lament: Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen’, the traditional spiritual given a contemporary twist with fanfare-like repeated figures, strumming and plucking the piano’s strings directly, and a restful hymnlike section to close.

This imaginative selection neatly reflects Christina’s personal musical tastes and her eclectic approach to programming. The American theme ehich runs through the entire album ties together tracks which in another’s hands may seem disparate, but such is Christina’s expertise in moving seamlessly between the percussive and agitated and the meditative and soulful, she achieves a very satisfying and enjoyable whole. The more bluesy numbers have the requisite sense of time standing still with sensitive use of rubato and elastic tempi, while the upbeat, more mechanical works are precise, sprightly and crisply articulated. This album promises much more to come from this exciting and stylish young pianist.

www.christinamcmaster.com

Meet the Artist……Christina McMaster

 

 

Philip Glass

As a string player who can make a claim to only the most rudimentary pianistic ability (accompanying On the Dodgems in a pupil’s ABRSM preparatory test really did make me go cross-eyed), I embarked on this Pianist’s Alphabet entry on Philip Glass with the fitting trepidation of the interloper.

Why do I want to write about Philip Glass’s piano music? The answer is envy. There are many marvellous tricks that we string players can execute – vibrato, portamento, flying staccato – but one thing that is harder for us is the motoric or raindrop ostinato which is so integral to Philip Glass’s music. We can try, in pieces like Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, but various physical impediments stand in the way of pellucid purity, the bow being the major one; therefore, in Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, we are far better suited to the long notes, which can be made expressive with different bow pressure, or judicious vibrato No doubt there are also many difficulties inherent in Glass’s piano music, which require the same attention to the voicing and spinning out of its long harmonic lines as a piece of Bach, but the results are marvellous: mesmeric, crystalline, resonant, and eloquent, despite the ‘limitations’ Glass places on his musical palette.

Like many people – I assume – I first became properly acquainted with Glass’s music through film scores (specifically The Hours and Notes on a Scandal) and when I came to know more of his music, I began to wonder how it was that his minimalism possessed such rhetorical power. I also wondered why so many people, hearing similar styles of music, by composers less aesthetically adept than Glass would tut ‘Sounds like Philip Glass’ with a dismissive, mirthless laugh.

In Tristian Evans’s Music, Multimedia, and Postminimalism (Ashgate: 2015), the author’s more positive and open-minded analyses explore why Glass’s music possesses such infinite adaptability, moving between the spheres of absolute music and ‘film music’ with ease – an ease which, as Edward Strickland writes in New Grove, has led to Glass becoming ‘one of the most commercially successful, and critically reviled, composers of his generation.’ You can read an example of such criticism by Justin Davidson, in the New York magazine. However, the ways that Davidson, amongst others, censures Glass, are precisely the reasons why I like his piano music: Glass is famous for his musical intertextuality (mainly quotations of his own ideas) and references to other music. In his Etude No. 2, there’s a clear referential link to the first Prelude of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, and it is pursuing the twisted paths of motivic reference – through the repetition that Davidson finds so distasteful – that I love.

Finally, performance. As an encore to Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat at the 2015 Proms, the Labèque sisters played the fourth of Glass’s Four Movements for Two Pianos. Witnessing the intricacy of their interaction, the delicacy required to balance the musical texture, and extract its essential melodic trajectory, was a masterclass in communicative, rhapsodic piano playing.

Corrina Connor

Pianist Ivan Ilic has already featured music by American minimalist composer Morton Feldman on his previous disc The Transcendentalist. His new disc (released 16 October) is devoted to a single work by Feldman, ‘For Bunita Marcus’, dedicated Feldman’s student who studied with him from 1975-1981. For seven years until Feldman’s death in 1987, he and Bunita Marcus were inseparable (though she refused his marriage proposal), composing side by side and sharing ideas.

The work typifies Feldman’s style: comprising small clusters and units of notes, mainly consisting of 3/8, 5/16 and 2/2 bars – tiny ideas which together form a vast and musical landscape, it is curiously absorbing music. What it lacks in texture, it makes up for in its meticulously placed sounds, and its intensity comes from its repetitive and reiterative qualities, with figures varied but not developed.

As Feldman himself said of this music “It can only work if you go along with the material and see how it is turning out.” There is an exploratory quality to Ilic’s playing, a sense of the music being wrought in the moment, spontaneous and unprepared. His touch is assured yet sensitive. Sounds chime, resonate and glow, and the work’s 22 sections unfold with a subtle and graceful expansiveness.

The disc comes with comprehensive notes to guide the listener through the work, but you, like me, may prefer to simply allow the sounds to drift over you.

‘For Bunita Marcus’ (1985) is released on the French label Paraty, distributed worldwide by Harmonia Mundi. The album is the final installment in Ivan’s Morton Feldman Trilogy, alongside the CD The Transcendentalist (2014) and the Art Book/CD/DVD Detours Which Have To Be Investigated (2014).  

Further information here

Meet the Artist……Ivan Ilic

TendlerLeather—ScionFullana

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

It was a combination of things. In one regard, I took piano lessons since the age of six and, at least in my own memory, was rather unremarkable as a student. By middle school, however, I was playing certifiably classical music, though not well. By high school, when I hit the more advanced work of Chopin I started to see the creative possibilities of classical music—how I could really express through it—and then a kind of riptide dragged me from Chopin to Rachmaninov to Prokofiev to Copland to a whole world of modern and classical music. Totally obsessed, it was then that I started to practice, study, and really hustle to prepare for conservatory. On the flipside, I was bullied pretty relentlessly growing up, and the piano eventually served as a kind of escape. Not only could I retreat into my practice regime and not really have to navigate the hallways of my high school, but my talent itself—you know, this idea being special or exceptional at something—worked as a kind of shield or barrier from the harassment. And I guess it almost worked.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

The first pianist who really inspired me was William Kapell, an American virtuoso who died young, in a plane crash, in the 1950s. His playing had such personality and fire, and he had such strong convictions as an artist and such a complicated inner-world, almost debilitatingly nervous as a performer. I needed an idol who was both astonishing and complex, when in classical music everyone else seemed so perfect and unflappable. I should add that, while I’ve worked with dozens of teachers in my lifetime, all of them great artists, it was really my first teacher, a local piano instructor in Barre, Vermont, who let me truly explore music as I wished until I grew to love it on my own terms. He allowed me to play in the truest sense of the word, and as a musician I owe everything to him. He received my book’s dedication.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I tend to wrestle with time, and always have. If I’m not practicing or reading or working on something, I’m apt to spiral into depression and guilt over what I didn’t get to and how that’s a reflection of my own deeply personal failure. This probably stems from a sense that I started late as a musician. I mean, I don’t even really know if I started late, and evidence probably shows that I actually didn’t start late, but it’s a perception I have and I battle it all the time. Even at Indiana University, I told myself that I had a tremendous amount of catching up to do, even though I really had an astonishingly accomplished number of years there. So I might also owe my life in music to this impulse to absorb and perform and push forward, but still, it’s a challenge and can feel kind of miserable in the day-to-day. I tend to believe that everyone else has it all figured out and that I’m the only one who can waste a whole morning drinking a cup of coffee.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I love the recording I did of my book, 88×50, which I don’t think a lot of people know about even though it’s on iTunes, streaming on Spotify, and is pretty much anywhere online. I spent months recording it at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music in New York, and the result is really fun and full of surprises. I also like the life that my live recording of Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes has taken since I released it for free on the web over five years ago, though I think I play the piece quite differently now. Also, Autumn Lines, is a very personal speaking-pianist piece that I released a few years back. Frankly, I’ve found that it’s too traumatizing to do live, so I’ve stopped performing it, nor will I really listen to it or watch live footage from concerts of it, but people seem to like it and I do like it, too. It’s just an intense composition from an intense period in my life. I’m proud of it, I just don’t like being around it. In terms of performance, most recently I performed a concert of music by Cage and Cowell at the open-air Maverick Theatre in Woodstock New York, where Cage’s 4’33” had its premiere in 1952. That was an incredible honor and a huge career highlight for me. Also, this week I organized a twenty-four pianist performance of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book One, featuring mostly new music pianists, which was an epic and totally shattering experience in all the best ways.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I tend toward modern music by Americans, and love exploring the wide range of whatever that means. That said, I also like when a program pushes me out of my comfort zone, either backwards or forwards.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

It really depends on the series, the space, and sometimes the specific requests of my hosts. This season I learned a program of music by Luciano Berio, another by Henry Cowell, and for this festival coming up in London, I learned Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari—all simply because my presenters asked. The great thing is, I’ll probably play this music for the rest of my life.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Probably the Rothko Chapel in Houston Texas. The space itself… the air… it has a kind of epsom salt effect on a person, just pulling stuff out that one doesn’t even know is there. I’ve played three concerts at Rothko Chapel, and would like to do a fourth! They consistently present inspiring and fearless programming for free to the public, so I’m proud to call it home.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

There are certain pieces I come back to, like the Cage Sonatas and Interludes. I’ve played that for eight years now—not constantly, but coming back to it once or twice a year—and each year it feels a little more settled and a little more internalized. It’s like seeing an old friend and jumping right back into a conversation, but then being like, “Hey, what’s different? Did you do something with your hair?” Something’s always a little different when I come back to it. I finally think I play that work with total assuredness—no traps or doubts or anything like that—which makes me think that perhaps it takes eight years for me to truly know a piece! Honestly, though, I find myself totally enrapt and obsessed with whatever I’m working on at a given time. In the days before a concert, I feel totally consumed with that music and its world, and after, I feel a little lost and desperate. In terms of listening, I only occasionally listen to classical or concert music. My brain buzzes too much with it on. I’d rather listen to bluegrass or artists outside of my field.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Nonspecifically, I’m taken with musicians who have a firm sense of their own creative identity, an unshakable passion for their craft, and the humility to understand that their journey is their own, and they have no obligation to mirror anyone else’s life or standards. I have countless examples of these kinds of people in my life, and aspire to their grace every day, people who seek to move their listeners rather than impress.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Gosh, that’s really tough to answer. Every concert on my fifty-state tour from about ten years ago felt like a miracle. The good ones and the disastrous ones, they all still beat the odds in that I was creating a life in music when for all intents, people… experts…had told me that there were only certain ways to do it, certain avenues to take, and of course all were supposedly closed to me. So the experience of just getting out there and doing it and having people actually respond…well, yeah it was simply miraculous.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

That there’s a place for anyone in music. Truly. Everyone has a seat at the table. One has to envision that place, though, be open to it shape-shifting over the years, which it will, and put in the work to build it, simply carving into that identity, that little niche, every day. Some days will feel super tough and other days effortless, but faith and tenacity and a great deal of devotion—those are the ingredients to a life in music. Not Hanon, I’m afraid.

What is your present state of mind?

Anxiety, worry, dread, fear, embarrassment, doubt, wonder, joy, gratitude… a regular morning.

Adam Tendler has been called “an exuberantly expressive pianist” who “vividly displayed his enthusiasm for every phrase” by The Los Angeles Times, an “intrepid…outstanding…maverick pianist” by The New Yorker, a “modern-music evangelist” by Time Out New York, and a pianist who “has managed to get behind and underneath the notes, living inside the music and making poetic sense of it all,” by The Baltimore Sun, who continued, “if they gave medals for musical bravery, dexterity and perseverance, Adam Tendler would earn them all.”

Tendler has performed solo recitals in all fifty United States, including engagements at Columbia University, Bard College, Princeton University, New York University, Kenyon College, Boston Conservatory, San Francisco Conservatory, Portland State University, University of Nebraska, University of Alaska and Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, as well as artistic landmarks including Houston’s Rothko Chapel and James Turrell’s Skypace in Sarasota, where he was the space’s first musical performer. 

Tendler’s memorized performances of John Cage’s complete Sonatas and Interludes include a sold-out concert at The Rubin Museum in New York City and a featured solo recital in the “Cage100” festival at Symphony Space on what would have been Cage’s 100th birthday, listed by New York Magazine as one of the Top 10 Classical Music Events of 2012. In 2014, Tendler performed Cage’s 31’57.9864” in an appearance with the John Cage Trust at Bard College’s Fischer Center, presenting a realization of Cage’s 10,000 Things, and in 2015 he performed music by Cage and Henry Cowell, including Cage’s 4’33”, at the famed Maverick Theatre in Woodstock NY, where 4’33” had its premiere.

Tendler’s memoir, 88×50, about the year he performed solo recitals in all fifty states, was a 2014 Kirkus Indie Book of the Month and Lambda Literary Award Nominee. His premiere recording of Edward T. Cone’s 21 Little Preludes will appear in 2015, and he is developing an album of piano works by American composer, Robert Palmer. He also maintains the blog, The Dissonant States.

A graduate of Indiana University, Tendler presides over a private teaching studio in New York City, and in 2013 joined the piano faculty of Third Street Music School Settlement, the country’s first community music school.

adamtendler.com