“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”

This quote from Mozart seems particularly apt for Steven Osborne’s concert at Milton Court which featured music by Morton Feldman and George Crumb, two radical American composers with a special interest in exploring the piano’s expressive qualities as much through the spaces between the notes as in the notes themselves. Eschewing melody as the main vehicle for expression in their music, both Feldman and Crumb offer the listener a special soundworld infused with simplicity and stillness. Osborne’s interest in stillness in music combined with his ability to produce magical kaleidoscopic shadings, as evidenced by his very fine performances and recording of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jèsus, make him the perfect performer for this programme.

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(Photo Benjamin Ealovega)

Silence in music, any music, is very important. Pauses and silences provide “punctuation marks” and create ebb and flow, just as in speech. Silences also create drama and set up expectations in the minds of the listener, while stillness and quietness in music allow the listener to be drawn in to create a special, sometimes very intense connection with the performer. In the pre-concert talk, Osborne talked of how, as a child, he liked to experiment at the piano to see how quietly he could play, fascinated by the tactile experience of producing very soft sounds. He described how the simplicity and stillness of Feldman’s music in particular – music which is sometimes merely a handful of notes or a few carefully chosen chords with no clear narrative nor organic development – allows the listener to engage with the music “in the moment”, with a mindfulness akin to meditation without the need to conceptualise nor admire it as an “art-object”.

Read my full review here

Meet the Artist……Steven Osborne

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