Pioneers & Premieres II

Performers of new music sometimes hear a refrain that runs through their heads when striving to comprehend and prepare a new work, a comment that is directed back toward the composer: "OK, lemme see you play it!" A measure of last defense, this comment has no leverage here, for each composer on this program was or is a competent pianist, a few of them impressively proficient performers.

There was a time of course when this was the rule more than the exception: Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Bartók were some of the finest pianists who ever lived. It is not surprising, then, that the pianist/composer tradition enriches this program. If each piece presented tonight were played separately on a recital program with "traditional" works, it might be heard as "The Modern Piece," the impatient listener ironically pre-subscribing the work an historical place and identity that would reflect only what is different about the piece. But here, in the context of one another, both musical impact and tradition can be revealed on their own terms in an immediate and kaleidoscopic way. In my discussions with this program's composers, Chopin was invoked more than once to elucidate a passage. Bach is the clear starting point for the idea behind Arthur Berger's "One-Part Inventions." The program starts and ends with a C major chord. And between these grand tonal bookends, non-western and American vernacular music reinform the traditions. Some of the dialects are overt, as in the quoted tunes in John McDonald and Ives, and at other instances more oblique, as in the funky pulse-generated passages in the Dana Brayton premiere, the cool improvisatory inspired voicings in Jeff Nichols' serial world, the messianic virtuosity and Karnatic idioms of Ezequiel Viñao's tone poem.

In many ways then, this program evokes the recipe-like mixture of a standard works program: a baroque-classical-romantic-modern sequence. But here, the pieces show off an animated and non-linear progression of ingredients. And, in twentieth century America, it reflects our bounty.

Donald Berman