What was my 2009 piano year like?

DistlerFri 18th December 2009

For starters, my piano no longer lives with me. This past summer, the Cornelia Street Café, with whom I’ve been associated since 2004 presenting ComposersCollaborative inc’s Serial Underground show, launched a two-week piano festival that I helped curate. They moved their trusty Yamaha upright out of the way, and rented a Yamaha G2 grand for the festival’s duration. It worked out so well that they decided to investigate the possibility of a full time concert grand.

Since my apartment studio space is not especially large, I proposed that the Café and I trade pianos on a permanent loan, and, to my delight, Robin Hirsch (the noted actor, author of Last Dance at the Hotel Kempinski, and one of the Café’s owners) agreed. They take good care of mine, I take care of theirs, and it works out well.

Of course, the hidden agenda behind this transaction is that it forces me to not put off any longer my long-desired purchase of a truly first rate grand (no more than five feet seven inches, though!). That won’t happen for at least two years, but I am in the market, and open to suggestions.

I didn’t travel for work in 2009, so my memorable piano moments are all New York-based this time. Two occurred nearly back-to-back. The composer/pianist Frederic Rzewski and I shared a concert on May 19th at the Yamaha Piano Salon, where we played our own solo works and also improvised on two pianos. The improvisations were not planned, preconceived, rehearsed, or even talked about. Yet this YouTube clip shows that there’s something special going on, and that we ought to keep at it.

June 21st marked Mass Appeal, the third annual Make Music New York Festival, featuring more than 800 free outdoor concerts across the five boroughs. Most of the events featured large multiples of the same instrument: massed trombones, hundreds of kazoos, bunches of ukuleles, and the like. Yamaha generously made four pianos available to be placed on Cornelia Street under protective tents (a good idea, because it rained on and off!).

Myself, Sachicko Kato, Jung Lin and Marija Ilic gave what I believe was the New York premier of Dutch composer Simeon Ten Holt’s 1979 minimalist manifesto Canto Ostinato. Although it can be played by any number of keyboardists, the composer prefers it on four pianos. Repeats are left up to the performers, meaning that the piece can last forever. We decided to be practical, and played for two hours. This little YouTube clip aptly sums up the music making and the ambience of that day. And here’s a little clip from the aforementioned Cornelia Street Café summer piano festival, when Jung Lin and I encored Canto Ostinato in a piano duet version. By the way, I’ve lost 20 pounds since all of these videos were made!

Another memorable event marked the return of pianist Zaidee Parkinson to the concert stage, after a long absence. Some collectors may know of her energetic, virile Mozart collaborations with Earl Wild (Ivory Classics), or her singularly spacious Debussy Preludes Book One (Connoisseur Society). Her May 11th Weill Hall concert involved four world premieres of song cycles by myself, Kenji Bunch, Cornelius Duffalo and Ned Rorem. She returns to Weill on June 1st 2010 for a concert featuring Schumann solo works and song cycles.

So far as piano CD releases, the 2009 Gramophone Award winners and runners up pretty much reflect my sentiments, especially Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s extraordinary Debussy Etudes. However, I want to add Jenny Lin’s compelling, conscientious, and absolutely effortless way with Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues (Hänssler Classics), plus Herbert Schuch’s brilliant collection Nachtstücke, featuring music by Schumann, Holliger, Scriabin, Ravel and Mozart (Oehms Classics).

In the meantime, my wife Célia and I are taking a long-anticipated trip to our beloved Brazil over Christmas and New Years, to recharge our batteries and ring in 2010 with joy, energy and a world of new possibilities ahead as we anticipate our 30th anniversary later in the year.

Distler

Composer, pianist, concert presenter and Gramophone contributor Jed Distler looks back, present and forward about the piano in our lives, and the lives of the piano.

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