Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday church at a coffee concert, OR "The World According to Timo"

Today (February 24, 2013), pianist and composer Timo Andres gave an hour long Sunday morning “coffee concert” in at the Walter Reade Theater at the Lincoln Center.  The event is followed by coffee and doughnuts (not too good for hypoglycemia, I used to say at business walkthrough meetings!). This is Timo’s first concert at the Lincoln Center of which I am aware (I don’t know whether there were earlier ones, as when he attended Yale).  So this was an important event for him, and the concert was full and sold out.  It was a good idea to get the tickets bought online by midweek ahead.

I’ll cover the works in reverse order.  The last work was the Chopin Polonaise-Fantasy in A-flat, Op . 61, composed in 1846, near the end of Chopin’s life.  Chopin can seem trivial to me, sometimes, in some of the salon pieces, but in his larger piano solo works he usually works up to violent or heroic climaxes.  This work is more introspective, with mood swings, and a somewhat ambiguous conclusion (there is one final fortissimo chord in the treble), and not a huge emotional release, like some of the others (especially the Ballades and full Sonatas).  The work, in a word, sounds weird!  It should not be confused with either of the two well known Polonaises.  Here, in a Fantasy, the Polonaise rhythm gives the opportunity to make use of complex triple time.  (Compare to Brahms, or even to the Tchaikovsky Third Symphony.) Andres has been writing about the last, and little known, Chopin nocturnes and I would love to hear them.

The next-to-last work is Three Mazurkas, but British composer Thomas Ades (b. 1971).  They are prototypical,  and pianistic.  Curiously, the last one, in slow tempo, may be the most effective.
The second composition was “Forest Scenes” (or “Waldscenen”), Op. 82 (1848-49), by Robert Schumann.  Andres likes sets of miniatures (see my entry here Dec. 11, 2010).  There are nine pieces, and the march-like eighth (the “Hunting Sons”) echoes the March of the big C Major Fantasy. 

The concert opened with Andres’s own “At the River” (2011). Timo’s music does stay with the ear and music memory (mine, at least) with only a few hearings, which speaks well for a composer.  This piece is characteristic of him, in that it builds up in little repeated motives that become themes.  There is a central hymn theme that seems to be based on a repeated note (the music is inspired by rural religious tradition in America, back to the Civil War, as captured by Charles Ives).  By happenstance, I recently listened to “In the Moonlight”  (from “Modern Family”) by comic musician (piano and guitar) and actor Reid Ewing, where there is a similar theme.  I was struck by how similar thematic material can either evoke religious sense of devotion and submission, or an assertive idea of charisma and even seduction.  It’s all about context.  Andres takes the hymn-like idea back into a world of fragmentation and lonely introspection.  Toward the conclusion, my ear also picked up the descending figure from Schoenberg's "Pelleas et Melisande"  (the same descending "in the moonlight" motif).  In the end, will the world be all about connectivity?  In any case, the work set up a mood of “Sunday morning church”, and quite ecumenical.

The link for the series at Walter Reade, here
During the concert, Timo used the iPad as the “page turner” for his own and the Ades work.  I don’t know how the iPad knows when to turn the pages. The piano was a Yamaha.  The stage is rather spartan, with block woodwork behind.  

Andres has mentioned some changes with Sibelius music composition software on his blog, and since I use this at home, I’ll have to look into this carefully soon, and report. 

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