This post was written by Maria Grenfell:
On the sweltering hot Friday at 3.00pm we all trooped up to the Aula Bahyse (town hall) in Blonay to hear a recital by Australia-American pianist Lisa Moore. Trained in Australia and the USA, Lisa resides in New York City where she collaborates with a wide range of musicians and artists.
(photo by Lisa Moore)
We were treated to a wide diversity on this recital, beginning with Robert Schumann (yes, the 19th-century composer) and ending with a work by Moore’s husband, composer Martin Bresnick.
The program opened with four movements from Schumann’s “Waldscenen”, a series of nine colourful pieces composed in 1848-49 about a visit to the forest. Moore performed “Entrance”, “A Haunted Place,” “The Bird as Prophet” and “Parting”, drawing out the melodic lines with extreme clarity and attention to detail. Following this, we heard three short pieces by Leos Janacek which are part of his collection “On An Overgrown Path” (Second Series - Paralipomena), written from 1901-1910. Most of these pieces have titles but there are some extra short pieces which do not and are thus given three asterisks, signifiying the mystery of who the pieces are for and what they are about. Earlier in the day we had heard Martin Bresnick talk about his trio entitled ***, which is also being performed here in Blonay, so it was interesting to think thematically about the concepts of titles and meaning in a piece. The first work had a sense of urgency yet occasionally a pastoral quality to it, the second piece was anxious and stormy, and the third piece featured grace notes and had a fast cheerful folk-like feeling. A striking use of dissonance and quirkiness in places reinforced an almost humorous abrupt ending.
Lurching forward approximately 100 years, Moore introduced the names of three composers who were unfamiliar to me: Don Byron, Sam Adams, and Timo Andres. It was very useful to hear some background to these composers who are all linked by either having a jazz background with an interest in composition, specifically for piano, or being pianists, or being a jazz pianist.
Don Byron is a New York City jazz clarinetist and saxophonist who has turned to composition. His work is described by Moore as having a post-Thelonius Monk sensibility; however, he wrote a set of Etudes for Piano as teaching pieces modelled on the Bartok Mikrokosmos as rhythmic studies for piano students. After a verbal introduction, Moore played Etudes 2, 4, 5 and 6, which did sound like rhythmic teaching pieces with two of them introducing vocalising into the mix. I’m not sure how I felt about the vocalisation aspect, but they were clever pieces and incorporated elements of jazz language via riffs and syncopated chords colouring often a one-note or single-beat ostinato pattern. The 6th Etude was a little like Chopin meeting Prokofiev.
Sam Adams is a jazz pianist and bassist, and Moore performed “Piano Step” whose title stems from the desire to create a new name for a dance step, along the lines of “foxtrot”. The piece featured big spacious chords and jazz-like figurations in the piano writing, accompanied by a chorale idea. It was a somewhat rambling piece that built up intensity in dynamics and range, but descended to a quiet simple ending. Following this work was “How Can I Live In Your World Of Ideas?” by emerging composer and pianist Timo Andres. Adapted from a two-piano piece, it is inspired by a cartoon of penguins pondering a painting in an art gallery, and is also somehow about the challenge of writing a piano piece in this day and age. I couldn’t quite understand the connection between the conceptual ideas behind the piece and the music itself, which I found rather derivative and stylistically inconstant, and I felt the ending was abrupt and unfortunate, but surely my fellow participants have other viewpoints! It was interesting to perceive similarities between these three piano pieces by emerging composers on this concert and some works that I have heard this week at Music X, in terms of problem-solving, structural issues and unification of material.
By contrast, the final two pieces on the concert showed significant maturity in ideas and coherence of musical structure. David Lang’s poignant piece “wed” is from a series called Memory Pieces, this movement being about a sculptor who passed away from cancer after she was married from her hospital bed. The work featured a single elegant and quiet harmonic idea that was a sharp contrast to the virtuosity displayed in the other works. Finally we heard “The Dream of the Lost Traveller” by Martin Bresnick, which takes its title from an engraving by Blake about life’s “mental and spiritual journey,” in the words of the composer. A tonal chordal section moved into a more flowing syncopated section and built up to a larger version of opening material, culminating in a bell-like chorale passage. The works were played beautifully and with striking commitment and assurance by Lisa Moore, and it was a privilege to hear an artist of her talent and experience at this Festival, which sadly draws to a close this evening.