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As a student at Bard, my course of study has led me to constantly seek a comprehensive definition for my artistry. As an underclassman, I found myself accompanying many classical singers and playing Chopin, Schumann, and Mozart. In my moderation concert, I had included some of these more traditional composers in my program, but also experimented with some contemporary music, even playing pieces using extended technique. As an upperclassman, I made bigger, more confident strides, playing jazz, co-founding the Bard Gospel Choir, and playing much more classical solo and chamber music.
“So what kind of music do you play? Who are your favorite composers”, I am often asked. I usually find myself stumped, but in these concerts I aimed to demonstrate my versatile ear and abilities.
Synopsis of Concert I
My first senior concert included Pictures at an Exhibition, a piece that I struggled with since I hadn’t had much experience with Russian or Romantic repertoire. The piece itself is an ode to the artist Viktor Hartmann by the composer Modeste Mussorgsky, and in my performance I sought to act as storyteller, leading my audience on a journey not merely through a virtual art exhibit, but through time and space. As a work, Pictures not only brings to life the works of Hartmann, but tell stories based upon these works, and introduces common thematic material that ties the movements together. Because the work was written upon Hartmann’s death, and therefore in haste, the printed music has very little notation regarding dynamics, phrasing and articulation, tempos, etc. It was, therefore, a very demanding experience that required me to make artistic decisions at every turn and in every nook and crevice of the piece, not just the aforementioned details, but also the relationships between the movements, bringing out the subtle iterations of overarching thematic material, and the pacing of the piece. With a piece of such epic proportions, the performer must make crucial decisions: what are the most memorable moments in the piece? how should the importance of thematic material be negotiated, and how does one convey these musical ideas once they are solidified? how much space should be allowed between movements? etc., etc., etc.
I also played a couple of selections from George Crumb’s Makrokosmos Volume II. This was more of an exploration for me, as it required a lot more extended technique than I had done in the past. This piece proved a challenge since it required me to interpret on a much more abstract and conceptual level. The compositional techniques employed by Crumb, including extended piano technique, the use of different ranges and timbres, and extreme dynamic contrast, often create an intricate soundscape which requires continuity, an attentive ear for motif, and demanding hand-eye coordination. My last piece was the Ligeti Etude no. 8. While not the most musically challenging piece I’ve ever played, it was extremely technically demanding, and I found myself having to work very hard to make rather simple musical gestures. I integrated the piano techniques that I had learned from all of the past teachers, including the use of the arm, wrist, and practice techniques. Playing this piece was cathartic since I had taken a keen interest in the music of György Ligeti while in high school.
Synopsis of Concert II
The pieces in my second concert continued the trajectory that originated in my first. It began with a couple of traditional hymns sung by my esteemed colleague, Brianna Reed, with whom I co-founded the Bard Gospel Choir. I intended to showcase my arranging and accompanying abilities, as well as my roots in gospel music. I continued with the Ravel Violin Sonata no. 2, along with Stefany Sarmiento, a brilliant sophomore violinist, demonstrating in this piece my ability to switch timbres and styles and create an atmosphere, a key feature of Ravel’s music.
I continued with a Bach Prelude and Fugue, not only a musically demanding offering, but also a part of essential classical repertoire. I sought, through this work, to demonstrate my ear for subtle phrasing and articulation, and creative interpretation, two essential components of Bach playing. I then went on to the Beethoven op. 101 Sonata, a work that begins his late period. This is emotionally difficult music that requires the performer, once again, to have an ear for pacing, motif, and the relationship between movements. The music is not only musically demanding, but also very technically demanding. It requires melodious and subtle sensibility in the first movement, rhythmic drive but attention to sudden dynamic shifts in the second, melancholy storytelling in the third, and fugal, polyphonic, and dramatic triumph in the fourth. My performance distinguished itself with attention paid especially to creating moments of subtle and subdued tension in the “calmer” moments in the piece, with the releases and resolutions taking place in the parts of the sonata with more obvious and overt drive.
My final piece was American Berserk, a rhapsodic exploration of harmonic color and rhythmic intricacy beautifully written for piano by John Adams. I became aware of his music in high school as well, and playing this piece was a dream come true. It is a roller-coaster ride that keeps the audience (and player) on edge, through sections of heart-throbbing rhythmic drive, to oases of relative stability and fewer accents, but nonetheless, a subdued drive. I sought to illuminate these facets of the piece in my own interpretation, as well as highlight even more syncopation than I found in many of the recordings of this piece that I listened to. I aimed to bring out the contrast between these sections. I approached this piece my freshman year, but realized quickly that I wasn’t yet ready for a piece of this magnitude. To have played it as a final piece of my senior concert was nothing short of magical, and it showed myself and my teacher present my trajectory as a musician at Bard. It demonstrated my ability, with persistence, to achieve new heights in my musicianship.
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Joseph, Ronald, "Senior Concerts I and II" (2012). Senior Projects Spring 2012. 330.
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