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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Nov. 9 Piano Waves Concert To Feature Works for up to Four Pianos

October 26, 2011

Nov. 9 Piano Waves Concert To Feature Works for up to Four Pianos

Concert, With Participation of Rensselaer and College of Saint Rose, Continues Collaboration Between Area Institutions.

Waves and whirls unite the pieces in a joint concert to be offered by faculty and students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the College of Saint Rose. “Piano Waves” will feature works for as many as four pianos on Nov. 9, from 7:30-9 p.m. in the concert hall of the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer.

The program includes a mix of contemporary and classical pieces, starting with Claude Debussy’s famous composition La Mer, depicting oceanscapes from the French seacoast and the English Channel.

“There’s a sense in which music can evoke nature, in its calm and its fury,” said Michael Century, professor of new media and music in the Arts Department at Rensselaer. “From impressions of the sea we take the audience on a journey ending in the ballrooms of Imperial Vienna.”

Century is serving as co-director in collaboration with Young Kim, assistant professor of piano and director of Piano Program at Saint Rose. Century and Kim, both pianists, will close the program with Maurice Ravel’s La Valse, which Century describes as “an intense, virtuosic composition evoking the 19th century heyday of Viennese waltz.” La Valse was originally written for orchestra, but will be presented for two pianos.

The program is made possible by EMPAC, which houses four grand pianos, and is sponsored by the Classical Concert Series of the Rensselaer Union, Century said.

“We decided to make it a multi-piano program because of the facilities EMPAC offers. It’s fun to do the music, but it’s icing on the cake to play at EMPAC,” said Century.

The concert is an extension of the collegiate cooperation launched with the April PolyChoral Project, in which four university choirs united to perform the Troy Paradio, a singing procession that wound from downtown Troy to a formal concert at the Rensselaer campus.

“I think we’re all pleased to continue the collaboration between institutions in the Capitol Region,” Century said. “We’re pulling something together - and we’re making something happen - that wouldn’t ordinarily happen. It’s a lively and creative program.”

The concert is free and open to the public.

Program (Notes provided by Michael Century):

Claude Debussy, La Mer 1905, orchestral work arranged for 2 pianos
Debussy’s “three symphonic sketches for orchestra” depict oceanscapes seen from the French seacoast and the English Channel. They are named “From dawn to noon on the sea,” “Play of the waves,” and “Dialogue of the wind and the sea.” In this arrangement for two pianos, Debussy’s masterful orchestration is lost but the lush harmonies and startling rhythmic invention come through with great clarity.

Claude Vivier, Pulau Dewata, for piano ensemble with cello solo
Québecois composer Claude Vivier was born in 1948 and studied piano and composition in Montreal, where his principal teacher was Gilles Tremblay, and later in Germany with Karlheinz Stockhausen. In 1976 he traveled extensively in the Orient, and spent considerable time in Bali. Pulau Dewata (blessed isle) shows some influence of Balinese gamelan, and also the bold originality and simplicity of Vivier’s mature style. He was just gaining an important international reputation when he was tragically murdered in Paris in 1983.

Morton Feldman, Piece for Four Pianos (1962)  
American composer Morton Feldman, 1926-1986, was especially noted for quiet works with open durations and sparse harmonies. This piano quartet was the first of his compositions that leaves the duration of chords open to the performer’s choice. Some notes are silently depressed, producing sympathetic resonances; all are indicated as “soft as possible,” with a “minimum of attack.” The phase patterns of this piece anticipate in some ways subsequent canon-based pieces by minimalists such as Steve Reich.

Lars Erik Rosell, Homage to Terry Riley 3 pianos (1970)
Lars Erik Rosell was 27 when he composed his “Homage to Terry Riley” in 1970. The Swedish composer was influenced by Riley’s visit to Stockholm in 1967, where the American spent a month’s residency at the The Royal College of Music. The form of the piece reflects Riley’s landmark early minimalist style, notably In C, giving each of the three pianos a set of motivic patterns to repeat ad lib.

Johann Strauss, Jr, Kaiser-Walzer (Emperor Waltz) arr. Arnold Schoenberg in 1925
The Emperor Waltz is one of Johann Strauss’ most popular compositions. It was arranged for septet by Austrian modernist master Arnold Schoenberg in 1925. During the 1920s, Schoenberg was the director of a Viennese concert series, the Society for Private Music Performances (Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen), dedicated to carefully rehearsed presentation of modern music; this unusual popular arrangement is one of several made by Schoenberg and his students, Berg and Webern.

Maurice Ravel, La Valse, orchestral work arranged for 2 pianos (1920)
Ravel composed La Valse as a loving, yet in some ways twisted tribute to the passing of the era of 19th century bourgeois elegance and refinement. As composer George Benjamin has written, "[w]hether or not it was intended as a metaphor for the predicament of European civilization in the aftermath of the Great War, its one-movement design plots the birth, decay, and destruction of a musical genre: the waltz."

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