Transition By Season

Transition By Season is an abstract catalogue of the music I’ve performed in a recently completed season.  It allows me the opportunity to reflect upon my musicking with open yet categorical coverage.  Here is the transition that is my 2014-15 season.

Bach …

A baroque pipe cleaner … pillages a city and builds atop it something special and sophisticatedly not-so not obscene.

… Ferneyhough

Ferneyhough …

The well-oiled construction company leaves room for space.

… Feldman

Feldman …

The (s)pace-maker to end space-making comes from Your Own Heart.

… Costello

Costello …

My Heart swings too hard for the Man With The Beard.

… Brahms

Brahms …

The Beaded Beard of notes gives to an adventurous flurry of notes and themes.

… Schubert

Schubert …

Themes and materials end and new beginnings build out from Bach’s old.

… Shostakovitch

Shostakovitch …

A furious spinner of harmony and counterpoint touches a furious spinner of ideas, textures, and sonority, with an agility of mind.

… Leblanc

Leblanc …

Focused energy; Frenetic compilation of sound and spirit.

… Reminick.


Kusterer …

One of my favorite people in the world, and a musical personality of equal depth, meets multiple selves.

… Schumann

Schumann …

Multiple selves de-completes next to the master of oratory.

… Ingram

Ingram …

Epic narrative – master narrator.

… Rea

Rea …

Master narrator – fragmented expression.

… Harman

Harman …

After something: A reawakening off the beaten track.

… Frühling

Frühling …

A breath of familiar, unknown life cedes to a voice familiar yet constantly reinvented.

… Cage.


Cheung …

New life for Schumann; New Schumann for life.

… Gandini

Gandini …

Quiet and still; activity and quickness.

… Jones

Jones …

Tick-tock; hold your horsies.

… Flynn

Flynn …

Chordal ambiguity created through insistent clarity; little characters.

… Wurtz

Wurtz …

Clean, well-balanced statements; a deep heart.

… Huydts


Gotlib …

Animals moan and lurk behind my flatted notes; One note is just enough for something.

… Grant

Grant …

What a fun little goof! What a goofy little fun!

… Rodriguez

Rodriguez …

Whistles are loud as hell… be careful; Shimmering texture.

… Donofrio

Donofrio …

Very chamber-y chamber music; Delicate and tricky.

… Epstein

Epstein …

Gorgeous at every single moment; Gorgeous at every single moment.

… Krauss

Krauss …

Not sure whether it is bright or dark; A meditation that hits just a little too close to home.

… Carr

Carr …

Brings me to the start of an undying friendship in Montreal; Counting is a form of entertainment.

… Pelz.

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Program note for MASQUES DE SCHUMANN, 4 Dec 2014, Montreal

I am so thrilled to present this programme.  Robert Schumann is a deeply meaningful composer to my development as a musician, and to embody the contemporary re-embodiments of his work enriches my continued musical growth.  In this programme, “Masques de Schumann,” there are masks abound, such as they are in the written word and notated music of Schumann’s oeuvre.  Schumann’s narrative language features, both literally and figuratively, both musically and poeta-musically, the scene of a masquerade ball, where identity parades past in grand number as nothing more than brief vignette.

Of the 5 works on the programme, the audience is offered a grand total of 55 individual sections of music, clearly marked as individual character pieces in each score, yet linked and ultimately presented as a larger whole.  Have you ever been introduced to 55 different people within an hour and a half?  What kind of message could a population of that size deliver?  It’s hard to say.  But I hope, with the help of Schumannian magic, that the program will hold together with unity among variety.

In preparing such a project, I feel closer to the dynamic, multi-faceted inspiration of Schumann.  I deeply admire his poetic immediacy in projecting characters in rapid fire.  Multiplicity and ephemeral emotional states becomes the norm in such a diverse group of music.  And, for the world premiere of Jimmie Leblanc’s …au seuil de l’instant…, excerpts from John Rea’s Las Meninas, and Chris Paul Harman’s After Schumann, we further complicate the masquerade scene with contemporary takes on Schumann.  The final complication is me, the performer, who will yet again re-interpret and re-construct.  As the interpreter of this marvelous poetry, I feel that this burden has brought me closer to Schumann and his influence on living colleagues and friends, and ultimately, closer to myself and the multiple selves of my own creation, and the projection of those onto others.

Many thanks to the Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur for inviting me, to Jimmie Leblanc for his brilliant new work …au seuil de l’instant…, to Chris Paul Harman and John Rea for letting me perform their wonderful music, and to Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec for the generous support.  And of course, thanks to the city of Montréal, which will always have a special place in my heart.


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For Your Family

Poem #401

One more is for more
Whether or not
I know it is so,
So so so.

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for e.e. cummings


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Poem #222

The poem hasn’t changed.
But you have.

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Early Music – What It Means To Me

(Above: Top of the score of
For Harpsichord, written for and dedicated to Francis Yun)

I just finished writing a solo harpsichord piece for my dear friend Francis Yun, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan. In writing this piece, I immersed myself in the instrument’s repertoire and scholarship for the first time in my life.  It was a journey that genuinely challenged my approach to music.  I’ve only scratched the surface, but it was more than enough to get my imagination ignited for the instrument.

Frankly, the resulting piece is a rather odd one, which perhaps reflects the existential loop-holes that I slid through while researching.  For example, a page of the score is written in stick-figure notation, there is an embedded theater script, and a pop song is notated in its entirety in figured bass.  To give a flavor, here’s a sampling of indications found in the score: “You may take any tempo you like, whenever you like, for however long you like …” “Play with a terrible sense of pitch and rhythm…” “…the stupider this sounds, the better.”

(Above: Performer directions: “…play with a terrible sense of pitch and rhythm…”)

I had a terribly good time writing this piece.  Franny and I laughed and then laughed some more as this piece came to life.  He was the muse – in fact, I would go as far as say that Francis co-wrote it.  Have you ever taken a book recommendation from a friend, and felt as if you were reading with that friend over your shoulder? Francis is that friend. This new work is that book.  I had him over my shoulder from beginning to end.  The Francis I know is completely woven into the work – his mannerisms, his beliefs, his opinions, his words are in the piece, quite literally.  Francis is just as much a part of this piece as I am.

(Above: My friend Francis Yun, at the harpsichord)

This is a core value that I perhaps always harbored, but only fully discovered while studying pre-Romantic music.  Back then, the composer did not really own music.  The composer’s most active duties involve performing or teaching in some capacity, and the act of composing is a natural and at times necessary aspect of the post, nothing more and nothing less.  The Composer with a capital “C” is not a stone deity, as depicted here in Leipzig, but rather a humble factor in a complex equation of collaborative relationships.  Romanticism portrays isolation and singularity as heroic, while rejecting any conflicting opinion that stands in its way (which includes Baroque music). I’m starting to think there is nothing divine and timeless about writing music, and there never was – it is merely a lofty construction Romantic Era composers and performers used to generate self-importance.

This notion saw new life in the “authenticity” debates of the Historically Informed Performance (HIP) movement of the 1980’s, where individual people and groups self-righteously claimed (rather romantically) the title of Authenticity.  That’s right, period performers acted too romantically.  And, when it comes to claiming authenticity, players of contemporary music are no better.  Contemporary players pontificate over the hypothetical realm of “future historians,” on which some get off. But to me, this realm is equally over-romantic, and it distracts at the least and impedes at most honest musical engagement.  Honesty is too relative to define, but to me, a disingenuous flair lies in such talk from contemporary players. In it lies the same recklessness that proved HIP’s authenticity claim in the 80’s to be flawed and unfruitful.  Perhaps authenticity is not the term to speak to at all.  Authenticity is an illusion.  A mirage, to be exact.

However, I don’t want to be unfair; I’m reluctant to criticize others without acknowledging my own hypocrisy.  After all, I often indulge as one of the “others.”  The first lines of my biography have always featured the words “unique” and “original” – perhaps my valuation on individuality is an echo of the Romantic ideal of the artist.  If I was a Baroque composer stuck in the wrong century, I imagine my bio would read like a laundry list of previous jobs, and a thorough documentation of ancestors and offspring.  But now, I’m thinking too simplistically of the Baroque as a polar opposite of everything I dislike about modernity.  But now, I’m being too romantic in my love-hate relationships to things.  Now, I’m unhealthily rejecting the Romantic, and suppressing a part of my nature…. AHHHH! You see the hole I dig for myself by compartmentalizing aspects of human nature into eras of human history?

All I can say with all my heart is: Plurality is key and authenticity is a sham.

If there is no such thing as authenticity, then how does anyone own anything?  A possible solution: Speak of everything in terms of co-ownership.  The piece for Francis is also for me.  The piece I wrote for Francis is also written by Francis.  The piece Francis and I have worked to create is also a product of many other opinions, ideas, performers and composers.  Certainly, lines must be drawn in the sand for accountability, especially for legal or financial concerns, but the core value is something I keep: If you want to co-own something with me, go ahead. I’d be thrilled!

This reminds me of a project in the making.  It is a three-way collaborative keyboard effort between myself (on modern piano), Katelyn Clark (on harpsichord), and Gili Loftus (on fortepiano).  We are forming an ensemble around these three instruments to co-arrange/co-compose repertoire as a trio.  What is crucial is that we co-own the project in three equal parts.  Not any one of us assumes authenticity over another.  I must own the harpsichord and fortepiano as much as Gili and Katelyn do.  And Katelyn and Gili must own the piano in this project as much as I do.  There is no ownership – only co-ownership.

(Above: Keyboardist Gili Loftus)
(Below: Keyboardist Katelyn Clark)

These opinions are rooted in the Baroque, or rather, what I imagine the Baroque to be.  I cannot stress enough the importance of my qualifier, “what I imagine the Baroque to be.”  If I had to translate all the wisdom I’ve gathered from Baroque scholarship into one line, it is this: “We’ll never know for sure, and how exciting that is!”

I’ll never know so many things about the music of the past, just as I will never know things about my own nature – I’m happy to co-own this state of wonder with the rest of humanity.  So, Early Music, what do you mean to me?  I don’t know for sure … but how exciting it is!

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David Reminick – Perched upon an Arborescent Limb

I’d like to start things off with a big assertion: Dave began as my sole guiding force in music. 

When I came freshly transferred into music at Columbia College, Dave Reminick was my first exposure to serious music study, in a summer course in Music Theory he taught as an adjunct at Columbia.

To be honest, Dave seemed to me on first impression as a stickler – rather stuck-up and particularly anal retentive.  He donned full business attire complete with a brown button-up shirt, a tie, and a suitcase, in the heat of summer, while the student body was almost exclusively in hoodies(again, in the heat of summer).  In that first class, he came down on us real hard.  He informed us of the departmental policies on attendance, late submissions, plagiarism, among other things.  All in all, he gave us a real pre-emptive run for our money.

But, after that initial class, I remember what then blossomed out of him uncontrollably: An amazing sense of humor, a truly contagious joie de vivre for things in music, a disturbingly powerful intellect, and a hauntingly capable musicianship.   The musical path I have followed was formed upon the following principle, which was directly transmitted through Dave:  Always think and speak about music with your ears first, in honesty, humility, and wonder.

I risk the impression of hyperbole with this statement, but I’ll say it anyway because it’s true: Dave the musician served as my prototype throughout my musical development. 

After one of those summer Music Theory classes, I remember him playing at the piano a short piece he wrote in 2000, called 22 to 9.  I remember thinking at the time that this was one of the most crazy, insane pieces of music I had ever heard.  After I better understood the contemporary musical grammar it was following, it went from a “crazy, insane piece” to just simply a good piece of music – a piece that is compact, economical, imaginative, humble, and zany.

Shortly after, another piece by Dave was added to my repertoire, one that was even more compact, more succinct, and personalized by title in the end, to me.  As is stands, the official title of this 7-second work for solo piano is Reprimand for Andy Costello.   The title grows out of my disobediently programming of this work in Halifax without his request, titling it simply at the time, 7-second piece.  Once Dave heard of the taken titling liberty, he reprimanded me, and rightfully so.

So, trade seconds for years, and here we are today, 7 years after my first encounters with Dave, as a young, impressionable student at Columbia.  Now, as it stands, Dave is one of my dear friends, and still, a source of guidance and target of respect.  As long as Dave stays Dave, I will always stand behind his music, as a fellow musician and a friend.

And now this blog entry ends with, and with which all good blog posts should end, a promotional caveat.  Join me on Saturday, November 16th, 2013 at the PianoForte Salon Series, in Chicago, where I will premiere the new work Crowded Branches, by Dave Reminick, written for me specifically for the occasion.  It is part of his current song cycle in progress, Bird Songs.  This work is also indeed a song, and I will be playing while singing an original text also written by Dave.  The text is inspired by crows’ remarkable ability of face recognition and transmittance of this knowledge to other crows across communities and generations.

Hope to see you there.

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