An early work by Lilburn, the Sonata in F# minor is a passionate and romantic work. Indicated in the handwritten score, this is his second sonata, following his Sonata in A minor he wrote in 1939. He finished writing the work when he returned home to Whanganui during the outbreak of World War II. Being my hometown, I am interested in learning about Whanganui's musical history, of which this sonata is an important part. According to public records, the work has only been performed once by Dan Poynton in 2006, which he then later recorded. I hope my performance of the work convinces you of its success as a piece and prompts other pianists to perform the work more!
Remote Connection is a new work that Australian composer Stuart Greenbaum wrote for me this year. Stuart says the following about his piece:
"The phrase 'remote connection' has an inherent friction to it, conjuring both distance and closeness. Its common usage refers to wireless devices sharing information; but I'm interested in the phrase as an allegory of human connection. We can experience loneliness in the midst of a crowded room, yet also sense connection in extreme isolated places. And in 2020, these issues played out in dramatic fashion across the globe due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In March, I hastily left Sweden (wonderful, slightly remote Visby) on a rebooked flight home to Melbourne and went straight into 14-day home quarantine, followed by a sequence of various levels of state lockdown and overnight curfew. As for many other people, 2020 was a year of seeing less people than ever. So Remote Connection was written in reflection of all that."
The nickname ‘Moonlight’ can be traced back to the 1830s (years after Beethoven wrote the piece) when German poet Ludwig Rellstab published a review in which he likened the work's first movement to a boat floating in the moonlight on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Despite Beethoven having nothing to do with this title, the work's fame has meant this nickname is here to stay. New Zealand pianist Michael Houstoun has said that the association with moonlight subtracts from the emotional character of the work. Instead, he describes the work as 'relentlessly dark' and 'violently black'. I agree. Beethoven was particular about his pedal marking, too — 'si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e senza sordino' translated as 'the entire piece should be played with the greatest delicacy and without mutes.' On the modern piano this is not possible, but it prompts the performer to imagine the sound world that Beethoven was trying to achieve in this sonata.
The idea to pair Ellington and Debussy together was not my own. American pianist and composer Timo Andres has been making video recordings of himself at home during the pandemic, and it was his playing that laid bare how Ellington 'used' Debussy's material. Hearing Reflections in D and Reflet dans l'eau is a clear example of the similarities between jazz and impressionism. The second work in the Images set, Hommage à Rameau, offers another type of 'reflection' — a homage to the French baroque style of Jean-Philippe Rameau, while Mouvement is a fast, continuous stream of notes.
Together with the companion piece China Gates, John Adams regards Phrygian Gates as his 'opus 1' and first exploration into minimalism. According to Adams, the 1970s was a time of 'enormous ideological conflict in new music' and minimalism as a style seemed to be a way forward for Adams. However, his work does not fall into tedious monotony but uses principles of the style such as tonality and large structures to influence his approach. The term 'gates' is a term borrowed from electronics and refers to the moments when the harmony in the music shifts abruptly and without warning. These shifts occur throughout the work that cycles through all the keys à la Well-Tempered Clavier, but in the circle of fifths rather than chromatically. I believe that the performances on this tour represent the first public performance of the work in New Zealand. Some may regard Phrygian Gates as a contemporary work; now that it is over forty years old it is time to consider this work as historical rather than part of modern music culture.
Reflections and Connections
July 4 - July 27, 2021
Douglas Lilburn (1915 - 2001)
Sonata for Piano in F sharp minor (1939)
1. Lento-Allegro ma non troppo e con rubato
2. Theme and Variations
Stuart Greenbaum (b. 1966)
Remote Connection (2021)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Sonata in C# minor, op. 27, no. 2 (1801)
1. Adagio sostenuto
3. Presto agitato
Duke Ellington (1899 - 1974)
Reflections in D (1953)
Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918)
Images, Book 1 (1905)
1. Reflets dans l'eau
2. Hommage à Rameau
John Adams (b. 1947)
Phrygian Gates (1977)