Solo Recital by Michael Century

Solo Recital by Michael Century

EMPAC Studio 1

April 22, 2009 7:30 PM - 10:00 PM

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The first reactions to the Rite of Spring precede by a full year the riotous premiere staging of the ballet in the spring of 1913. Igor Stravinsky brought his piano duet arrangement of the score to a Paris party in June 1912 and persuaded fellow composer Claude Debussy to perform it with him, at sight. The run-through might have been a rocky, if not fraught experience; Debussy wrote 6 months later that "it haunts me like a good nightmare, and I try in vain to recover the impression". Another auditor recalled "we were dumbfounded, overwhelmed by this hurricane which had come from the depths of the ages and which had taken life by the roots". Tonight's half player piano arrangement is in keeping with Stravinsky's own treatment of his most famous creation. He supervised the programming of two piano roll transcriptions in 1915 and 1921, both cut mechanically/ graphically rather than recorded. A Modernist icon that's nearly a century old, the Rite is well served by this black and white rendition, if only as antidote to its cut-up overuse in countless film scores, and especially to the bowdlerized version that appeared in Disney's Fantasia, which omits entirely its shattering finale, the Danse Sacrale. What is lost in the lushness of the orchestration is made up for by the structural transparency and rhythmic clarity of the piano duet.

Terry Riley's minimalist Keyboard Study No. 1, also named Coule, was composed around the same time as his seminal In C, and appeared on the program of the latter work's premiere concert produced by the San Francisco Tape Music Center in November 1964. Both works grow out of Riley's experimentation with electronic tape delays. Their scores comprise collections of short phrases to be performed with indefinite repetition and in recombination with one another. According to an interview with Riley in the invaluable book on the Tape Music Center, co-published in 2008 by EMPAC and UC Press, the keyboard study was apparently played on the piano by Riley himself – not a simple task since the motifs interlock in a manner that is awkward to execute on a single keyboard. This evening's performance on accordion separates the hands conveniently, and is enhanced by the resonance and sustaining power of that instrument.

The three duets for accordion and piano, Satango, Pitch-Black, and Don't Let the Boogie Man Get You, are consummate character pieces, evoking composer Guy Klucevsek's trademark musical wit and elegance. 

They were released in 2006 on Klucevsek's duet album with Alan Bern, Notefalls.

The last piece on the program, an untitled work by Michael Century, plots a path of interaction between musician and computer, beginning with the computer as doppelganger, or double, and ending as golem, or automaton. Poetically, it dramatizes a human confrontation with "stupid" machinery. The computer is programmed with only the simplest of operations – delay, transposition, inversion – and deliberately no effort is made to parse the pianist's gestures semantically. All the music is improvised in performance, though certain topics are pre- selected in the manner of collage (from Bach and Andriessen, for instance). The computer solo is combinatorial, based only on what has been played into its memory. The clashing gestures of the final section are in part inspired by the "vacuum-cleaner story" told by Glenn Gould, of his experience playing the piano while its sound was drowned out by the roar and rumble of the machine. What remained was a tactile involvement with his fingers and an intensified inner hearing of the fugue he was playing. Here, the computer provides the background layer, and the music precariously poking through recalls a specific passage of Gould's own final recording of the Goldberg Variations.





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