March 11, 2020 | Tom Huizenga -- The last time pianist Kirill Gerstein was at NPR we gave him a full-size, grand piano to play in a big recording studio. But for this Tiny Desk performance, we scaled him down to our trusty upright. "What will you ask me to play the next time," he quipped, "a toy piano?"
Even if we had handed him a pint-sized instrument, I'm sure Gerstein could make it sing. Just listen to how Chopin's lyrical melodies, built from rippling notes and flamboyant runs, flow like a song without words in Gerstein's agile hands.
The Chopin Waltz, Op. 42 is one of the composer's hits, but the next two pieces Gerstein offers are rarities. The Berceuse for solo piano was written for Gerstein by Thomas Adès, adapted from his 2016 opera The Exterminating Angel. The work, both brooding and beautiful, receives its premiere recording at the Tiny Desk. Gerstein follows by dusting off a truly neglected – and quirky – Hungarian March by Franz Liszt. To my knowledge it's been recorded only once.
The 40-year-old pianist, born in Voronezh, Russia, taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents' record collection. A chance meeting with vibraphonist Gary Burton landed him a scholarship to study jazz at Boston's Berklee College of Music. At age 14, Gerstein was the youngest to enroll at the institution.
Although he is among the elite pianists of the classical world (he won the coveted Gilmore Award in 2010), Gerstein's jazz background is still close to his heart. Which brings us to his lovely-rendered closer: Gershwin's "Embraceable You," arranged by the American pianist Earl Wild.
Like all master performers, Gerstein gives you the illusion that he's making it all up as he goes along, even though the virtuosic transcription is intricately mapped out. And somehow, he makes that upright piano sound nine feet long.
SET LIST Chopin: "Waltz in A-flat, Op. 42" Adès: "Berceuse from The Exterminating Angel" Liszt: "Ungarischer Geschwindsmarsch" Gershwin-Earl Wild: "Embraceable You"
MUSICIANS Kirill Gerstein: piano
CREDITS Producers: Tom Huizenga, Morgan Noelle Smith, Kara Frame; Creative director: Bob Boilen; Audio engineer: Josh Rogosin; Editor: Melany Rochester; Videographers: Kara Frame, Melany Rochester, Shanti Hands; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Executive producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Max Posner/NPR
Hallelujah Junction is a composition for two pianos written in 1996 by the American composer John Adams. Adams titled his autobiography after this composition. A two-CD retrospective album of works by Adams on the Nonesuch label is also entitled Hallelujah Junction, but does not include the composition.
The name comes from a small truck stop on US 395 which meets Alternate US 40, (now State Route 70) near the California–Nevada border. Adams said of the piece, "Here we have a case of a great title looking for a piece. So now the piece finally exists: the 'junction' being the interlocking style of two-piano writing which features short, highly rhythmicized motives bouncing back and forth between the two pianos in tightly phased sequences".
The work centers around delayed repetition between the two pianos, creating an effect of echoing sonorities. There is a constant shift of pulse and meter, but the main rhythms are based on the rhythms of the word "Hal–le–LU–jah".
The work is in three unnamed movements, and generally takes about 16 minutes to perform. It was first performed by Grant Gershon and Gloria Cheng at the Getty Center in Brentwood, California, in 1998. It is dedicated to Ernest Fleischmann, long-time general manager of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Víkingur Ólafsson – Rameau: Les Boréades: The Arts and the Hours (Transcr. Ólafsson)
At the centre of the album is an interlude from Rameau’s final opera, ‘Les Boréades’, written in 1763 when Rameau was 80. Ólafsson transcribed it for the modern piano because its colourful resonance allows for new and interesting textural possibilities in a piece that seems so ahead of its time: its rich harmonies of suspended 9ths and 11ths one could almost imagine Mahler writing in the late 19th century. In the original opera, based on a Greek legend, the interlude bears a somewhat lengthy title: “The Arrival of the Muses, Zephyrs, Seasons, Hours and the Arts.” As all these mythical beings summoned to the stage have something to do with the arts and with time’s passing, Ólafsson allowed himself to call his transcription simply ‘The Arts and the Hours’, with a nod to the Greek aphorism best known in its Latin version as “Ars longa, vita brevis”. Almost three centuries after his death, the legacy of his art is still growing, with works still being discovered, premiered and brought back from obscurity. Watch pianist Víkingur Ólafsson (“Artist of the Year” at the Gramophone Awards 2019) perform Rameau's 'The Arts and the Hours'.
"There is a timeless quality to the music that we felt was matched by the spirit of the gorgeous house. It is about time’s passing and art - ‘Ars longa vita brevis’ - and as a counterpoint to the three verses in the music we have three different characters appearing in their respective homes, surrounded by objects they are passionate about and which they have gathered over a long period of time. It is about listening to your heart." - Víkingur Ólafsson
"As we continued to talk about this, we started to discuss people that are obsessive collectors and go through their whole life collecting specific things, archiving them and taking care of their collection at their home. It is often really fascinating how people can be in love with random things and to see their sensitivity and delicacy that go into these collections." - Magnús Leifsson
Daniil Trifonov plays Schubert: Sonata no. 18 in G Major, Op. 78, D. 894
The Piano Sonata in G major D. 894, Op. 78 by Franz Schubert is a sonata for solo piano, completed in October 1826. The work is sometimes called the "Fantasie", a title which the publisher Tobias Haslinger, rather than Schubert, gave to the first movement of the work. It was the last of Schubert's sonatas published during his lifetime, and was later described by Robert Schumann as the "most perfect in form and conception" of any of Schubert's sonatas. A typical performance runs approximately 35 minutes.