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HOCKET Interviews Composers, round 4: Alex Weiser



On November 21, HOCKET will be presenting a FREE concert of new commissions at the Brand Library & Art Center in Glendale, CA (concert information available at Leading up to the performance, HOCKET has been interviewing the four commissioned composers of this concert and discussing their newly written works. Here is HOCKET’s final interview with Alex Weiser where they discuss his piece water hollows stone.

Tell us about water hollows stone.

water hollows stone is a three movement work for four hand piano. The four hand piano repertoire is largely known for modest pieces, often written for amateurs, but for this work (in no small part inspired by the virtuosity you guys, HOCKET, bring to the table), I went for something much more ambitious. I thought of having four hands instead of two as magnifying the possibilities of the solo piano, almost akin to having a player piano. The result is some incredibly challenging and intricately interlocking passagework. The first movement explores the resonance of the piano with huge waves of sound, bell-like interjections, and harmonies and textures emerging from misty resonance, the second movement saturates the keyboard in a breakneck scherzo of cascading canons, and the final movement offers a wistful goodbye song exploring the sonic world inside decaying resonance.

What does the title mean and what is its significance in the piece?

The name water hollows stone comes from an ancient Latin proverb found in Ovid’s Epistulae ex Ponto, which reads “gutta cavat lapidem” – “a drop of water hollows a stone.” Later it was expanded: “non vi, sed saepe cadendo” – “not by force, but by continuously dripping.” Through its quiet persistence water does the seemingly impossible. My piece seeks to work in the same way, building up its material through insistent waves of sound, changing gradually but ultimately, I hope, making a big impact.

The second movement of water hollows stone, is a series of complex interlocking canons that literally covers the entire range of the piano. What was the inspiration for this movement?

Michael Gordon, one of my favorite composers and one of my teachers, wrote an incredible solo piano piece called, “Sonatra” which is built out of these incessant arpeggios up and down the whole piano. In the program note he said, “I wanted to use all of the keys on the piano and use them often,” and I just love this idea of maximizing the sonic possibilities by using all of the keys. Along those lines I was also inspired by the genre of “black midi” wherein popular songs are arranged for midi piano to use the maximum number of notes possible, saturating the score and turning it black. With these ideas in the back of my mind I revisited Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations and was totally floored by this incredible canonic arpeggio that bursts out in the 19th variation. For the second movement of water hollows stone I took this material as a launching pad, changed the harmony, expanded the canon from two voices to four, and then hit the ground running, leaving Beethoven behind and developing the material as if it were my own.

The third movement explores dissipating resonances in the piano. What drew you to this technique?

I first encountered this technique when I heard Helmut Lachenmann’s delightful set of pieces Kinderspiel, and I loved it as a way of reimagining the sounds possible with the piano. In the final movement of water hollows stone I use this technique as a metaphor for fading away. After having built up a big mass of sound in the first movement and played with super saturated interlocking canons in the second movement, the piece bids a farewell song as its sound evaporates, and fades away with each successive chord.

We spent time together in residence at the Avaloch Farm Music Institute workshopping and putting this piece together. Can you talk about our collaborative process, and how it affected the piece?

We workshopped the piece at Avaloch making dozens of fine-tuned adjustments to get all of the pacing just right, and to finesse the intricate choreography of the four hand interplay. The opportunity to tweak details like this over the course of a week together is something I have never experienced before, but I can’t imagine how we could have put this piece together without it. I’m very grateful to Avaloch for allowing us to have that time together.

As a New York based composer, do feel that this piece is a representative of the kind of music coming out the New York right now?

One of the things I love about New York City is the incredible diversity of activity – people here are writing complex music, simple music, music that looks forward imagining a new future, music that looks backward reimagining the past. I’d like to think that my music does a bit of all that.

Anything else you would like to add?

I’m coming out for this show and it’ll be my first time in Los Angeles. Come say hello and tell me where I should visit! I hope this is my first trip of many; there seems to be a lot of exciting new music happening in LA.

[editor’s note: damn right there is!]

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