On Saturday, July 21, 2018 Piano Spheres held a new music salon at the West Hollywood home of James Schultz. The theme of the afternoon was “What to Listen for in New Music.” Pianist Aron Kallay and Heidi Lesemann, executive director of Piano Spheres, were on hand to meet and greet. There was a literally full house as friends and patrons wedged themselves into a small drawing room filled with folding chairs and a grand piano. Mark Robson was the featured artist, and he came equipped with ten short pieces of piano music dating from the early 1900s to a new work to be premiered in the coming concert season.
The program began with Robson playing through some pieces without identifying them, and then asking the audience for their reactions, the name of the composer and the date the music written. When asked how many people regularly attended new music concerts, quite a few hands went up – the followers of Piano Spheres being generally knowledgeable – and these listening exercises immediately proved popular.
The listeners described the first piece played by Robson as “dense” and “animated” as well as “contrasty”. Guesses for the date varied widely, from early 20th century to late 1950s. When the piece was revealed to be Schoenberg’s Op. 11, no. 3, composed in 1909, there were some surprised looks among the crowd. The next piece was diagnosed as having repeating phrases with a limited harmonic structure and was so quickly identified as a work by Philip Glass, his Metamorphosis One from 1988. Some Messiaen followed, one of his many bird pieces, and this was a bit more difficult for the audience to identify, even as it was acknowledged to have a very distinctive character.
Robson’s choices and eloquent comments proved not only enlightening, but pointed to some helpful guidelines for listening to new music, such as how to be open to new experiences, to observe your feelings when hearing a piece, and having some bearings as to where a piece fits into the last 100 years or so of musical history. A discussion on concert program notes followed. Are they useful? What should they contain? Should you read them before or after hearing a piece? More varieties of contemporary piano music followed, from the lesser known Soviet composer Galina Ulstvolskaya’s Sonata no. 4 (1957) to Into Thin Air (2014) by James Soe Nyun, of the present decade. Robson also offered a preview of a new work by Karl Kohn that will be premiered during the coming Piano Spheres concert season.
The coming concert season marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Piano Spheres. Six performances are scheduled. They are:
September 11, 2018: Mark Robson – The Debussy Project. The Debussy Etudes with responses by contemporary composers
November 27, 2018: Gloria Cheng – Garlands for Steven Stucky. A tribute to the late contemporary composer
February 26, 2019: Vicki Ray – Feldman/Butoh. Feldman’s For John Cage with violinist Tom Chiu of the Flux Quartet and Butoh dancers
April 2, 2019: Susan Svrček – Schoenberg Reimagined with Nic Gerpe
May 28 2019: Jeffrey Kahane – Kahane Plays Kahane… and more. Special guest appearance by the former director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
June 15, 2019: Michael Lang – Piano Spheres first foray into the piano as a jazz instrument.
The salon was a convivial event, enjoyed by all who attended. Informative yet intimate, this was a great way to preview the upcoming Piano Spheres season.