Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Notes before a final (1): Balancing Act

Creating a programme for a concert isn't just a matter of chucking together a bunch of stuff you'd like to play, whatever some people think.  My original plan for the first round of the competition was to pair Feldman's Durations II with Debussy's Cello Sonata; I thought it would make an intriguing pairing, the Feldman both acing as a kind of warm-up for me and the pianist before we launched into the various difficulties of the Debussy, but also acting as a foil: there's the contrast between Feldman's slow, flat surfaces and Debussy's busier, jump-cut style, but also a shared interest in texture and colour.  The Debussy got cut because the time I had got cut, down from 15 minutes to 10. LutosÅ‚awski's Grave is a piece which, like the Debussy, I've been laying privately for years, so I had under my fingers (at least enough that getting it up to scratch seemed feasible), and in its changes of mood and  varied texture has a certain affinity with Debussy, and hence I figured would provide a similar fit with the Feldman (which I was determined to keep in the mix).

The LutosÅ‚awski's quite an overtly virtuosic piece, very dramatic and full of gesture (very much unlike the Feldman).  The obvious thing to do for the finale would be something similarly flashy.  Doing the obvious just isn't me though.  From the moment I dared to start thinking I might make it to the final I knew I wanted to do some kind of sequence that would create a certain mood, and progression of mood.  The one piece I knew I wanted to play from the off was Webern's Three Little Pieces for Cello and Piano (I'll talk about this piece, and the others, in more detail in further posts). The other thing I was keen to include was one of Harry Partch's Li Po settings, and it occurred to me that one of them in particular would make a great prelude to the Webern, and really help the intense emotion of that to come through.  "The Long-Departed Lover" is, as you'd guess from the title, in part about loss, as is the Webern; pretty much his entire output as a composer is coloured by the trauma he suffered when his mother died.  Following that, I wanted something very calm and soothing, even comforting.  This was the hardest piece of the jigsaw to find; not just the right tone, but the right length to fit in the limited time I had.  In the end, I added two pieces to follow Webern: one to comfort, and another to bring a transformative, fantastical end to the set.

After my set in the semi-final, I was asked, "do you do any more... mainstream pieces?" I guess the answer is, "not this time!".  Mainstream doesn't seem a very interesting place to be to me.  It only occurred to me after I'd settled on the music I wanted to play that only one of the composers I'm playing through the whole competition isn't dead (bad), and that the piece most people would recognise as "Difficult Modern Music", the Webern, is the oldest piece I'm playing, by the composer who died longest ago.  I find that quite a satisfying thought.

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