for solo piano(2020 [revised 2023])
|Commissioned with funds provided by UCLA Music Library Hugo Davise Fund for David Kaplan
|May 24, 2022; Zipper Concert Hall, Los Angeles, CA; David Kaplan, piano
In 2019, the pianist David Kaplan approached me with a proposition: he was interested in commissioning new pieces from both me and the composer Anthony Cheung; he was also interested in having us react to one another's music in this commission.
Anthony is an old friend and someone I hold in high regard. His work, however, is very different from mine and this presented me with a challenge to stretch my voice. So I said yes.
I suggested, as a starting point, that Anthony and I quote small snippets from one another's compositions. Anthony had written a beautiful piano concerto whose second movement featured a repeating accompaniment as well as the sound of the piano muted with blu-tac (a kind of poster board putty). I took this as my starting point.
To this, I added a new effect I'd recently developed: that blu-tac can work as not just mute but also a device to retune strings with sufficient pressure. So I used blu-tac to tune three different keys—A, G#, and F#—to all sound like the pitch F. Along with the unadorned F, I had the ability to create different kinds of figurations around a fast and rhythmic repeated note, an effect that is normally difficult and unidiomatic on the piano. An added bonus was that the retuning is nearly impossible to make precise, so in reality, one gets a series of almost Fs that rub against one another, creating a unique sonic tension.
While working on the project with David and Anthony, the latter mentioned that his composition had a lot of "passagework," a word that was unfamiliar to me at the time but doubtlessly known to most pianists. "Passagework" is, according to Merriam-Webster, "a section of a musical composition characteristically unimportant thematically and consisting especially of ornamental figures." Despite the derisive connotation, I loved the term and particularly loved the dual meaning of 'passage,' not just a musical figure but also a journey. I sought to create such a journey by transforming a single ‘repeated note’ figuration into a composition whose mood shifts from the melancholic to the tense to the delicate to the triumphant.
– Christopher Cerrone