Friday 15 December 2017

Photo by Stephen Buhagiar

Salt of the Earth, the Sea and of Me

Photo above by Stephen Buhagiar

On Saturday 22 June, 8pm at St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity, Valletta, pianist Tricia Dawn Williams will present a program of 20th century and contemporary works by composers from Hungary, America, France and Malta.  This program will be first performed at The Béla Bartók Memorial House on Friday 14 June where Williams has been invited to perform and will be closing the 2013 season.  Throughout the past twenty-five years, the Memorial House has become the worthy home of Bartók’s art: his works for piano, chamber music pieces and classic compositions, that may once have been played between these walls during his life, are now regularly interpreted by the most prominent Hungarian artists in the concert hall.

Williams specialises in the performance of 20th century and contemporary music.  Since 1999 she has been under the guidance of Pawlu Grech. Her repertoire ranges from Béla Bartόk to today’s modern composers.  She has performed works by Gjӧrgy Ligeti, Paul Hindemith, Ahmed Adnan Saygun, Henry Cowell, John Cage, Andrew Rudin, Scott McAllister, Makiko Kinoshita and others.  Over the years has organised and taken part in several recitals and interdisciplinary projects collaborating with Maltese composers and other contemporary composers worldwide commissioning and premiering their works both in her own country and abroad.

The program opens with Ideograms Book 1 by Pawlu Grech. This work is a research into sound as the basis for musical composition. Starting from the single sound and varying its intensity, timbre and duration, the possibilities afforded by the irreducible nature of sound are progressively unfolded and developed. This process crystallizes into an uninterrupted series of seven sound images each of which is made up of multiple sounds standing in complex relations to each other but without ever forming a musical order or thematic unity. These sound images are obtained by means of different instrumental techniques, such as exploitation of the registers, various ways of using the three pedals, reverberation, and contrasting dynamics within the same texture. The visual nature of the work is mirrored in the score, where the sounds are represented by dots of varying sizes and distances from each other to represent their relative durations. At times, the duration of the sounds is also measured in seconds. The name of the work, Ideograms, bears out Pawlu Grech’s intention to elevate the craft of musical composition to the lofty status of a precise and esoteric language that has the ability to capture and communicate a metaphysical reality lying beyond its aural artifacts.

Four Dirges by Béla Bartók are four short piano pieces that owe their existence to Bartók‘s discovery of Romanian mourning songs in 1909. Since 1905, Bartók had been collecting folk songs from Eastern Europe, and their exotic scales had soon made their way into the composer’s work. The Dirges are in some ways reminiscent of the Fourteen Bagatelles for piano, composed in 1908: both are strongly folk-influenced, and both reflect the same austere, spare aesthetic. The principal difference between the two works is harmonic, as the Bagatelles are decidedly experimental in this respect, at times bordering on atonality; the Dirges, on the other hand, are harmonically quite simple, with melodies often accompanied by open fifths or basic triadic chords. Bartók‘s melodies and harmonies are constructed largely from lydian and phyrgian modes, octatonic scales (scales consisting of alternating half and whole steps) as well as the usual Hungarian pentatonic (five note) scales. Melodies are simple and unadorned, often presented in bare, parallel octaves. The first of the four Dirges, an adagio, reflects Bartók‘s interest in Romanian octatonicism, with melodies comprised of octatonic pentachords (the use of octatonic scales would also become an important feature of Igor Stravinsky‘s music: Stravinsky composed a number of works in the first two decades of the century based on Russian folk music idioms). The second Dirge is perhaps the most harmonically adventurous of the four, as it progresses from relatively simple pentatonic structures to octatonic fragments and arpeggiated ninth chords. The third Dirge is similar in texture and character to the first, while the fourth employs more octatonicism and modal structures.

From Hungary the music shifts to America, a very recent composition written for Williams. Salt of the Earth, the Sea and of Me by Scott McAllister was inspired by one of the composer’s grandmother’s poems by the same name.  The poem was written after the death of her son at the age of 44.  The sweeping gestures in this work emulate the wind and the sea and how they grow and swirl in continuous motion.  The middle of the composition represents sorrow and peace with an ambiguous ostinato pattern.  After acceptance is achieved the work ends with a slow and repetitive wave of final “death” chords.

Fantasy II from Four Piano Pieces by  Béla Bartók is an early work. In some of his early compositions, Bartók divulged the influence of a composer he long admired, Franz Liszt. These four early piano pieces are such compositions. The third of the four pieces is Fantasie II which, showing hints of Liszt, divulges Rachmaninov and Scriabin influences, as well. This four-minute piece opens darkly, but gradually takes on a warmth in its nocturnal glow, and ultimately achieves a bit more sophistication in expressive manner.

Suite Caféinée by Pierre-Adrien Charpy  will bring this exciting program to an end. The “suite caféinée” provokes tough effects on the pianist who is playing it, just like coffee does! Titles of the different parts are senseless but funny in the french language. This work has been commissioned by Jean-François Faucheux. Originally thought as different studies for a piano method, it finally became a virtuoso concert piece. It will be used in 2014 as stage music for a theatral adaptation of the novel “Nocento, pianist” by the italian author Allessandro Baricco in Le Mans (France).

This recital is supported by the Malta Arts Fund.  Entrance is free and tickets need not be booked. For further updates please log onto www.facebook.com/TriciaDawnWilliamsPianist.

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