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Music review: Vicki Ray at Piano Spheres recital at Zipper Hall

November 16, 2011 |  2:46 pm

Vicky Ray copy
This post has been corrected, see details below.

One of the sure, reaffirming virtues of the long-running Piano Spheres recital series is its recurring promise of things new and unexpected. Tuesday at Zipper Hall, in her annual appearance in this context, contemporary music heroine Vicki Ray upped the freshness ante by stocking her entire program with world premieres, including a rare piece with Ray’s own name in the composer role.

Clearly, Piano Spheres is intent on promoting new musical piano culture, not only by affording a handful of L.A.’s finest a regular showcase, but also helping to expand and update the existing solo piano repertoire and offer needed encouragement to young composers. Tuesday’s affair was a triumph on all those counts.

Ray presided over a gamey piano program that also involved “tape” and video elements and extended techniques and instrument manipulations. Linda Bouchard’s “Gassho,” for instance, combined its piano part with a prerecorded haze of Tibetan Bowl tones, in a piece balancing furtive dissonant bursts and gentle tonal breezes that befitted the composer’s claims of channeling Zen and Schubert.

Another work feeding on the attraction of opposites, Daniel Corral’s commanding “Sigils,”  with its  tension and symbiosis of seeming contradictions, was the recital’s strongest piece. “Sigils” boasts a fascinating -- and somewhat split -- personality, with its mixtures of rhythmic data-dancing systems and more visceral, clustered fistfuls-of-notes, hazy keyboard cloud activity, and a deceptive “resolving chord” (with a flatted second in the bass).

In Eric Guinivan’s “Bharata Music Box,” the pianist was kept busy both at the keyboard and with inside-the-piano finessing, blending harp-like tones, muted piano lines, and other left-of- convention devices. Alluding vaguely to ancient Indian classical precepts, the composer/pianist meant to conjure an imaginary grand music box, as motif and metaphor.

Ray donned a microphone headset for Amy Beth Kirsten’s “speak to me” (a Piano Spheres commission), reciting texts by the composer and Mariko Nagai –- gibberish and otherwise -- in crisp Sprechstimme unison with her piano part. Thematic references to the Echo and Narcissus myths lent breadth to a piece engaging on its own performance terms, in Ray’s hands (and voice).

Deeper into the “unexpected” zone, Ray ended with her own “The Waking,” working mostly in the dark, to dramatize Adeline Newman’s video projects of poetic texts (by Theodore Roethke) and visuals on the piano itself. Ray introduced the work, largely improvised over loops and prepared piano textures, by humbly calling her work “a grand experiment. We’re going to give it a try.” A loose, evocative thing of beauty, the piece proved worth more than just one try.

[For the record: An earlier version of this post misspelled Vicki Ray's name in the headline and caption. The review was correct.]

-- Josef Woodard

Photo: Vicki Ray at Piano Spheres. Credit: Benjamin Maas

By Josef Woodard

            One of the sure, reaffirming virtues of the long-running “Piano Spheres” recital series is its recurring promise of things new and unexpected. Tuesday at Zipper Hall, in her annual appearance in this context, contemporary music heroine Vicki Ray upped the freshness ante by stocking her entire program with world premieres, including a rare piece with Ray’s own name in the composer role.

            Clearly, “Piano Spheres” is intent on promoting new musical piano culture, not only by affording a handful of L.A.’s finest a regular showcase, but helping to expand and update the existing solo piano repertoire and offer needed encouragement to young composers. Tuesday’s affair was a triumph on all those counts.

            A gamey program in which added “tape” and video elements and extended techniques and instrument manipulations aptly opened with Linda Bouchard’s “Gassho,” its piano part atop a prerecorded haze of Tibetan Bowl tones. It nicely balances furtive dissonant bursts and gentle tonal breezes, befitting the composer’s claims of channeling Zen and Schubert.

            Daniel Corral’s commanding “Sigils” is another work feeding on the attraction of opposites, the tension and symbiosis of seeming contradictions, and recital’s strongest piece. Mixtures of rhythmic data-dancing systems and more visceral, clustered fistfuls-of-notes, hazy keyboard cloud activity, and a deceptive “resolving chord” (with a flatted second in the bass) are selected features, in a piece blessed with a fascinating, and somewhat split, personality.

            In Eric Guinivan’s “Bharata Music Box,” the pianist is kept busy both at the keyboard and with inside-the-piano finessing, blending harp-like tones, muted piano lines, and other left-of- convention devices. Alluding vaguely to ancient Indian classical precepts, the composer/pianist envisions an imaginary grand music box, as motif and metaphor.

            Ray donned a microphone headset for Amy Beth Kirsten’s “speak to me” (a Piano Spheres commission), reciting texts by the composer and Mariko Nagai – gibberish and otherwise - in crisp Sprechstimme unison with her piano part. Thematic references to the Echo and Narcissus myths lend breadth to a piece engaging on its own performance terms, in Ray’s hands (and voice).

Deeper into the “unexpected” zone, Ray ended with her own “The Waking,” working mostly in the dark, to dramatize Adeline Newman’s video projects of poetic texts (by Theodore Roethke) and visuals on the piano itself. Ray introduced the work, largely improvised over loops and prepared piano textures, by humbly calling her work “a grand experiment. We’re going to give it a try.” A loose, evocative thing of beauty, the piece proved worth more than just one try.

                                                --30--

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