One highlight of last year's concert season was a strange and beautiful piano performance by Dusseldorf, Germany-based Volker Bertelsmann, who performs under the guise Hauschka. The pianist works on prepared piano in much the same way that John Cage did seven decades earlier. By opening a grand piano and tweaking the strings with devices of his own making, Bertelsmann creates compositions featuring sounds that he designs himself, and the result is an epiphany.
But where Cage stuck mostly to nuts and bolts to change the tones on his piano, Bertelsmann goes further, employing, among other devices, gaffer tape, bottle tops, kitchen foil and felt wedges to conjure new sounds. The highlight of last year's performance was Hauschka's work with Ping Pong balls, which he places inside the piano. When they balls are settled, he begins playing, and the result looks like popcorn exploding: orbs jumping up from inside the piano while the melody seeps out.
Granted, all of this would be no more than sideshow antics if Hauschka didn't have the chops. But he's a remarkable pianist who uses his imagination not as a crutch to hide subpar skills, but as a springboard into a whole other world of music.
Hauschka returns to the Masonic Lodge -- one of the most beautiful music venues in the city -- on May 1 to perform both old and new work, especially highlighting tracks from his forthcoming release, "Salon des Amateurs." He will be joined by Samuli Kosminen from the stunning Icelandic band múm on drums.
-- Randall Roberts