Zofo plays Terry Riley
Sono Luminus DSL-92189
Classical - Chamber
Terry Riley: Etude from the Old Country; Jaztine; Tango Doble Ladiado; Half-wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight; Simone's Lullaby; G Song; Praying Mantis Rag; Waltz for Charismas; Cinco De Mayo
Keisuke Nakagoshi, piano
Eva-Maria Zimmermann, piano
ZOFO is at it again, this time with an all Terry Riley album, which includes original compositions, arrangements and a special commission by the duet. It is quite evident in this music that the composer and the performers were personally engaged in the making of this electrifying project. From the very beginning, Terry Riley worked in collaboration with ZOFO in the making of this album. Mr. Riley himself said: “There is nothing quite like hearing the full 8 octaves of a piano sounding in all its orchestral richness.” He certainly makes full use of the sounds of the piano in the pieces originally written for piano-four-hands, from The Heaven Ladder, Book 5, which include the varying “Cinco de Mayo,” “Jaztine,” “Waltz for Charismas,” “Tango Doble Ladiado,” and “Etude From the Old Country.” Keisuke arranged “G Song” and “Half-Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight,” which were originally composed for the Kronos Quartet, and Eva arranged “Simone’s Lullaby,” originally for solo piano. The arrangements were both challenging and fun to create, but ZOFO managed to keep the transparency and flavor of Riley’s originals while exemplifying the unique potential for four-hand piano. The “Praying Mantis Rag” was composed especially for ZOFO, and actively illustrates their vibrant character as a duet.
Since joining forces as a professional duo in 2009, internationally acclaimed solo pianists Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi – ZOFO - have electrified audiences from Carnegie Hall to Tokyo, Japan with their dazzling artistry and outside-the-box thematic programming for piano-four-hands. This GRAMMY®-nominated, prize-winning Steinway Artist Ensemble – one of only a handful of duos worldwide devoted exclusively to piano duets – is blazing a bold new path for piano-four-hands groups by focusing on 20th and 21st century repertoire and by commissioning new works from noted composers each year. ZOFO is based in San Francisco, California.
Born June 24, 1935 in Colfax, California, composer and performer Terry Riley is one of the founders of what is now known as music’s Minimalist movement. With his seminal composition “In C” (1964), he pioneered a new concept in Western musical form based on structured interlocking repetitive patterns. The composition’s creation was to impact and change the course of 20th century music. The influence of Riley’s hypnotic, multi- layered, polymetric, brightly orchestrated eastern flavored improvisations and compositions can be heard in the works of prominent composers such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass and John Adams, and in the music of rock groups such as The Who, The Soft Machine, Tangerine Dream, Curved Air and many others. His compositions set the stage for the prevailing interest in a new tonality.
Review by Mark Werlin - December 10, 2016
Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi, the one-piano, four-hands ensemble ZOFO (20FingerOrchestra), debuted in 2009 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music playing Igor Stravinsky's arrangement of "The Rite of Spring" for a small audience of students, music lovers and friends. (I was one of those fortunate audience members, and have attended numerous concerts by ZOFO in subsequent years.) The pianists' outstanding technique, phrasing and choreography—crossing over each other's hands, negotiating who will pedal, who will take the upper range of the keyboard, who the lower—make ZOFO's concert performances lively and compelling.
But the deeper experience of a ZOFO concert and of their recordings is the opportunity to hear two strongly individualistic musical temperaments forge an ensemble interpretation while expressing their own distinct voices.
ZOFO's albums and concerts have continued to receive high praise in the U.S., in Zimmermann's home country of Switzerland and Nakagoshi's of Japan. ZOFO's first recording for Sono Luminus, "Mind Meld", was a Grammy award nominee for best chamber music performance. Each of their previous albums surveyed several composers, with an intentional focus on 20th and 21st-century music—Zimmermann and Nakagoshi are both specialists in new music. ZOFO Plays Terry Riley is their first album devoted to the work of a single composer.
Many classical music listeners know the American composer Terry Riley only for his groundbreaking minimalist orchestral work "In C", a widely successful piece that appeared on many concert programs in the late 1960s. But his later work was better appreciated by fellow musicians than by general audiences. Since the early 1970s, Terry Riley has been an important figure as a composer, performer and educator in Northern California's contemporary music sphere. The Kronos Quartet, Rova Saxophone Quartet and California E.A.R. Ensemble have all commissioned works by the composer.
The range of Terry Riley's music extends well beyond his minimalist experiments of the 1960s; the selection of pieces recorded by ZOFO incorporate elements of Argentinian tango, Indian devotional music and 20th-century European modernism. Five of the pieces on the ZOFO disc are drawn from Riley's "The Heaven Ladder, Book 5", originally commissioned by Northern California pianist Sarah Cahill. The Terry Riley project was facilitated by connections between ZOFO members Zimmermann and Nakagoshi with pianist-composer Katrina Krimsky, a long-time collaborator of Terry Riley's who played the piano "pulse" in many concert performances of "In C". Riley greeted the opportunity to revise some of his pieces, and to listen and comment on ZOFO's new arrangements. "Praying Mantis Rag" was commissioned by ZOFO especially for this recording.
"Etude from the Old Country" opens on a melancholy tango theme that gradually develops into what could be called 'rhapsodically' minimalist repetitions and variations. Repetitive phrases towards the end of the piece reveal the composer's affinity to the work of Steve Reich, but Riley's expansive use of the piano's tonal shadings creates an effect that is more impressionistic than minimalistic.
"Jaztine" revisits the music of the 1920s. A jazzy dancelike introduction recalls the solo piano works of Ravel; an icy pianissimo passage transitions to a somber Prokofievian theme; and the conclusion whirls furiously back onto the dance floor. Riley's skillful writing transcends, rather than relies, on its precursors. "Praying Mantis Rag" invokes the genius of the American rag innovators of the early 20th century while retaining an ironic, hard edge.
A central work of the album is Keisuke Nakagoshi's rearrangement of "G Song", originally written for the Kronos Quartet. Adapting a piece intended to be performed by four string players is not as straightforward as assigning one hand to each string part. In the album liner notes, which include an interview with the artists, Nakagoshi discusses some of the challenges:
"One of the main challenges… is how to tackle sections where a lot happens in the same range… or how to make it work when lines cross. This is no problem for a string quartet, but we have to share one keyboard. This means that we have to create a very specific choreography resulting in sometimes three hands on top of each other."
Any verbal description of a ZOFO performance cannot equal watching their choreography unfold. It is, for lack of a better word, balletic. The four-hands, one-piano form has long historical antecedents, but rarely, I suspect, have the movements of the two pianists been so artfully synchronized. Viewing ZOFO in concert or on video can help to fix an impression that carries over into the album listening experience.
Having heard the two pianists perform individually as well as in duo format, I can add a personal observation about their approaches to the keyboard. Keisuke Nakagoshi possesses the qualities of a fine Debussy interpreter, evident in his shimmering legato playing, and the poetry he can summon from the most dissonant and abstruse new music compositions. Eva-Maria Zimmermann has been justly praised for her flawless technique and interpretive conviction. She brings a kind of urgency to ZOFO performances, and makes the audience feel that each musical moment is important, that every phrase has value and meaning. The two pianists' temperaments are distinct but complementary, and their playing is so carefully balanced as to make the most difficult works sound effortless.
The sessions were produced by Dan Merceruio, recorded, mixed and mastered to stereo and MCH by engineer Daniel Shores. Sono Luminus uses its own recording facility, a converted church in Boyce, Virginia which boasts state-of-the-art multichannel recording and mixing capability. Shores uses a variation on the classic Decca tree microphone array to capture the sound of a Steinway Model D in realistic perspective. In stereo, there is greater than the usual separation between the lower and upper ranges of the piano, allowing the listener to appreciate the intricate interplay of the two pianists.
The package contains a Blu-Ray disc and a standard resolution CD. The Blu-Ray has a simple onscreen menu, and can be navigated without a monitor by using the controls on your Blu-Ray player's remote. The Blu-Ray disc also contains the complete album in three computer-friendly formats: 16/44.1 WAV; 320 kbs MP3; and 192/24 FLAC stereo.
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