Thomas Schultz, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
May 15, 2004
The excellent contemporary music specialist Thomas Schultz gave a solo piano recital that was as remarkable for Mr. Schultz's selections of stimulating, avant garde repertoire as it was for his playing. Other than the fact that the program lacked some instrumental diversity (a program of all piano music can sometimes be more difficult to sit through when the evening is permeated with new music), and the fact that one of the selections was much too long, it was well worth attending because of the novelty of the pieces presented and more particularly because the presentations in themselves were so novel.
The entire second half of the program was comprised of one fifty-five minute piece by the composer Frederic Rzewski called "The People United Will Never Be Defeated!" (1975). It is a large set of 36 Variations on "El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido!" Although this epic-like composition was meticulously structured and organized, with all 36 variations grouped into six sub-sets of six variations each, and with key relationships reflecting the composer's knowledge of the classical tradition, the work is rather repetitious, cacophonous and eclectic. (Not to mention too long.) Rzewski's superior work by far is "The Babble", which was composed last year for Mr. Schultz and received its world premiere at this recital. Remarkable for its depiction of disorder, it uniquely paints a portrait of interruption of thought, silences, and utterances that enigmatically may or may not have meaning. Like the Jerry Seinfeld TV show, this piece might also be about nothing. But the nothingness that is such a part of our daily lives--sometimes consuming our daily lives--constitutes life itself and therefore is something rather vital to our daily existence. Therein lies the dichotomy. This John Cage-like inspiration (extra, outside noises heard as music is performed)--often grunts, taps on top of the piano, weird snorts and gestures made by the pianist in between or above the music--entertains, amuses and puzzles the listener. Often, the pianist is asked to say the word "babble" at pauses between the playing, and this literal reference to the noises that prevail in the work made the audience laugh. I thoroughly enjoyed this composition, as I constantly battled in wonderment at whether to take the piece seriously or not.
The work sandwiched in between the two Rzewski works was "Walking, Walking" by Hyo-shin Na. The inspiration and basic musical materials of the piece have their origin in a song by the Chilean musician Victor Jara, a central figure in that country's "new song" movement, and the writing of the piece continues Ms. Na's involvement with folk and traditional music. The work explores aspects and qualities of the act of walking the rhythm and pace of walking and thinking, the balance of working and idling, and the occasional meandering, light-hearted quality of walking. The work, like "The Babble", was written for Mr. Schultz in 2004. It is beautifully unpredictable, mysterious and hypnotic. Chiming sounds of delicate Minor 10th and 3rds open the work. Later, the work becomes more contrapuntal, simulating something like Bach in a time machine. Then, we hear a section of ominous low grumbling before returning to more static impressionism. The work could have been dull and repetitious; instead it was extraordinarily evocative and original. Speaking of the word original, that word would sum up the whole program; how many pianists, for instance, can organize, prepare, and deliver so convincingly a program of this nature? In trying to come up with another pianist besides Mr. Schultz, I just find myself babbling.
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