PEAK HD

S1 E4 | FULL EPISODE

Grand Band

Grand Band is a six-piano musical ensemble composed of the finest contemporary-classical pianists. Works by Kate Moore, Julia Wolfe, Missy Mazzoli, and Julius Eastman are performed from the stage of the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University in a tour de force combination of sight and sound. Mazzoli’s work is complemented by the debut of an animated film by Joshua Frankel.

AIRED: January 10, 2021 | 1:19:29
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

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[ Applause ]

Friend: Thank you so much for joining us.

Just wanted to say a few words about the first piece

before we play.

The opening piece tonight

is by an Australian composer named Kate Moore.

And it's called "Sensitive Spot."

The piece originally was written for one pianist, a solo pianist.

And obviously we are six pianists.

And -- But the conception of the original work

is really interesting

and is sort of what makes it possible

to have created the arrangement

that we'll be playing for you tonight.

So, Kate had this really interesting idea

that she wanted to write a piece

that a pianist would go into a recording studio

and record over and over and over again.

And as you'll hear when we play it,

the nature of the piece

is that the harmonies change very gradually,

and the sound evolves very slowly

over the course of the piece.

And Kate asks the solo performer to go into the studio and,

without listening to the recording

after they're finished with it,

to record it over and over and over again,

then to combine all of those tracks together

and perform live with those tracks.

And so what happens is that, as hard as a performer tries

or as good as their sense of rhythm is,

from take to take, there are these tiny micro-differences

in the rhythm

from interpretation to interpretation.

And when you combine those, you stack them vertically,

you get these infinitesimally small

micro-flutter variations in the rhythm

that you could really never purposely create

or purposely write into the music.

So through this process,

she achieves this sort of magical, ethereal sound

that would be impossible to specifically designate

for a solo performer.

So in our arrangement tonight,

which we put together working with Kate,

we emulate that between the six of us

by playing our own independent versions of this piece,

putting the blinders on and sort of ignoring each other

and hearing -- preserving those sort of micro-variations

between each of our individual parts

as we try and be as strict with the rhythm as we possibly can.

So we hope you enjoy this very unique sonic experience.

Thank you.

[ Applause ]

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[ Applause ]

Moore: Good evening, everybody.

My name is Lisa Moore,

and we're just absolutely delighted to be here.

The next piece on the program is called "My Lips from Speaking,"

which is a line from Aretha Franklin's "Think."

And Julia Wolfe, the composer of this piece,

has taken excerpts from the harmonies

and the licks that go by

and sort of transformed them into a piece for six pianos.

Some of it's supposed to sound like a late-night bar,

so someone sort of banging on the piano,

you know, after a few too many drinks,

and other bits are just sort of plain blues,

so I hope you enjoy the ride.

Thank you very much.

[ Applause ]

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[ Applause ]

O'Connell: That was a workout.

[ Laughter ]

So, the next piece on our program

is by a fabulous composer named Missy Mazzoli.

And, yeah, the title of the piece

is "Three Fragile Systems."

We commissioned this piece a couple years ago.

We were very lucky to get funding

from Chamber Music America

through their commissioning fund.

And we premiered it in Minnesota.

And in honor of our performances here in Montclair,

PEAK Performances commissioned filmmaker Joshua Frankel --

[ Applause ] Yep.

They commissioned Joshua to create an animated film

that is synchronized to the music.

So it's very special, indeed.

I hope you enjoy it.

[ Applause ]

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[ Applause ]

Hello again. Okay.

So, the last piece on the program tonight,

we are so thrilled to be able to bring this here tonight

in a version for six pianos.

It's really a treat.

It's a piece called "Gay Guerrilla"

by Julius Eastman.

And Julius Eastman is a really interesting figure

who has experienced a really unlikely renaissance

in his music in the last several years.

Eastman was a sort of key player

in the downtown music scene in New York City

as it developed in the '60s, '70s, and '80s.

He was a really interesting character.

He was a singer, a composer, a keyboard player.

He was also African-American, gay, politically radical,

very eccentric, and just sort of an all-around force of nature.

Sadly, Eastman had a variety of problems in his life

that led to his untimely death at a young age.

And in the lead-up to his passing,

he experienced periods of homelessness,

and as a result, he actually -- as a result of an eviction

from the apartment he was living in on the Lower East Side,

his landlord at the time actually threw out

all of his belongings that were in the apartment.

And that included many of his scores

and recordings of his pieces.

And because he passed away

not too much longer after that event,

it was almost like he had disappeared.

And so this really key player and this very unique voice

was sort of suddenly silenced.

And it's only through the work

of some very dedicated musicians and musicologists

who really scoured the four corners of the earth

over a period of a number of years to reassemble his scores

and to find archival recordings of performances of his work

that it's possible today for musicians like us

to revive this music, which was so important in its time

and now is finally able to be heard live again.

So it's really a treat for us to be playing this for you tonight.

"Gay Guerrilla" is one of a collection of three pieces

that Eastman wrote, famously,

for any multiple of a single instrument.

And in his life, that was almost always pianos.

He was a virtuoso pianist himself.

And as you'll see in this work and also the other two works

from that collection of three pieces,

the scale of this work is truly epic.

And when you get the forces

of these gorgeous six Steinway D's together,

something that was never actually possible

in Eastman's own life,

the enormity of this music really is something to behold.

And so it's such a pleasure

to be able to share this with you tonight

in these sort of optimal conditions

for this beautiful piece.

As you will hear the piece unfold,

it's essentially a minimalist piece of music.

Ideas and harmonies slowly evolve into each other

and in an almost hypnotic way.

And as the piece builds to sort of its mammoth climax,

you'll hear at the absolute apex of the piece

this hymn tune emerge from all of the different pianos

and sort of gradually accumulate

as these layers of this very old hymn tune come together

and the six pianos are finally unleashed

to their full potential

before the piece finally calms down again

and then ends on a note of ascendance.

Thank you again for coming and being with us tonight.

And we hope you enjoy "Gay Guerrilla"

by Julius Eastman.

[ Applause ]

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[ Applause ]

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