Thursday, July 16, 2009

Twelve Fugues by Gerald Shapiro

BLOG #21, July 14, 2009

[The reader may notice that I wrote this entry on the 14th and posted it on the 16th. That was simply a function of getting used to working through Blogspot, rather than posting my blogs directly to my website as before. From now on there should be no such inconsistencies, knock on wood!]

Gerald Shapiro, a.k.a. Shep, is one of my oldest friends. We teach at Brown and at Wesleyan, an easy hour-and-a-half drive. We met when we were freshmen at the Eastman School of Music in 1960-61. We lost track of each other for the rest of the ‘60s, but when Shep showed up at the University of Illinois around 1970, for a performance of his milestone piece of live electronic music entitled “From the Yellow Castle” we reestablished contact, and have seen each other on a regular basis since I came to Wesleyan in 1974. We’ve collaborated on lots of projects since then. He wrote a fabulous piece for Wesleyan Singers back in the day when I was the choral conductor here, he arranged for me to write a piece for Trio Saxiana (two saxophones and piano), he helped me with the tour of the Ricciotti Ensemble in the early 1980s, we both wrote pieces for a tour of the Mondriaan Quartet, and so on. A complete list of these projects would be an interesting exercise in itself, and would chronicle some neat pieces and bring back lots of great memories—the stuff future blogs are made of.

About five years ago we were sitting around, talking about piano playing. I was telling Shep about my lessons with Sophia Rosoff and the pianistic principles of Abby Whiteside. We were also reminiscing about unorthodox methods piano practicing recommended by the late Armand Basile (he was teaching at Eastman the one year I was there) and generally talking shop about aspects of piano playing. Shep is a sometime pianist—he likes to play and has a good sense of rhythm, and from time to time writes piano music. I feel that my playing has taken a series of quantum leaps since beginning to work with Sophia in 1998, and I said—“Since I’m playing so well these days you should write me a big piano piece to play.” He thought this was a good idea, and agreed to do it.

At first both of us imagined it would be a big piano sonata, or some other magilla of a piece. But it turned out to be a set of twelve fugues, elegant, brief and to the point. They appeared one or two at a time, over a period of about three years. The whole set has been in my possession about two years, and I’ve practiced them off and on since they began arriving. Since the completion of the Ives Vocal Marathon my principal focus as a pianist has been to prepare these pieces for their first performances in October of this year. I’m going to write briefly about each one for the next several blogs. These are beautiful, subtle pieces that raise interesting issues about the technique of composition, how to play the piano, and the current state of the art of music. I’ll begin with the first of them in the next blog.

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