[Dixielandjazz] Great Pianists

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Apr 13 11:04:10 PDT 2004

John Farrell asked about piano midi possibilities which sparked a great
thread. Perhaps the following is an avenue to explore, John. Note
especially the last 3 paragraphs. William Bolcomb's "Serpant's Kiss"
sounds intriguing, (a ragtime etude) to say the least. ;-)

Steve Barbone


Twisting the Piano Étude Into New 12-Tone Shapes


      Brain power is as important to virtuosic piano playing as physical
agility of the fingers and arms. With the young American pianist
Christopher Taylor, though, the balance seems tipped toward the brain.

It's not that his playing is intellectual or dry. No one could say that
after hearing his astonishing account of Messiaen's "Vingt Regards sur
l'Enfant Jésus," at the Miller Theater in 2001: more than two hours of
the most difficult and ecstatic piano music ever written. But with Mr.
Taylor, who graduated summa cum laude in mathematics from Harvard and
also pursues interests in philosophy and computing, you can practically
see the musical impulse, like an electric current, coursing from his
mind through his lanky body and long arms right on to the keyboard. You
never sense that he has drilled patterns into his fingers. He likes to
learn even daunting scores quickly to keep things fresh.

This was certainly my impression on Friday night at the packed Miller
Theater hearing Mr. Taylor play "New Études," a formidable program the
likes of which few pianists would even conceive of. Mr. Taylor wanted to
demonstrate that the genre of the piano étude, a composition intended as
an exercise to expand a pianist's technique and exemplified by Chopin,
thrives today. Composers of more recent times have composed études that
explore technical and musical challenges particular to contemporary

Mr. Taylor played a total of 27 études by George Perle, William Bolcom,
Gyorgy Ligeti and Derek Bermel. Mr. Perle's "Six Études," composed in
the mid-1970's, and his "6 New Études" from 1984, which are like a
Neo-Classical suite, all employ his uncompromising yet elegant 12-tone
language. The works "twist the pianist's hands and brain in all manner
of fresh and novel ways," as Mr. Taylor wrote in his program notes. Yet
this pianist seemed elated as he conquered the rhythmic and technical
challenges of these finger-twisting works. I haven't seen so much
perspiration dripping from a performer's chin since
Savion Glover's electrifying solo tap dance piece at the Joyce Theater a
few months ago.

Taking hardly any time to collect himself offstage, Mr. Taylor returned
with Mr. Bolcom's "12 New Études" (1986), ingeniously inventive works
that alternate vehemently difficult piano writing with jazzy ruminations
and musical witticisms.

Mr. Bermel's "Three Funk Studies, which came next," are propulsive, raw
and damnably difficult: imagine Thelonious Monk crossed with Prokofiev.
Mr. Ligeti's études (1985) vary in approach from controlled chaos to
quizzical tranquillity. The best compliment I can pay Mr. Taylor is to
say that listening to his
formidable performances of these musically astounding works I forgot
that I was hearing piano études.

As an encore Mr. Taylor played Mr. Bolcom's "Serpent's Kiss," a kind of
ragtime étude in which the pianist had to interrupt the music's rhythmic
rumblings and slapdash chordal patterns with foot stomps, hand slaps to
the music stand and finger snaps. This is a kind of technical prowess
Chopin never imagined.

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