Sunday, May 06, 2012

Lara Downes Plays Bach Reimagined

Lara Downes, a local pianist with a national reputation, played an hour-long piece that she has successfully recorded, called 13 WAYS of Looking at the Goldberg: Bach Reimagined. The Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival commissioned 13 American composers in 2004 to write a "response" to J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations, asking them to keep their contributions to under four minutes. The composers were Fred Lerdahl, Jennifer Higdon, Bright Sheng, Lukas Foss, Derek Bermel, Fred Hersch, C. Curtis-Smith, Stanley Walden, Mischa Zupko, David Del Tredici, William Bolcom, and Ralph Galthoni. Their musicals styles ranged from obvious variations on the opening Aria of the Goldberg Variations to the most abstract "responses" imaginable.

The thirteenth composer submitted a piece that was much too long, so the original Festival simply replaced that slot with one of Bach's Variations. Downes decided to help make the piece her own by commissioning a 13th piece by Ryan Brown. Downes put the pieces together somewhat thematically (variations, jazzy, abstract) and gave intelligent presentations before each group. (Click here for her On The Bench blog which is subtitled Conversations with Other Pianists.)

The concert would probably have been more interesting if you knew the Goldberg Variations better than I do, but the performance was very good and all the wildly varying new music was bracing. Old First Concerts, as usual, was the perfect, low-priced concert producer.

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