05.08.2014

Yukiko Sugawara plays ...

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The central place of the piano in traditional music literature poses difficult questions for the twenty-first-century composer. How can this venerable instrument speak with a new voice? And should this new voice remain relevant to the skills the pianists themselves have spent their lives assembling?


Three different approaches to such questions were brought to life by pianist Yukiko Sugawara in a Workshop Concert at the Akademie für Tonkunst.

 

Kaspars Tanz by Hanspeter Kyburz was the most traditional offering on the programme, focussing on a narrative of concentrated gesture and counterpoint. The material, however, never sufficiently asserted its own character to step out of the shadow of the classic offerings of a Boulez or Stockhausen. Despite Sugawara's crisp articulation and attention to line, the piece never amounted to more than a collection of moments.

 

The two remaining works on the programme, Carlos Bermejo's Koe and iv I by Mark Andre, took a greater interest in exploiting the unusual colours that can be drawn from the instrument. Bermejo, taking inspiration from a Haiku by Japanese poet Katsue Bashō, focussed almost exclusively on the upper half of the piano keyboard, with the sustain-pedal held for the entire piece. The result was a curious feeling of space, particularly apparent during a prolonged exploration of loud clusters at the very top of the instrument's range. The intensity of this exploration at high altitude became almost difficult to bear before the one mid-range chord of the piece gave some relief.

 

Andre, too, conjured new and surprising sounds from the piano, taking Sugawara into the body of the instrument for the first time. With hands and hammers she deftly manipulated its strings and struck its body to bring forth an impressive range of colours – from the dry knocking of wood to unsettling microtonal juxtapositions. Andre, and indeed Sugawara, avoided the danger of the piece becoming simply a catalogue of unusual piano sounds, carefully stitching together a narrative in which every moment had enough time to be appreciated before proceeding smoothly to the next. Andre's answer to the question of contemporary piano writing, while by no means exhaustive, certainly provided the most complete and convincing reimagination of the instrument for the music of today.

By Neil Smith
05.08.2014

The central place of the piano in traditional music literature poses difficult questions for the twenty-first-century composer. How can this venerable instrument speak with a new voice? And should this new voice remain relevant to the skills the pianists themselves have spent their lives assembling?