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Keys to the Future III: Lisa Moore, Tatjana Rankovich, Joseph Rubenstein, Yukiko Tanaka (pianists), Renee Weiler Concert Hall, New York City, 27.3.2008 (AM)

Chick Corea: Children's Songs (1984)
Ingram Marshall: Authentic Presence (2001)
John Adams: China Gates (1977)
Kevin Puts: Alternating Current (1997)
Arvo Pärt: Arinushka Variations (1977)
Robert Muczynski: Desperate Measures (1994)
Bruce Stark: Fugue, Interlude and Finale (2002)

The closing evening of the Keys to the Future festival featured four pianists showcasing music from seven contemporary composers. First on the program was a selection of eight pieces from Chick Corea’s piano miniatures called Children’s Songs played by pianist (and the founder of the festival) Joseph Rubenstein, whose clear articulation complemented the naïve nature of those pieces flawlessly. This was particularly evident in piece No. 4, where an insistent left hand figuration is played over an enchanting melody that reminds one of Eric Satie. Children’s Songs are not composed exclusively for piano; in fact most of these selections were written for a Fender Rhodes keyboard and need unique pianistic touches to make them feel at home—something Mr. Rubenstein presented in abundance.

With the changing of the pianist, came a changing of the mood altogether. Lisa Moore walked onstage to play three pieces from three composers, the first being Ingram Marshall’s Authentic Presence, written in 2001 for pianist Sarah Cahill. The music, lasting about 12 minutes, is described as "a continuous state of mind."  If that is indeed so, it must be a restless mind—for the piece is periodically interrupted by forte passages and pauses, acting to reverse the underlying forward motion. Authentic Presence is demanding: hands are frequently crossed to deliver the main theme that resurfaces in different keys and dynamics throughout. The middle section, a meditative segment based on the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” is the only time the mind is at rest. The music returns to its agitated mood soon afterwards and Ms. Moore managed to join the seemingly disconnected parts to sound like a whole.

China Gates, dating from 1977, also composed for Ms. Cahill by John Adams, is a complementary piece to the composer’s Phrygian Gates. The music can best be described as “an etude for composers.” A root note in the lower register sets the tone for the patterns of eighth notes immediately following in the high register, alternating between figurations and modes. The overall effect is that of a rock falling in churning waters and creating seemingly irregular, infinite ripples. This playful music benefited immensely from Lisa Moore’s intricate finger work.

Ms. Moore continued with the first movement from Kevin Puts’ Alternating Current (1997), its baroque character helped by toccata-like fast monophonic runs and Bach-ian bridge passages in thirds. Puts uses modal and metric changes as well as constant key shifts. However, Ms. Moore was brilliant once again in providing all that the score asks for, and as the highlight of the evening, it was a shame that the whole piece was not performed. But Mr. Puts was in the hall, and received a warm ovation from the audience.

The relay was, then, handed over to young pianist Yukiko Tanaka who played the delightful Arinushka Variations by
Arvo Pärt, whose minimalist approach to piano music has inconsistent results. Luckily young Ms. Tanaka’s personal charm and soft touches brought out the optimism within the score to an overall satisfying result.

Finally came Tatjana Rankovich, whom I’ve heard for the first time. Her first piece was Robert Muczynski’s Desperate Measures (1994). You might very well ask, “Who needs another Paganini Variations?” Apparently the audience tonight did. Mr. Muczynski’s variations are not as virtuosic when compared to those of Brahms and Rachmaninov, but still fierce and demanding. The most interesting of them was No. 11 with its dance-like rhythm and jazzy scales. Ms. Rankovich gave each variation its own character deriving an endless amount of sonorities. By the end of the last variation, which ends in an ethereal chord, I imagine many in the audience were ready for another twelve.

The Fugue, Interlude and Finale (2002) from Bruce Stark was the last piece. Immensely difficult to play, the fugue was fitting for Ms. Rankovich’s talents, which were needed to bring out the almost transparent third and fourth voices. The subjects sometimes appear as mere accompaniments and they demand extra attention from the listener, and I can’t presume to have understood the piece completely from my initial exposure. The quieter middle interlude is designed to draw unique sonorities from the piano. Its Zen-like quality soon gives way to the frantic finale, which is highly virtuosic. Tatjana Rankovich pulled off this segment without any apparent difficulties and walked away from the music wrestling against itself as the clear winner.

Alain Matalon

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