When a group of five Canadian pianists commissioned Howard Bashaw to compose a new work, the University of Alberta music prof jumped at the chance.
“A project of this scope doesn’t come along very often,” explains Bashaw. “It was a special project to have a group of five well-known pianists on the international stage co-commission me for a work through the Canada Council for the Arts.”
The pianists were Corey Hamm from Vancouver, Roger Admiral from Edmonton and Camrose, Kyoto Hashimoto from Montreal, Chicago-based Canadian pianist Winston Choi, and Douglas Finch in London, England. Bashaw had worked with four out of the five of them previously and had a good feel for their personalities, their abilities and their techniques.
He says these acclaimed musicians inspired him in many different ways.
“When I take a commission on as a composer, it is never with stylistic or artistic constraints. No one stepped in and said ‘I want this and I want that.’ This commission was more of a release of ideas than an imposition of boundaries…and each pianist will bring something different in performance of the piece.”
Written in three parts with 15 distinct, extremely diverse movements, 15 for Piano runs 42 minutes in length. The epic original work took Bashaw about a year and a half to complete, working tirelessly at the piano to compose. He re-wrote some of the sections as many as nine times before he was satisfied.
“Each of the parts are like a small concert in itself. Each of those small parts grow in intensity and length to build a long, linear development,” says Bashaw. “I’m very concerned about big picture narratives. I wouldn’t say the movements are like chapters in a book, but they are certainly related.”
Bashaw works in several ways to craft his compositions as engagements with the audience, with contrasts in tempo, character and energy. The composer describes 15 for Piano as very virtuosic and technically demanding. “There’s an ebb-and-flow of textural contrast and temporal momentum.”
Bashaw explores several categories of ideas throughout the score including a collection of toccata-like movements, traditionally used to warm-up a performer. Each of the three parts begin with these flashy movements and each one ends with a developed section inspired by ancient mythology with clear titles such as The Dreaded Lyres of Sirenum Scopuli, and Merciless, the Deadly Narcissist Pool.
Also woven into the piece are a series of what Bashaw calls gallery shorts. “These are snapshots, brief images that stuck in my mind,” explains Bashaw. “For example, one of them is called adrift, beneath, a solace of stars. I just imagine, here you are, adrift and you completely surrender to the situation. There is nothing to do. There is nowhere to go. That’s what I imagined and translated into this piano movement.”
Another gallery short, Homage, Monet, is inspired by an encounter with Monet’s famous Waterlilies. “Of course the mediums of painting and piano are quite different but it helps when we cross-over interdisciplinary. One can find inspiration in the drama, in the action, in how we respond emotionally and physically.”
One of the premieres of 15 for Piano was performed by U of A pianist Roger Admiral in Toronto at the Canadian Music Centre’s recently renovated concert space. Admiral also recently performed the work in Vancouver (May, 2015) and in Brazil (August, 2015). He is slotted to play Bashaw’s complete 15 for Piano as part of the U of A’s mainstage concert Contemporary Canadian on October 18, 2015 at 3 p.m. in Convocation Hall.
The CD recording of Howard Bashaw, 15 for Piano was recently released on the Centrediscs label, performed by Roger Admiral on the Canadian Music Centre’s new Steingraeber & Söhne piano with support from the University of Alberta Department of Music and the President’s Fund for the Creative and Performing Arts, as well as the Canada Council for the Arts.
Presenters: University of Alberta Department of Music
Event Title: Contemporary Canadian
Featuring: Buzz and 15 for Piano by Howard Bashaw
Performed by: Guillaume Tardif (violin) and Roger Admiral (piano)
Date: Sunday, October 18 at 3 p.m.
Venue: Convocation Hall, University of Alberta
Tickets: $10 student, $20 adult, $15 senior. Available at the door or in advance from Yeglive
For more details, see show page: https://uofa.ualberta.ca/events/contemporary-canadian