Mark Robson : November 7, 2017 at 8:00 p.m., Zipper Concert Hall

On a Clear Day

  • Ivan Fedele

    Platea di Weddel
  • Karl Kohn

    Seven Brevities
  • Matthias Pintscher

    On a Clear Day
  • Hans Werner Henze

    Cherubino
  • Morton Feldman

    Extensions 3
  • Frank Martin

    8 Préludes pour le piano

Concert Preview

November 6 at 7pm at Boston Court Performing Arts Center. Free.
Mark Robson and special guest composer Karl Kohn talk about his recital and Mark performs excerpts from several of the works on his November 7th program at  Zipper Hall.
70 N. Mentor Ave. ~ Pasadena, CA


Program Notes

Composer and conductor Matthias Pintscher (who appears with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in early January 2018) is a leading force in European musical life and presides as musical director for the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris. One can most fully appreciate his sensitivity to tonal color and texture in his orchestral works, but On a clear day offers a strong glimpse into his sensitivity for acoustical space and harmonic exploration.  In this case he undertakes a rather leisurely exploration of the tone E-flat which he has projected into space at the outset.  One may not ‘see forever’ in this piece, but its meditative pacing takes the listener into a wonderful soundscape which is suggestive by turns of the diurnal and nocturnal.

Karl Kohn’s Seven Brevities are dedicated to his friend, composer Charles Boone, whose 75th birthday inspired the composer to write this suite.  The work testifies to Kohn’s avowed method of improvising his way into the shaping of his compositions through motivic play and the reinforcement of harmonic constructs.  There is an underlying nod to a serial pitch organization without any rigorous application thereof, and the interval of a major second is a pervasive building block in his harmonies.  Motivic repetition (within a given piece or from one piece to another) and gestural family resemblances lend cohesion to the whole.  The sostenuto pedal is utilized in movements 3-7, creating the aural identifier of tones isolated and refreshed while the musical argument proceeds around them.  As a whole, the suite suggests a mini-symphony whose movements could be give the following designations:  Prelude—Arioso—Scherzo I—Adagio I—Adagio II—Scherzo II—Epilogue.

Ivan Fedele states in his introduction to the volume Études pour piano (1990-2003), referring to the second set known as Études Australes, that they are “avowedly extroverted and virtuosic” compared to his Études Boréales.  “The titles recall precise geographic sites (I, II and III) and two species of bird (IV and V).  These are only metaphorical for the composition, more suggestions than ‘suggestive’…The light here is of a warmer vein even though the angle of its incidence is always quite shaved off.”  The trills that permeate the etude seem to evoke either the tremors of cracking ice or the emotional vibration that underlies a sensitivity to this icy world that has a life of its own.  There are two main thrusts to the development of the counterpoint of trills between the hands.  At the climax of the piece, the composer resorts to four staves of music to make explicit the varied entangled lines enunciated by each hand.  As is all too clear from recent news, activity around the Weddell ice shelf in the Southern Ocean off of Antarctica presages future developments in the developing crisis of climate change.

Cherubino, the hormonally driven teenager of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”, is invoked in Henze’s brief triptych with motifs that subtly allude to the arias “Voi che sapete” (the song he’s written in honor of the Countess for whom he has a burning crush) and “Non più andrai”, Figaro’s charge to Cherubino to get used to the idea of being conspired into the army and thus no longer free to roam the halls of the Count’s estate like a love-sick butterfly.  Henze, whose output is heavily balanced to the theatrical and lyrical, worked in a style heavily informed by atonality and serialism but also by popular and ethnic music.  Above all, he retained a palpable expressivity of the romantic or expressionistic sort that was his birthright as a German born in the first half of the 20th century. His short suite is dedicated to the great stage director Götz Friedrich.

Extensions 3 comes from a fertile period in Feldman’s creativity in which he refined his signature mode of spare expression that uses a selective field of pitches that are subject to a very subtle rhythmic organization (here, with repeating motivic units).  A surprise interjection of densely packed notes makes a momentary intrusion into an otherwise quiet and outwardly static, inwardly taut world.

Rumanian pianist Dinu Lipatti, dedicatee of Martin’s 8 Préludes, did not live to present the premiere of the work which the composer had carefully crafted for him over a long gestation period.  Lipatti wanted to allow himself a 2-year window in which to absorb them (presumably because of his poor health and the demands of his concert career), but his premature death from complications of Hodgkin’s lymphoma prevented this.  In the event, the composer gave the work its first public hearing.

Frank Martin was the last of ten children born to a Calvinist pastor.  His musical studies were varied and included work with the founder of eurhythmics, Émile Jaques-Dalcroze.  Perhaps the spiritual austerity of Calvinism and the study of music through movement helped to forge a musical style in which there is almost always some latent psychological or spiritual struggle or agitation/unease combined with well-defined rhythmic units of an often obsessive nature. The preludes take us on a journey which opens with an invocation similar to that of the vocal cycle Jedermann, Martin’s 1950 offering for the Salzburg Festival.   It’s demeanor is majestic, its expression by turns melancholic, aspirational and in the end, implacable.  The second prelude spools out a melody supported by gently applied l.h. chords until it builds to a more robust version of the melody in octaves, reaching a high point that quickly acquiesces to a quiet conclusion.  Prelude 3 is reminiscent of Chopin’s A minor prelude and unfolds as a yearning song.  The somewhat hypnotic mood is dispelled by the motoric, striving, and animalistic energy of the subsequent prelude.  The fifth piece is a perpetual motion, a sort of riff on the spinning song genre; it builds and builds to a climactic trill and then skitters noisily away.  Prelude 6 is a canon (a severe technique within an already severe composition) in which the l.h. follows the r.h. material with a two-beat delay at the interval of a 5th; again, one perceives the climate of unease and searching.  The penultimate and longest movement is a brooding nocturne.  An introductory evocation is followed by a long somber melody for the left hand alone which will later be restated with an embroidered, sinuous countermelody in the right hand.; a return to the introductory material bookends the prelude.  A certain joie de vivre pervades the dramatic and focused finale.  It is very much of a toccata with heraldic interjections and a constant forward thrust to its conclusion.  Whether or not the quasi-militaristic fanfares of this movement make reference to World War II, one can imagine that this piece is on some level a working out of the tensions arising from this awful conflict .


Piano Spheres’ programs are made possible in part by a grant from the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs and by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. Programs are also made possible, in part, by grants from the Colburn Foundation; Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation; New Music USA; The Aaron Copland Fund for Music and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The NEA’s Art Works grant supports the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence: public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and enhancing the livability of communities through the arts. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is an independent federal agency that funds and promotes artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities.