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Gran Pianola Project I

Americas Society

September 14, 2018


Sunshine Foxtrot, Irving Berlin 7. (Image: Julia M. Cameron)

Admission: Free and open to the public. Please register.

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Over two evenings, Music of the Americas presents five new commissioned works for Disklavier and acoustic instruments inspired by the music of Conlon Nancarrow. The commissioned composers—Tatiana Catanzaro, Kyle Gann, Jaime E. Oliver La Rosa, Carlos Sandoval, and Sabrina Schroeder—are all active in the United States and Europe. Two of them (Gann and Sandoval) worked directly with Nancarrow and have conducted extensive research on his music. For the creation of these new pieces, the composers have taken Nancarrow’s music for player piano as a point of departure, combining automatic and human-powered instruments. The Yamaha Disklavier, a modern descendant of the player piano, serves as the common thread between all the pieces. The practice of transcribing Nancarrow’s music for newer automatic instruments and live instrumentalists began decades ago and involved Nancarrow himself on several occasions. It is this rich space of interaction between live performers and the automatic piano, an instrument that performs without a live musician yet retains the physicality of a piano, that constitutes the focus of this project.

Listen to Nancarrow and sound artist Trimpin discuss the complex mechanical nuances of Nancarrow's player pianos, as well as Trimpin's modern counterparts at La Mama in the late 1980s (via WQXR's "American Mavericks").

Sabrina Schroeder with International Contemporary Ensemble at Mount Tremper, 2014.

About Conlon Nancarrow

Born in 1912, Nancarrow joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade at the start of the Spanish Civil War. Concerned by the harassment faced by other former brigade fighters upon their return to the United States, he relocated to Mexico in 1940, where he remained until his death in 1997. Nancarrow’s renown rests on his later, intricately contrapuntal works, almost exclusively written for the player piano. Having spent many years in obscurity, the composer gained notoriety from the 1969 release of an entire album of his work by Columbia Records.

About Americas Society's Commissioning Program

In addition to offering global or U.S. premieres of several new works every season, Americas Society's Music Program has developed a vigorous commissioning initiative that has premiered eight pieces since 2007. The commissioned composers are selected taking in consideration diverse nationalities, ages, and stylistic approaches. Previous commissionees include Valéria Bonafé, Zosha Di Castri (commissioned in collaboration with the Banff International String Quartet Competition and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), Mario Davidovsky (supported by a grant from Chamber Music America), Du Yun, Alvin Lucier, Paulo Rios Filho, Aurelio Tello (with support from Argosy Foundation Contemporary Music Fund and the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust), and Antonio Zimmerman (with support from The New York State Music Fund).