Not only are you a classical pianist, you're also the chair and artistic director of the Premiere Commission. Tell us about it. What commissions are you working on next? And do you have a favorite commission?
The Premiere Commission is a non-profit foundation that commissions and premieres works by some of today's most talented composers. We are about to present the world premiere of Lisa Bielawa's magnificent song cycle The Lay of the Love and Death based on the work of Rilke. Lisa is one of the most brilliant young composers on the classical music scene today. Another work I'm very excited about is Heart Shadow, a piano solo work that we recently commissioned from the Charles Wuorinen. He was the youngest composer to ever win the Pulitzer prize and has gone on to write some of the most astounding and musically thrilling works of our time.
I cannot say that I have a single favorite work that we've commissioned because there have been so many good ones and they are all so different. However, A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close by Philip Glass is high on my list because the piece is so beautiful and moving and involved so many different levels of art.
You are performing works by Philip Glass this Wednesday, March 22, at Lincoln Center, at a gala for the Premiere Commission. In fact, you're performing with Glass and there's even a reading from Ethan Hawke. How did you put together this evening? Did you get to pick the pieces you're playing?
After I premiered A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close last spring, Philip Glass and I began to talk about performing a piece together. He told me about a wonderful four hand work he had from his music for Cocteau's Orphée. So we are playing it the night of the gala.
I've known Ethan even before he moved in to the Chelsea Hotel. He has a deep love of music and literature. When I told him about my work with Philip Glass, he recounted hearing Glass perform with Allen Ginsberg. I told Ethan I actually had the musical score that they performed together. The work is called Wichita Vortex Sutra and is really fantastic. We decided it might be fun to perform it together on this program.
I've chosen other pieces for this program that I thought related well to one another musically and spiritually. For instance, there is a wonderful song that Glass composed called Cabin in the Rockies with a text by Ginsberg. It is so mysterious and magical that I thought the perfect place for it would be next to a great aria of Bach written in the same hauntingly dark key of B minor. They sound incredible next to one another.
How did the collaboration with Philip Glass on A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close come about? And what's your favorite Chuck Close painting?
The idea for commissioning A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close came to me just before I played a concert in Rockefeller University’s Caspary Hall. Just outside the hall’s foyer hangs one of Chuck Close’s iconic renderings of Philip Glass. I kept thinking about how Chopin and Liszt had been drawn and painted by the great artists of their day such as Delacroix and Ingres and also how many of the Romantic composers had in turn brilliantly portrayed their friends and contemporaries through their music. I thought, “ Glass has to compose a portrait of Close.” About a month later, a fortuitous meeting occurred. I met both Chuck Close and Philip Glass at a reception in New York. I immediately told Glass about seeing his portrait at the hall and my idea for his portrait of Close. He seemed genuinely moved by the idea and immediately accepted the project.
I think my favorite Close painting is his self-portrait from 1996. Chuck allowed us to use that image on the cover of my new CD containing the Glass/Close piece. That painting is a tour de force.
You're originally from Missippi; how long have you lived in New york? And about living in the Chelsea Hotel...what's that like? How long have you lived there? Do you have Sid and Nancy parties?
I've lived in New York around 21 years and I've been at the Chelsea almost 20! It's been an experience (or two) I can tell you. No comment on those Sid and Nancy parties!
And thoughts about city life:
Favorite subway line:
Definitely the 1 straight to Lincoln Center
Best store to buy music:
Favorite museum and favorite gallery:
MoMA and Pace/Wildenstein
Best place to daydream:
On a bench in Gramercy Park
Better headlines, the NY Post or Daily News
The Post of course
Favorite sign of spring:
The singing of birds outside my windows
Tickets for the Premiere Commission's Gala Concert this Wednesday are available at Lincoln Center