ON THE ALBUM:
A O R T A (NEW AMSTERDAM RECORDS)
"Continuing down a path that she has been charting with aplomb these last several years (including in releases already covered by this publication), Brooklyn-based pianist and chamber musician Vicky Chow has been taking careful steps in not only performing contemporary works for piano and electronics but by establishing herself and her practice as a center of gravity to which new works of this expanding genre gather and germinate. In Aorta, her second album for New Amsterdam Records, we are treated to the sounds of the American avant-garde as crafted by an imaginative cadre of five composers united by Chow’s impulse to capture herself without restraint through her playing and to express deeper aspects of what unity entails, what she describes as “light, love, emotion and humanity.” Aorta is built of moving, clanging, daring resonances–and capture these very essences that she describes, it does.
There is an elaborate range and sensibility that is charted sonically. While there is a unifying aesthetic here, what is clear is that each piece approaches the piano’s aural augmentation with specific and well-informed intentions. The dream-like wanderings and impressionistic colors in Christopher Cerrone‘s Hoyt-Schermerhorn are elongated by borderline imperceptible reverb tails–except, that is, when they are fractured by the signal-level process which is driving them, which makes the sound begin to crumple under the weight of the piano’s tones as empty food wrappers would do under your paces as you traverse the piece’s namesake intersection in Brooklyn (where Michael Jackson’s BAD music video was filmed). Jacob Cooper‘s Clifton Gates, originally written for Timo Andres and inspired by John Adams’ Phrygian Gates (1978), uses literal audio gates to create a shifty and broken middle ground of delay chains and juxtapositions.
Polish composer Jakub Ciupiński‘s four part Morning Tale is a moody album leaf where tones and their digitally reversed duplicates appear and disappear in washes of distilled punctuations, each of the four possessing a distinct musical character and aim. Molly Joyce‘s 11 minute Rave begins deceptively antithetical to the title’s implications, but builds into first real peak experience of Aorta. This moment captures Chow’s breathless virtuosity complimented by a fascinating use of real-time overdub to insinuate (impossibly) many instances of this performer all at once simultaneously playing the gamut of the instrument, completing as though by metamorphosis, through its use of pedal tones, a transformation into a piano/organ hybrid.
The frenzy subsides and is followed by two selections from a piece also titled Aorta from French-born, American-trained composer Daniel Wohl. They explore contrasting approaches to the piano/electronics dichotomy: “Limbs,” where interlocking electronic elements are mapped over the complexity in Chow’s part, and “Bones,” where completely different musical segments/recordings are used in playback alongside Chow’s playing. They are effective diatonic exercises in the spurning of an idea, a thought, which ceases to waver. The final piece on the disc is Vick(i/y), by Andy Akiho (written for both Vicki Ray and Vicky Chow), notably the only work which severs the piano from any electronic accompaniment; it is a prepared piano piece reminiscent of John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes (1946-1948). In it, the piano is exploited inside and out, with a decidedly eastern focus in its rhythmic and timbral subtleties and overt gestures. As the longest piece on Aorta, its many palpitations and troughs serve as an exceptional finale.
On the inside of all of these forceful musical offerings is Canadian-born Vicky Chow; consummate pianist and collaborator; member of New Music Detroit and Bang on a Can All-Stars, among others; new music devotee; and advocate. She succeeds in attaining her aim of capturing an intimate and personal vibe: using the longest recording takes, riding the waves of each the pieces’ fault lines, abandoning the need for strict accuracy at all times. Aorta leaves a compelling imprint, especially once having exited the immersion from start to finish. Where Chow is exceedingly exceptional is indeed in her ability to listen and to gauge. The subtle variances in the electronic parts of these works presents a difficulty solo players rarely have to deal with: playing with/against themselves. At times, the external layers are so dense that it becomes clear that the real feat here is not virtuosic playing per se, but virtuosic listening. Chow’s ability to decipher where and when she needs to play, and to maintain in the face of competing/similar phrases and disjunctions of her own playing against itself is the marvel which Aorta captures, both subliminally and explicitly.
One disadvantage a curious listener may have regarding this otherwise extremely well-thought out and accessible release is the lack of documentation or, better yet—explication—of the processes used in the electronics for these works. It is one thing to be using an Ableton Live or Logic effect to achieve a certain result, quite another to achieve the same through Supercollider or ChucK. As far as how these various externalities are being generated, we are largely left in the dark. Nevertheless, soaking in the beautiful journey Vicky Chow has shared with us should bring many listeners coming back, as this is moving an intriguing music … played from the heart." -GAVIN GAMBOA
"Canadian-bred, New York-based pianist Vicky Chow has established herself as one of new music’s most adventurous, precise, and versatile interpreters, the kind of player that composers are eager to create new works for. She’s an integral member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, and her collaboration with experimental composer Tristan Perich on his epic Surface Image made clear both her exacting practice and her openness to new forms and sounds, playing minimalist patterns against a veritable symphony of one-bit electronic tones. AORTA is the pianist’s second solo album, and friends and long-time collaborators composed all six pieces. She has said of the repertoire, “I searched for music that resonated with me during desperate times, alone in a cramped apartment at 2 a.m. and wide awake, trying to find meaning.”
All of the music is enhanced by subtle electronics, whether it’s the cascade of glassy, fractal tones that fall like sparks over her measured chords in Christopher Cerrone’s “Hoyt-Schermerhorn,” a piece designed to convey the mixed emotions evoked by the late-night atmosphere of the titular intersection in Brooklyn, or Jakub Ciupinski’s haunting “Morning Tale,” a four-movement gem where jewel-like phrases are subtly enhanced by the electronic processing of her live performance, transmitted via speakers placed with the instrument. All of the works—which also include pieces by Jacob Cooper, Molly Joyce, Daniel Wohl, and Andy Ahiko—convey a thick air of melancholic beauty, a kind of emotional rawness tempered by lyric fragility, and Chow delivers with a pitch-perfect touch."
"Pianist Vicky Chow’s recent release A O R T A is above all else a triumph of curation. Chow’s performance, the editing, and the mixing are all laudable as well, but the real story of this album is the strength of the playlist and its presentation. A O R T A is a rare instance of an album in which the delivery of the audio itself contributes to the artistic goals of the project in a meaningful way.
Even before the music begins, curatorial strength shapes the album. A O R T A is packaged with only minimal notes and there is no explanation of the project’s genesis nor discussion of the artists involved or their biographies. While this may initially appear to be a simple stylistic choice in favor of minimalist packaging, after listening it is apparent that this lack of detail is, in actual fact, a bold statement about how well the music on this release hangs together. The lack of notes seen on A O R T A would diminish other albums, but in this instance, the dearth of information makes this release stronger. It is a symbol of how well-designed the album is as a whole, letting the music and its curation stand on their own.
However, if you are curious, a more detailed explanation of the release is available here.
Musically, the supreme design of A O R T A takes the shape of remarkable continuity between the first three tracks. These tracks, which encompass Christopher Cerrone’s Hoyt-Schermerhorn, Jacob Cooper’s Clifton Gates, and the first movement of Jakub Ciupinski’s Morning Tale, all for piano and electronics, flow seamlessly from each into the next. That is not to say that these pieces are continuous or homogenous; upon closer listening these tracks each yield interesting features deserving of investigation and fascination.
These first three pieces make up the programmatic section of the release. All three, while they do have their own individual characters, are touching meditations on real-world human experiences ranging from the concrete to the notional.
The smoothness with which the initial three tracks flow from one to the next is a perfect aperitif for the rest of A O R T A. Only when the second movement of Morning Tale arrives does this CD begin to deliver sequential sounds juxtaposed in a manner that obviously marks the beginning of a new track. This slight shift marks a turning point in this release; this is the point after which more surprising and disparate sounds can be expected.
Those disparate sounds take the shape of Molly Joyce’s Rave, and Daniel Wohl’s Limbs and Bones, all three of which explore different facets of the interaction of live piano with electronic sound. While these heady tracks are distinctly different from the first three pieces, they somehow fit together into the larger arc of this album. This continuity of artistic trajectory is further evidence of expert curation. These pieces, in this order, tell a story that is in and of itself a work of art.
Finally, A O R T A ends with Vick(i/y), by Andy Akiho. While the preceding six pieces lean toward the atmospheric, Vick(i/y) has a completely different character that trends toward immediacy. This piece was written for Vicky Chow (as well as for Vicki Ray – hence the title) and is the only piece on this release that is NOT for piano and electronics. Vick(i/y) is for prepared piano. Additionally, while the preceding pieces on A O R T A tend to individually remain within one or two sound areas, Vick(i/y) is a veritable symphony within a prepared piano. The extended range of sounds, combined with Chow’s presumed heightened intimacy with this music (which was written with her in mind), result in a piece that acts an exclamation mark. Vick(i/y) is Chow’s indelible signature at the end of an already markedly individualistic album.
Even though A O R T A cycles through an expansive of range sounds and expressive modes, this disc never loses sight of the instrument at its center. Every bit of this music is completely focused on the piano, with all sounds either produced by or strongly referring to the instrument. Also always in sight here are the composers who inspired much of this music. Pieces on this album explicitly reference John Adams and John Cage while slightly more covertly recalling the music of Steve Reich, Erik Satie, and Thom Yorke.
A O R T A is packed with smart, fully-conscious music that is quite aware of the giants upon whose shoulders it stands. This awareness of the past, combined with bold steps toward the future and omnipresent consummate curation, results in a well-balanced and highly interesting release that is at once calming, stimulating, and invigorating." Seth Tompkins
WNYC's New Sounds: Classical Instruments, Contemporary Sounds
"A O R T A is clearly a deeply personal album for Brooklyn-based pianist Vicky Chow; that it is so is intimated by the choice of title and cover illustration, both of which allude to musical material that comes directly from her heart, even if the six selections were composed by others, specifically Andy Akiho, Christopher Cerrone, Jakub Ciupinski, Jacob Cooper, Molly Joyce, and Daniel Wohl. It's telling, however, that none are strangers with whom Chow has only a professional relationship; all are longtime friends and collaborators of the Bang on a Can All-Star.
Yet as important as that detail is, it isn't the most compelling thing about her sophomore solo release: what stands out more than anything is how seamlessly she integrates acoustic piano and electronics on the hour-long recording. Trite effects and superficial add-ons are absent; instead, the two elements fuse so naturally and in such genuine service to the compositional material that awareness of the instrumentation and production approach quickly recedes and the focus shifts, as it should, to the music.
Cerrone conceived of his “Hoyt-Schermerhorn” as a tribute to the New York nightscape, and if he's to be taken at his word, he must have been feeling nostalgic and reflective about the locale while composing the material. Whereas another artist might have opted for something brash and high-intensity in the choice of opener, Chow to her credit chose something very much in keeping with the nuanced tone of the album, with Cerrone's haunting, late-night setting alternating fluidly between peaceful and unsettling passages for eight entrancing minutes.
Like Cerrone, Cooper titled his piece with NY in mind, in this case “Clifton Gates” named for the Brooklyn place where it was composed while also referencing John Adams's “Phrygian Gates” to which it pays homage. As happens multiple times on the album, Cooper's piece highlights how deftly Chow integrates electronic treatments into her playing, in this case using audio gates to transform the piano into chiming patterns that gradually accumulate in density. Wohl's two contributions are consistent with the largely understated tone of the recording, “Limbs” an elegant, delicate reverie and “Bones” a rhythmically robust rendering that merges Chow playing in real time with a second recording of the piano. On purely sonic grounds, the album's most haunting piece is arguably Ciupinski's four-movement setting “Morning Tale” for the way in which electronics arc alongside the piano like a glissando shadow. Of its four parts, it's the last, “The Miracle of Being Ernest,” that most overtly references the Reich-styled minimalism tradition out of which the composers featured on A O R T A developed.
The concluding piece,“Vick(i/y),” is the only one that eschews electronics, Chow instead playing prepared piano on a fifteen-minute setting Akiho wrote and named for Vick(y) Chow and pianist Vick(i) Ray. Undoubtedly it's the most ear-catching of the six works presented, given the degree to which the prepared piano is able to simulate a miniature percussion ensemble. Yet while one's attention is initially struck by its unusual blending of bell-like tones and conventional notes, “Vick(i/y)” ultimately proves to be as haunting in its melodic content as Ciupinski's. Regardless of the particular treatments involved, one comes away from A O R T A impressed by the sensitivity of Chow's playing and how much she honours the composers with her nuanced handling of their works.
Pitchfork: "Avant-garde pianist Vicky Chow releases an album full of roving, tense compositions from modern-day composers, blending her traditional piano with blurs of digital effects and percussion."
"Pianist Vicky Chow has been building a discography focused on modern classical sounds ever since completing her studies at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music. She appeared on a release from John Zorn’s Tzadik imprint, and interpreted the music of John Cage. More recently, she made a star turn on a Steve Reich album. Though Chow is obviously a virtuoso when it comes to acoustic work, she has also shown an interest in pieces that employ electronics. Her premiere of Reich’s “Piano Counterpoint” required her to play against pre-recorded parts; Chow’s recording of composer Tristan Perich’s Surface Image found the pianist threading notes in between 40 channels of chirping, 1-bit sound.
Due to that resume, it’s hardly a shock to discover that Chow’s sophomore album for the New Amsterdam label involves electro-acoustic setups. A O R T A features pieces from six up-and-coming composers, each of whom pushes the limits of the instrument in some way. Christopher Cerrone’s “Hoyt-Schermerhorn” has an icy profile, at first, as softly played progressions creep slowly into the piano’s highest reaches. But when a rising figure in a low octave is introduced, Chow’s playing communicates the effusive release embedded in those notes (even as the overall harmony remains melancholic). Unusually dense layers of sustain are the product of an electronic patch created by the composer. But even when Cerrone’s digital design asserts itself more clearly—via glitchy, refracted notes—the center of the piece holds.
Another winner is Molly Joyce’s “Rave.” The work starts out sounding anything but exultant, sporting motifs that seem emotionally mismatched. (In the score, Joyce’s description of a tempo as “controlled but on the edge” seems appropriate.) As the composition develops, Joyce’s lines achieve an odd syncopation, and ultimately a sense of balance strong enough to suggest a club-influenced feel.
There is a potent sense of physicality in Chow’s performance of that piece—one which also carries over to Andy Akiho’s “Vick(i/y).” Written for Chow and fellow pianist Vicki Ray, Akiho’s prepared-piano opus stretches the range of the instrument by calling for the direct strumming of strings inside the piano’s body. That technique isn’t a new one. But Akiho’s use of it here serves percussive and melodic ends that prove structurally satisfying, when traditional-sounding lines sprout and shoot away from the modernist opening material.
The rest of the hour-long program isn’t quite on the same level as those compositions, though the pieces are all worth hearing. Jacob Cooper’s “Clifton Gates” is a clever homage to John Adams’s famous minimalist composition “Phrygian Gates.” Jakub Ciupinksi’s four-movement “Morning Tale” has moments of dramatic propulsion. Two movements from Daniel Wohl’s “Aorta” contain the composer’s typical blend of jabbing aggression and dreamy fluidity. Though without a full performance of the work, its impression is necessarily muted. Chow handles these composers’ various electronic setups with grace, never letting the tech overwhelm the particular aesthetic. Arrangement eccentricities aside, the most notable quality of A O R T A is the pianist’s deep, evident investment in these consistently rewarding pieces."
“In the second concert, pianist Vicky Chow demonstrated Cage’s seminal innovation, transforming her Steinway into her own exotic percussion orchestra by lodging nuts, bolts and other household objects on or between the strings. Her intimate performance of the first bracket ofSonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano with such delicacy and playfulness that I wished we could have heard the complete set...” -Melissa Lesnie, Limelight Magazine (November 6, 2012)
“With more subtlety, though energy too, was Vicky Chow’s interpretation of excerpts from Sonatas & Interludes for prepared piano, though it would have had more subtlety unamplified. The piano could be very liquid like a 19th century Erard in some notes, or more percussive, but still strange, even ethereal, never trying to be a drum set. The beauty of the Steinway piano, maybe even its redeeming virtue, is that it leaves a pianist many options to make it sound as they need it, even if it means preparing it. Her playing showed a pleasure and musical understanding which carried across to the audience. ” -Andrew Miller, The Berkshire Review (November 6, 2012)
"As she began to play, the dark club fell silent. It would be an hour before Chow spoke again.
She began with the tender notes of A Hudson Cycle by Muhly, its poppy melody drawing us in. But like any teenager's track list worth its salt, Chow’s deftly shifted moods, and a darker shade crept in with David Lang’s Wed. Chow, a member of New York's Bang on a Can All-Stars, moved through musical peaks and valleys in a carefully crafted exhibit of minimalist works. Because they were all short pieces or selections, if one colour turned you off, another was around the bend. Difficult, dissonant pieces that might have been outliers elsewhere, now felt like eccentric parts of the whole.
The set's climax came with a kind of pulsating mania, in Digital Sustain by Ryan Francis, and we were swiftly returned to earth, specifically a dusky reflection of New York's subway system, from Christopher Cerrone’s Hoyt-Schermerhorn, which had Chow accompanying the sounds of subway tracks. With barely a pause between pieces, the set seemed effortless and organic, even immersive. I was enthralled."
-Luke Quinton, Gramophone, (October 2nd, 2012)
October 8th, 2010
CONCERT REVIEW Electrifying performance of contempo-music
Pianist Vicky Chow captivates with avant-garde classical music of the 21st century
Artistically, October is often a busy month at MIT, and this year is no exception. Vicky Chow’s recital, as part of the Bang on a Can Residency (sponsored by MIT Music and Theatre Arts department) was the first notable musical event of October. This concert was highly anticipated, given the artist’s strong ties with Bang on a Can All-Stars, a chamber ensemble renowned for its free and experimental approaches aimed at blurring the distinction between all forms of music. Chow’s recital was a vivid demonstration of piano contemporary music, showcasing the possibilities of the instrument extended with the aid of computer-generated effects. While this contemporary music might initially sound inaccessible and strange, the showmanship of Chow and her feisty technique kept the audience engaged and thoroughly entertained. In many ways, this recital was a veritable eye-opener, offering a glimpse of the distant future of classical music (and music in general), and highlighting the enormous range of the expressive possibilities of the piano, most of them still untapped today.
As an effective performer of contemporary music, Chow has skillfully combined a solid, traditional training with an inclination for experimentation. Her playing highlighted not only a sparkling technique, but also a remarkable emotional depth. By dubbing her recital, “The Art of Groove,” Chow specifically hints at the underlying emotional state, highly contagious and often hypnotic that her performance of contemporary music often depicts. Most of the pieces on her program deal with subconscious torments, unsettling, cyclical and often ambivalent emotions. Titles such as “Phantom Limb” (by Daniel Wohl), “Doppelganger”, “Harlequin”, “Loop” (by Ryan Francis), “Dream” (by John Cage) ostensibly illustrate this point.
The raw quality of the emotional landscape of contemporary music requires a strong musical presence from the performer, both in the technical and interpretational realms. Chow displayed an unabashed composure, tackling fearlessly and expressively both the flashy virtuosic passages and the more subdued, often drone-like, seemingly repetitive introspective interludes. Her precise technique and amazing endurance were instrumental to her buoyant rendition of “In bounds”, written by Professor Evan Ziporyn. “In bounds” sounded extremely taxing for the performer, who embarks on a perpetually moving, yet hardly advancing musical marathon, while the audience becomes entranced in the mind-boggling sound frenzy. Yet, Chow earned a great deal of admiration and awe by powering through this piece and barely breaking a sweat.
The high point of the concert was the piece “Vick(i/y)” by Andy Akiho, a sizable fantastic work for prepared piano, written for and dedicated in part to Chow. In fact, the composer himself was present and helped with the preparation: by installing select mutes on the piano strings and then amplifying the subsequent sounds, one can drastically change the timber of the piano. The changes can be so diverse that on a recording, the piece would sound as if performed by a percussion ensemble. Indeed, “Vick(i/y)” aptly educates on the percussive nature of the sounds on the piano and offers ample suggestions on how it can be extended. The piece abounds in unconventional techniques, including direct string strumming, plucking, as well as scratching. All these effects require a new dimension of the performer, who must be at the same time an athletic percussionist, as well as a pianist. Moreover, they require a more intimate connection with the instrument, akin to the one typical of string players. Such a piece also brings into the spotlight the gargantuan size of a nine-foot concert piano, strongly contrasting with the size of the performer. Chow’s nimble presence and graceful musical choreography around the massive instrument was therefore intensely mesmerizing. Musically, the piece was also satisfying, the novel percussive sounds being featured in unexpected and refreshing harmonic instances.
The recital ended with the Boston premiere of “Morning Tale” (by Jakub Ciupinski), a suite for piano and electronics. While the music here is written in a more traditional style, the interplay between the live performance and the computer-generated sounds (pre-recorded) makes the piece sound extremely fresh and appealing. By strategically placing the speakers inside the piano, the digital effects seem organic to the music and blend seamlessly with the sound of the piano. Ms.Chow delivered a thoroughly enjoyable performance, full of dynamism, highlighting both the soulful character of the slow movements and the total exuberance of the energetic finale.
Vicky Chow performs again this Friday and Saturday at Cutler Majestic Theatre, when she rejoins the Bang on a Can All-Star group for the opera “A House in Bali” by Evan Ziporyn.”
December 15th, 2010
Ecstatic Music Festival Blog
“...monster pianist...massive technique...wonderful musicality...”
“…Vicky Chow is a member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars; here, she'll play a substantial work for piano and electronics, called Aorta, written by composer Daniel Wohl. Vicky is a monster pianist and brings a massive technique and wonderful musicality to Daniel's intriguing and engaging score, which features a really remarkable, idiosyncratic electronic sound.” –Ecstatic Music Festival blog
October 29, 2012
“Vicky Chow’s performance of Sonatas and Interludes at the Cage Centennial Celebration on the Arts at the Park series shared yet another way of performing the piece. Chow’s attention to details of dynamic nuance included delicately shaped hairpins and fastidious attention to the numerous markings in the score. The pianist also reveled in the gamelan-like textures that the preparations produce, gearing her articulations to render the maximum amount of percussiveness from the instrument. Thus, this was a Sonatas and Interludes that provided delicacy balanced by a zesty tang: an impressive and engaging performance.”
April 13th 2007
New York Times
Critic: Anthony Tommasini
“Projected visuals were crucial elements of every piece. So as the pianist Vicky ho played the opening work, “Digits” by Neil Rolnick, close-ups of her nimble fingers and leaping hands were projected in split-screen images. But as the music built in intensity, the projection design by Luke Dubois became increasingly elaborate, with images subdividing into neat rows of mini-screens and blurry abstractions.
Though the images were kind of cool, I was much more riveted by Mr.Rolnicks’s teeming piece and Ms. Chow’s brilliant playing. The music began with churning eruptions in the piano’s low register, then built into spiraling volleys and skittish “wrong note’ arpeggios. Snippets of dance rhythms and an elemental theme, like some Dies Irae motto, intruded. As Ms. Chow played, isolated pitches, brutal chords and rippling passages were picked up by microphones and processed through the computer to extend and enhance the live piano sounds. It all made for an exhilarating interactive piece”
Sequenza21- CD review
July 28, 2011
“energetic and laser-beam precise performances”
“Composer Ryan Francis (b. 1981) may have just turned thirty, but the Juilliard grad has already amassed a formidable hour plus of solo piano works. These compositions are featured on his recent Tzadik CD release. They are given energetic and laser-beam precise performances by pianist Vicky Chow, a similarly youthful artist best known for her work with the new music collective Bang on a Can All-Stars.
Chow is formidable in the Chopin inspired Consolations (2007), an imposing and hyperkinetic nocturne that features swirling cascades of overlapping accompaniment figures and hypnotic melodic figures. Another homage to the classical music canon, this time to musical “bird figures” referenced in Haruki Murakami’s book The Wind-up Bird Chronicles, is found in Francis’ similarly titled “Wind-up Bird Preludes” (2005). These works are more fragmentary, seeking to juxtapose birdcall motives rather than make them cohere. Thus, Mozart, Rossini, Schumann, and others are successively alluded to. All the while, the inevitable references to Messiaen cause this ornithologist—composer to serve as birdsong pater familias and master of ceremonies.
Even from the vantage point of an emerging composer just a little over a decade out of his teens, a work written when one is eighteen might be something to suppress rather than spotlight. But one is glad that Francis didn’t choose this route, preferring instead to include his set of aphoristic but abundantly attractive Moonlight Fantasy pieces on this CD. There’s a taste of Joseph Schwantner’s shimmering harmony alongside Francis’ already present penchant for brief contrasting sections, busily effusive rhythmic language, and authoritative dramatic contrasts.
Francis’ best work on the disc however, is a bit more recent and it is to date his most unconventionally constructed. In an updated version of Conlon Nancarrow’s punching of piano roles to create his studies, Francis worked away from the piano (not his usual writing practice) to create a set of Etudes (2008) using MIDI mapping. The results suggest that Francis should put himself outside his compositional comfort zones more frequently, as these are a dazzling group of pieces, incorporating facets of post-minimalism (“Loop”), electronica (“digital sustain”), and Stravinskyian ostinati mixed with Nancarrow-esque rhythmic canons (“Harlequin). What might Francis’ at this point cojectural but likely inevitable “Piano Works Volume 2” have in store for us? Judging by what one can hear in his music already, the sky’s the limit!”
July 11, 2011
The Boston Musical Intelligencer
Ziporyn’s Composer Portrait at Rockport
by Peter Van Zandt Lane
“Pianist Vicky Chow completely won over the audience with her vigorous and animated performance of In Bounds. She danced playfully through the piece, despite its severe difficulty; one only had to see the subtle fear in the page-turner’s eyes as he worked to keep up with the myriad of notes and pages that flew by as the Chow’s hands moved at an unfathomable pace.”
“The Rockport Chamber Music Festival hosted a concert of composer/clarinetist Evan Ziporyn’s music on Thursday evening, July 7. Ziporyn, who is widely known as the long-time clarinetist for the Bang on a Can All-Stars, was joined by his Bang on a Can comrades, violinist Todd Reynolds, cellist Ashley Bathgate, and pianist Vicky Chow. This was my first time visiting the relatively new Shalin Liu performance center, which, with its floor-to-ceiling windows along the back of the stage, is unquestionably one of the most beautiful concert venues I’ve ever seen. It sounds pretty good, too. Watching the colors of the sky evolve into dusk over the course of a concert is an experience anyone can appreciate.
The four pieces performed offered a good snapshot of Ziporyn’s compositional style, which although heavily influenced by Minimalism, tend to favor constant development in the context of block structures, driving rhythms, and definitely virtuosic demands of the performers. Hive, In Bounds, and Typical Music (the last three pieces on the program) all shared this unique mix of Post-Minimalist and Totalist (a response to minimalism) leanings, and received the kind of spot-on performances you can only get with abundant collaboration time spent with the composer.
The opening performance, Tsmindao Gmerto (for solo bass clarinet) stood out stylistically from the others. After a congenial introduction by the composer, he described the piece as an attempt to mimic the sounds of a large group of men singing Georgian chant with a single bass clarinet. The music that followed was a string of flowing, chant-like phrases composed of multi-phonics and trills, jittering on the surface, but moving slowly through evocative pre-tonal harmonies. I had the opportunity to hear the piece performed a few years ago in a large, stone chapel in Miami, and must say the piece benefits from a large, reverberant space to help blend together the sounds of the performer vocalizing while playing (one of a few methods of achieving multi-phonics on the clarinet). In this performance space, the inner parts were more in the foreground, which (based on my observations of nearby listeners) appeared to be too discordant for some to enjoy. Personally, I find the piece’s arching phrases of dense and varying timbres to be quite beautiful.
Pianist Vicky Chow completely won over the audience with her vigorous and animated performance of In Bounds. She danced playfully through the piece, despite its severe difficulty; one only had to see the subtle fear in the page-turner’s eyes as he worked to keep up with the myriad of notes and pages that flew by as the Chow’s hands moved at an unfathomable pace.
Hive, for four clarinets (two B-flat and two bass) quartet featured Ziporyn on bass clarinet, joined by fellow clarinetists Rane Moore, Eran Egozy, and Alicia Lee. Some of the pieces materials are derived from Tsmindao Gmerto, but as part of a much more eclectic array of other styles. The narrative of the piece, as Ziporyn explained, was inspired by his observations of bees (he recently has taken on the hobby of beekeeping). Rapidly moving lines bounce back and fourth between the players, who effectively made clear the interactive and often antiphonal nature of the piece. The closing piece, Typical Music for piano trio, takes some of the stylistic eclecticism of Hive and truly runs away with it. Chow returned, joined by violinist Todd Reynolds and Ashley Bathgate for a riveting performance. Overall the piece made a positive impact, though I must admit I found some of the moments where the players drifted into jazz/blues material to be rather dry. The final movement contained some very exciting ideas. Included in this movement was a very exposed moment of paradiddle rhythms, which I couldn’t help but think was a shout out to the composer’s long-time friend and colleague, Steve Reich (referencing Different Trains).
The Rockport Chamber Music Festival undoubtedly deserves commendation for programming an entire concert dedicated to a living composer. While most of the programming this summer at the Shalin Liu falls into the ultra-traditional category, hopefully programs like these will prove popular among their subscribers and rouse more programming of contemporary music in the future.”
Peter Van Zandt Lane is a composer and bassoonist who performs regularly in the Boston area. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Music Composition and Theory at Brandeis University.
Aug. 15, 2011
"Discovery Day" is this year's Musicfest's way of recognizing talent from Vancouver who have made it bigtime in the international scene. Vancouver pianist Vicky Chow who graduated from Juillard and now lives in New York is one of them. She has performed extensively as a classical and contemporary soloist, and has been described as “brilliant” (New York Times), “virtuosic” (New Jersey Star Ledger) and “sparkling” with a “feisty technique” (MIT Tech).
She is the pianist for the New York based eclectic contemporary sextet, Bang on a Can All-Stars and has performed with other groups such as Wordless Music Orchestra, Opera Cabal, Wet Ink Ensemble, ai ensemble and AXIOM.
In last Saturday's programme, she performed seven pieces from contemporary artists in their early thirties. These etudes exuded a blend of classic as well as experimental music. Two of the pieces that were highly experimental were the last etudes she performed: Daniel Wohl's aorta (2010) and Andy Akiho's Vick(i/y) for prepared piano (2008).
Young musicians today are into experimentation, and in her introduction to Wohl's piece, aorta, Chow explained how the composer was inspired to write this when he was attending a concert, and a radio was blasting from outside the hall.. The pianist who was playing Schubert was annoyed by this, but to Wohl, this was an inspiration to write compositons that blended both electronic music and the traditional piano classics. And that's how Chow played this piece: she had her laptop beside her which played eerie and sometimes disturbing electronic sounds together with the more hamonious classic tunes which, in my opinion, didn't go so well. I felt the use of electronic music was annoying and more of a hindrance rather than a help.
Her last piece Vick(i/y) for prepared piano was written for her by Akiho. This particular piece was interesting, as Chow adjusted the keys of the piano to sound like percussion, Japanese-style, giving me the impression of a Samurai movie, or the music in Noh drama while playing the classic keys, resulting in an ensemble of keys and percussion. I liked this piece.
The audience gave her a standing ovation, not only because of her exquisite performance, but also the fact that a Vancouverite has made it in the international scene.
Week of April 25-29, 2011 on WQXR’s ‘Q2’ new music station ‘Hammered!”
(weeklong feature on “Hammered!” Works for Piano, composed by Ryan Francis, performed by Vicky Chow. Other works included Andy Akiho Vick(i/y), Jakub Ciupinski Morning Tale, Daniel Wohl Aorta, Evan Ziporyn In Bounds, Eliot Birtton cuneiform and glide, and William Bolcom-Scene d’opera.
October 6, 2010
James Holt-Interview- My Ears are Open
June 19, 2011
Sequenza21-Opening a New Score
Speaking with the skilled young pianist about her involvement in the field of new music performance, it is easy to be smitten by the classically trained Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music graduate’s contagious enthusiasm and engaged by her personal insights. During the past two years she has been catching up on a lot of new music repertoire as the pianist/keyboardist of the new music ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars.
The innovative sextet consists of clarinet, keyboard/piano, cello, electric guitar, bass and drums. The unique interplay—the cello and grand piano are regularly amplified on stage— creates a composite sound world. Half rock band half amplified chamber group, the All Stars are renowned for their successful avant-garde initiative, engaging in new music collaborations with some of the most inspiring composers of our time.
Having collaborated with much of the new music A-list, including Steve Reich, Tan Dun, Ornette Coleman, Philip Glass and Meredith Monk, the band has been hugely successful in a variety of performance projects held at both high-end venues like Carnegie Hall and alternative, sometimes public, performance spaces.
The photos in this article were taken at the sound check of what has become one of the band’s most well-known collaboratives, the Bang on a Can Marathon, an annual, all-day extravaganza held at New York’s World Financial Center’s Wintergarden on June 19. The marathon was Initiated in 1987 by composers David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Garden who wanted to create an all-inclusive “meeting of the bands,” breaking down the barriers between music genres. Co-presented by the River to River Festival and Arts at World Financial Center, in this year’s marathon, 150 performers and composers present a nonstop open house of new music.
Within the genre of new music, the All Stars are known for their eclecticism and their interaction of composition styles yet also for their distinct choice of instrumentalization as well as their performance dynamic level. In addition to performing themselves, the group and its members are also involved in producing and curating a variety of new music happenings. For Chow, the activism it entails is a lifestyle. Currently, she spends many of her evenings at New York’s Gershwin Hotel, where she runs her own new music series called Contagious Sounds.
A natural performer from a young age, Canadian-born Chow was invited to perform a demanding solo piano program at the International Gilmore Keyboard Festival at age 9. She went on to study at Vancouver Academy of Music, where her teacher, Lorraine Ambrose, recommended she continue her studies at Julliard, leading her to study under Professors Yoheved Kaplinsky and Julian Martin. Her arrival in New York was met with upheaval—more so than the minor disasters than accompany every move; Chow had come to New York just two weeks before 9/11. She was at the Juilliard library when the dramatic events of that day unfolded. Chow still remembers Julliard Director Polisi’s instructions to bring pillows to the underground theater room for safety in the event of further attacks. Of Chinese descent, she later volunteered at the World Trade Center, translating for Asian victims’ family members.
But there was another reason that, when upon entering Juilliard, Chow found herself stopped in her tracks. Kaplinsky, chairperson of the Piano Department at Julliard, realized that Chow had been tensing up at the piano and told her she needed to make big adjustments to her technique. Kaplinsky introduced her to the Taubman approach, which explores natural piano technique through an intensive retraining. “I had to learn to arrange myself with a constantly dueling conflict between thinking of what I had to think about in applying the technique and my opposing intuition,” she explains. But to her great delight, her playing improved in the process, making it all worthwhile. Her color and tone, her ability to gain an efficient control of the articulation she intended, opened up a whole new experience for her, she says. “I remember at one point, the fact that I was working with limited repertoire in order to gain the technique fully was so disheartening to me. When the yearly concerto competition in Juilliard was to be held with Bartók’s 1st piano concerto, I decided to take on the challenge. Veda [Kaplinsky] needed convincing, since a month before the competition I only had the 1st movement ready. But in a way she inspired me to push through, and when I won the competition, she was extremely proud of my accomplishment.”
Chow’s thorough exploration of the piano and her new relationship with her instrument whet her appetite for experimentation. Having been approached by the young Juilliard composer Zhou Tian to perform one of his compositions, Chow discovered a calling for the new and non-classical. “As I opened his score, it was clear to me that here was something happening that I had missed for a long time, during all my studies of music. While I loved music and loved performing, I did not exactly see myself spending the rest of my life repeating the experiences that classical music had provided me with. It was in the contemporary music, I found the excitement I was looking for.
The constant learning of new scores, the exploration of new and unlimited experimentations within new music suited her curiosity and led her to rescind her application to Julliard and Mannes School of Music’s doctorial degree programs and enroll instead in Manhattan School of Music’s Contemporary Performance Program. Around the same time, she began performing with multiple young composer collectives from Harvard and New York Universities that she got involved with through another contact from Juilliard, her friend Alex Lipowski, percussionist of the new music Talea Ensemble.
Having found what she was searching for, Chow quickly became a powerhouse within the new music scene. Not only did she become a more versatile pianist, but she also developed a whole new set of musical abilities. “From a pianistic point of view, not only did my sight reading improve from all the creative work with the score I am doing, let alone by the enormous numbers of new scores I read all the time. One of the challenges is that you often have to rely on your own interpretations—even though the composer sometimes intermediates. That’s a very different experience than performing works of composers that have been performed over and over,” says Chow, also confirming that in the challenge lies the thrill of finding new articulation. “Experimenting is part of the experience of new music, and I have gained another set of skills in creating different sounds, influenced by other genres. It also frees your personality to be roughing up some feathers with different sound worlds providing the kind of grit I need.”
Time Out New York- Critic’s Pick
February 2, 2011 at the Stone:Vicky Chow
Currently the dynamic pianist of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Vicky Chow helps usher in a month of unique programming at the Stone curated by Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. Chow's program, "the (un)prepared piano," includes recent pieces for keyboard—adulterated or not—by Ryan Anthony Francis, Vivian Fung and Andy Akiho.
New Jersey Star Ledger
Ronni Reich and Tris McCall
January 21st, 2011
“Some of the sonic departures made for fresh, mesmerizing performances. On Daniel Wohl’s “Aorta”, pianist Vicky Chow synchronized emotional fraught, virtuosic outpourings with a laptop track that seems to amplify and flesh out her gestures.”