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Rzewski in Cincinnati

Frederic Rzewski has been coming to Cincinnati since 1986 (I think) when he filled in for Joel Hoffman during his sabbatical at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He has been coming to Cincinnati consistently as a guest composer at CCM's MusicX festivals (until they moved it to Blonay, Switzerland). He was here this past weekend.

Rzewski is somewhat cool and crotchety, being an ex-pat (he has lived in Belgium since the 70s) and being a person IN his 70s. He's an opinionated fellow; he shoots down ideas he disagrees with.

I had a masterclass with him on Friday afternoon along with my friend Rebecca Danard; we performed Sounds from the Gray Goo II. (I am still workshopping this piece; hopefully I'll have a good version in time for the SonicX concert.)

Unfortunately, we got absolutely no feedback from him; in fact, I'm willing to bet that his hearing has deteriorated. My other friends presented their pieces with the same results. This was a bit frustrating: many of us brought performers to present our pieces LIVE. His only comments were reserved for a poor Mexican pianist who played a piece from the 1970s written by a Mexican composer (Ibarra was the composer's name?).

You play Liszt? That's surprising. You don't have the chops to play Liszt.

Yikes. Toward the end of class he suggested we take a break and "exchange bodily fluids," which didn't make sense until I read the program notes for Nanosonatas Book VI. (He has fathered seven children.) Eh, maybe he was jet lagged and needed a nap.

At the local biergarten, Rzewski was a little more responsive; in fact, I would say he was more like himself. Did you know he recently received an honorary doctorate from the Université de Liège along with Dick Annegarn, Anthony Braxton, Arvo Pärt, Henri Pousseur, Archie Shepp, and Robert Wyatt?

On Saturday he performed a concert of his piano works, including the world premiere of his Nanosonatas, Book VII (#43-49). Those particular pieces were highly chromatic and loud. (Many of us believed his playing became increasingly louder as the program progressed.) They were my favorite from the set. The complete program included STUDY II (DREAMS) (1961), Nanosonatas Nos. 27 & 28, and Nanosonatas Books 5-7. Not only can Rzewski command a lot of sound from the piano, he also turned the piano into a percussion instrument (slapping the sides of the piano, stomping on the sustain pedal, etc.). He seemed at ease at the concert, smiling to the audience. He was genuinely thankful that a few of us took the time to listen to his music on a Saturday evening.

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