While you could hear two all Brahms concerts at Benaroya Hall this weekend, more adventurous ears might prefer hearing Los Angeles’ Motoko Honda and Seattle’s Tiffany Lin perform a concert of works for four hands and a new piece for toy piano and melodica arranged for boom box. The concert is happening this Saturday, 8:00 p.m. at the Good Shepard Center/Chapel Performance Space.
The program mixes the old with the new. Debussy’s magical impressionistic writing is juxtaposed next to George Crumb’s sometimes percussive Celestial Mechanics. According to Crumb’s website:
“I had long been tempted to try my hand at the four-hand medium, perhaps because I myself have been a passionate four-hand player over the years. The best of the original four-hand music -- which includes, of course, those many superb works by Mozart, Schubert, and Brahms -- occupies a very special niche in the literature of music.”
Schubert, Brahms and Mozart may have served as Crumb’s foundation, but the composer builds on what has come before with an atmospheric work inspired by four stars with a title borrowed from a French mathematician.
Also on the program is Gyorgy Kurtag’s Jatekok “Games.” Jatekok is a series of on going miniatures, some for piano duo. In the work, Kurtag pays homage to his friends and composers who have preceded him, J.S. Bach among them. The work may be best compared to Bartok’s on set of miniatures Mikrokosmos. The collection of miniatures travels through diverse territory. Some are accessible and lyrical others are rough.
Motoko Honda, one of the two pianists performing on Saturday evening, was born in Japan and began playing the piano at the age of four. When she was eleven, Honda was discovered by Tokiwa Ishibashi and became one of Ms. Ishibashi’s pupils.
Honda went on to receive degrees from Bethany College and the California Institute of Arts. Honda is the founding member of the Los Angeles Piano Unit and is active in the Sound Escape Project.
On her first trip to Seattle, Honda described her thoughts on Saturday’s program and what concertgoers can expect when they hear the duo play.
Zach Carstensen: What do you think about Seattle’s new and experimental music scene?
Motoko Honda: To be honest, I don’t know much since this is my first visit. But I have known great musicians in the area, and I have always wanted to work together with them. So I am very happy and excited that it is finally happening, thanks to my friend Tiffany Lin. I am also very thankful to Chapel Performance Space to give us the opportunity. I know that is always a hard work to keep a space that supports new, experimental, and creative music scene. I am hoping to visit Seattle more often to collaborate with musicians, and to invite them to perform with me here in LA.
ZC: At your concert this Saturday you are performing works for four hands with Tiffany Lin, how did you and Tiffany meet?
MH: I met Tiffany when I went to CalArts-California Institute of the Arts for my MFA. Tiffany was doing BFA in the same Piano and Multi Keyboard Performance Program. I think we both were always the curious and mischievous ones, so we connected on that level.
ZC: Other than Saturday’s concert, what other projects are the two of you working on?
MH: We are planning to perform same programs in different cities in United States, also are going to start working on more contemporary work and commission new pieces with piano in a non-standard approach; prepared, electronics, extended techniques and more. I also am planning to compose music for both of us.
ZC: Speaking of Saturday’s concert, what’s on the program?
MH: "Getting Together with Sticky Labels" is the title of the concert because we have to use lots of them. Except Hungarian Folk Song, everything else is works for 4 hands on 1 piano.
- Six Épigraphes Antiques: Claude Debussy
- Játékok (Games) for four hands: György Kurtág
- Hungarian Folk Song for Toy Piano and Melodica: Arranged by Ferenc Farkas and Tiffany Lin
- Celestial Mechanics, from Makrokosmos Cycle: George Crumb
ZC: One of the pieces is a work for toy piano and boombox, can you say a little something about the piece?
MH: We planned to have something commissioned, but it didn’t work out this time. So we are doing a Hungarian Folk Song, which was originally arranged by Ferenc Farkas for toy piano and melodica. Tiffany arranged it once to toy piano, melodica and boom box, now we’re going to play adaptation of that. Complicated, but fun.
ZC: As a performer, why are you attracted to composers like George Crumb and Gyorgy Kurtag?
MH: When I grew up, I wasn't supposed to touch the inside of the piano, nor was I supposed to play with my palms and elbows. It was a long journey for me to accept the music I play now. But I still remember the thrill and the fear of reaching into the piano, and excitement to discover that it was always what I was meant to do. Composers like Crumb and Kurtag really turn this playful approach to the piano into an art. Their compositions and indications are precise for the specific effect, and it is exciting to face such demanding, yet playful music, which still keep all of us wondering.
ZC: Where do you think contemporary and experimental music fits in today’s classical music world?
MH: The more I study and perform contemporary and experimental music, the more I don’t see the difference with classical music. It is all new yet all old and done. I hope it fits right in the middle! Once I was asked to give a very contemporary solo performance at wedding when everybody would expect to hear a beautiful classical works. People actually had to listen to me for more than thirty minutes! But people stopped talking, started to listen to dots and spots of notes, silences, it was a beautiful experience. Most of people had never heard such music and they told me, but somehow it was a perfect music for that day. I love creating a concert that challenges audiences to go beyond these boundaries.
ZC: What would you tell someone who has never heard a piece by George Crumb or, for that matter, never heard music composed for toy piano, to expect if they came to your concert?
MH: Be open-minded. Forget all what you think or taught how music should sounds like. “We” are the music after all. Let your body and heart sink into the sounds, be curious, be anxious, and be imaginative. Relax. Music always happens only once. Whatever you feel is true; so let yourself discover the world of music.