Joan Tower celebrates her 70th birthday at Merkin Concert Hall on the actual date. Her output after a successful career on the piano lead her to the heights of Grammy, Gravemeyer, etc. and she adds yet another feather to her cap with the American Music Center’s Letter of Distinction to be presented by their board president, Ed Yim. The concert features solo and chamber music from most of her career. Joan really can’t be subdivided into periods since the music that she writes is consistently solid, straightforward melodic constructions with a rhythmic drive that often make the music seem to take flight.
I hate to get too purple but the name Tower really is a fine description of Joan’s achievement as composer, performer, and teacher. Her music often evokes images for the listener and with titles like Big Sky, Copperwave, and Or Like a........an Engine you can imagine the kind of music that might bring you there. The ability to trigger such images and emotion through music is the finest example of the sophisticated communications we humans are capable of.
Making connections on the human experience through an abstract medium has been a feature of much of the American musical output. Joan achieves these states through original modes of thought filtered through a facile use of harmony, melody and rhythm that seems as fresh as it is familiar. Her music challenges the listener through its multi-faceted casting of places and emotional states. Even the impressions she takes from the concept of purple result in ear catching music that has the ability to transport and transform the listening experience into a magical trip for the imagination.
We will have the following pieces which I leak a bit of program notes on below. Also, some of the performers have written tribute pieces for the occasion. Oh, and Naxos cd’s will be on sale in the lobby for just $10. See you there
Big Sky for piano trio is a piece based on a memory of riding my horse "Aymara" around in the deep valley of La Paz, Bolivia. The valley was surrounded by the huge and high mountains of the Andes range; and as I rode I looked into a vast and enormous sky. It was very peaceful and extraordinarily beautiful. We never went over one of these mountains, but if we had, it might have felt like what I wrote in this piece.
Blair McMillen, piano
Or Like a ... an Engine is dedicated to the pianist Ursula Oppens who premiered it at Alice Tully Hall in New York City in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the radio station WNYC-FM, which commissioned the work. It is a motoric piece, somewhat like a virtuosic Chopin etude.
American Brass Quintet
My father was a geologist and mining engineer and I grew up loving everything to do with minerals and rocks. Copper is a heavy but flexible mineral that is used for many different purposes and most brass instruments are made of copper. The ideas in this piece move in waves, sometimes heavy ones and at other times lighter — also in circles, turning around on the same notes.
Paul Neubauer, viola
This is my third piece for viola (and for Paul) which includes the word “purple.” The first was Wild Purple for solo viola and then came Purple Rhapsody for viola and orchestra. I have always thought of the viola (which I played briefly) as having this deep kind of rich purple sound, a beautiful timbre, quite distinct from other string instrument sounds.
For Daniel is dedicated to Joan Tower’s nephew, Daniel MacArthur, who passed away in 2003 after a long illness. The piece tries to convey the imagined struggles associated with someone who is facing a long-term terminal illness. The hopes, joys, depression, anger, deep turmoil and occasional serenity are in constant juxtaposition in this work, as they were throughout the last years of Daniel’s life.
Birthday Pieces Written for Joan:
Blair McMillen, John Rojak, James Tocco, Paul Neubauer, Yossi Kalishstein and
members of eighth blackbird