by Nick Stubblefield
HereNowHear, the dynamic new-music piano duo of Andrew Zhou and Ryan McCullough, closed out Kettle Corn New Music’s sixth season at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music this past weekend. The young performers delighted a youthful and engaged crowd with contemporary classical and experimental works from established composers such as George Crumb, Steven Stucky and Luciano Berio, alongside brand new works from Kettle Corn personnel Emily Cooley and Loren Loiacono. Kettle Corn New Music, founded in 2012 in New York City, curates contemporary classical concerts while fostering an informal listening environment. The audience helped itself to beer, wine, and a bag of complimentary kettle corn as fresh as the music itself.
Cooley (b. 1990) opened the night’s program with Phoria (2015) for piano 4-hands. Cooley explained that "phoria" is a misalignment of the eyes: an analogy that became clear as Zhou and McCullough’s hands appeared to chase each other down the keyboard during passages that were not quite in alignment. Delicate chime-like chords in the high register gave way to playful melodies and polyrhythmic chord patterns.
Walter Zimmermann (b.1949) closed out the first half of the program with As a Wife Has A Cow: A Love Story, based on a text by Gertrude Stein. Extended techniques abounded as the performers strummed, muted, and tapped on the strings and frame of the piano, creating a wide variety of delightful and sometimes haunting timbres.
The second half of the program opened with selections from Loiacono’s Primum Non Nocere ("First, to do no harm.") In her brief introduction, Loiacono offered a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes world of composers and performers. As she put it, an audience may only hear a particular piano work on the finest grand piano in a fine concert hall, but the performing artist will have experienced that work in a number of less-than-ideal spaces - and on a number of less-than-perfect pianos - over the course of the writing and rehearsal process.
Primum Non Nocere reconciles different versions of the same music. McCullough played the opening movement against a projected pre-recorded video of himself playing the same movement in a practice room on a slightly out of tune piano. The sound was enveloping and entrancing, and McCullough’s controlled tremolos were soothing but powerful. On another movement, Zhou played against a pre-recorded video of himself, though his was chopped and sped up. He played with a rhythmic precision that perfectly mimicked the eerie and unsettling performance on the projected screen.
The program closed out with George Crumb’s "Celestial Mechanics" from Makrokosmos Book IV. The piece had the pianists smashing keys with their arms and muting strings while playing rapid ostinatos — a rock and roll finish to a riveting evening of piano. (Crumb, who turns 90 later this year, will be fêted later this week with a two-concert retrospective by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; details and ticket info here.)