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America

Published on December 19th, 2013 | by Lawrence A Johnson - Chicago Classical Review

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Akiho’s mesmerizing work the highlight of MusicNOW program

The second MusicNOW program of the season served up one of the most compelling solo performances of the year, amid three other works that included a Mason Bates premiere. Music for solo prepared piano seems to have gone the way of Nehru jackets over the last few decades—perhaps a victim of too many such works centered on mere sonic effects and gimmickry.

Monday night’s concert at the Harris Theater opened with Vick(i/y) by Andy Akiho. This remarkable 2008 work brings the prepared piano back to its roots, as an unorthodox tool to make music, not as a sound effects sampler or a quirky and “edgy” end in itself. Inspired by two friends named Vicky, the work is palindromic in structure. Standard piano notes and prepared sounds are set in contrast, and the metallic chords and timbral washes seem to reflect Akiho’s background as a steel pan player.

Spaced single notes in the piano toll and fade over the bristling, steel-brush counterpoint. The music grows faster and more aggressive at times but the overall expression is one of stark and calm simplicity. Monday night’s performance by Winston Choi was mesmerizing. The pianist drew a remarkable, finely terraced array of hues and dynamics from the keyboard, prepared notes and the instrument’s strings—conjuring an atmosphere of rapt concentration and nobility with a hushed pointillist delicacy.

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