Saturday, November 5, 2011
Although David Lang is known for his fearless innovation and daring experiments, a certain amount of introspection and longing is not unknown in his work. His latest album, this was written by hand, to be released by Cantaloupe Music on November 15, is the perfect marriage of the composer's relentless need to expand the forms of classical music and his desire the recover lost memories. The CD is made up of two compositions, the title work "this was written by hand" and "memory pieces", both performed by Andrew Zolinsky. Zolinsky and Lang have a history of collaboration, as Zolinsky gave the first performances of both the works on this disc, as well as the premiere of 'fur,' commissioned by the BBC, and the ensemble works 'how to pray' and 'forced march.'
"this was written by hand" is a 10-minute piece for solo piano. The inspiration for the piece came from the physical process of writing music. "Writing music [used to be] an intensely physical activity," Lang muses in the album's liner notes. "I got my first computer in 1993, and I have not written music with a pencil ever since, but I wonder how - or if - the means of my writing had any effect on the writing itself. I wrote this piano piece to find out." The second part of the release is the eight-sectioned "memory pieces." Each was written to honor a friend of the composer who have passed away. They serve, however, less as monument than as an attempt to enclose a specific memory about the loved one. Lang explains, "Each of these little pieces highlights some aspect of my relationship with each friend. I hope this will help me hold on to these memories just a little while longer."
One of the works on the album, "wed", is at the center of an online contest. The sheet music for "wed" will be available for free here on November 15, and users are invited to download it. Pianists can then post videos of themselves playing the work onto YouTube with the tag "david lang piano competition 2011". After January 1, all of the submissions will be judged by an all-star pianist panel consisting of Vicky Chow, Jeremy Denk, Lisa Moore, Andrew Zolinsky, and the composer himself. The winner will be flown out to New York, and Lang will compose a new work for four hands to be played by him/her and Zolinsky at (le) poisson rouge on May 6. The winner will also play his or her rendition of "wed" at (le) poisson rouge. The full rules can be found here.
The contest is an attempt to recreate a lost part of classical music. Lang says, "One of the things I have always loved about piano music is that for a long time it was the most democratic part of the classical music world. In the 19th century--the glory years of classical music--if you wanted to hear music in your home you would have to play it yourself, and many people became acquainted with famous operas or symphonies only from the piano transcriptions that they could play themselves, in their own homes.
Good pianists, bad pianists, amateur pianists, virtuosi - anyone interested in the music found out about it by playing it, or at least trying to. When I put the pieces together on this disc I started wondering if there were some way to engage that same wide range of listeners and performers and abilities, so I thought up this contest. Of course I hope that some people will submit their videos, but what makes me most excited is the hope that many more people will download the free sheet music and play the piece themselves. That makes me really happy."