Performance Friday, March 11, 2011 | 7:30 PM

Brad Mehldau and Friends

Piano Power

Zankel Hall
This year’s composer-in-residence showcases the instrument that made him a jazz star. Mehldau performs selections from Andres’s Shy and Mighty, joined by the composer on the piano, and a two-piano work by Patrick Zimmerli with Kevin Hays. There is also a world premiere of Mehldau’s own Rock ‘n’ Roll Dances Nos. 3 and 4, a Carnegie Hall commission.
Back to Event Details
Print Program Notes


Modern Music

A talented saxophonist with a doctorate in composition, Zimmerli is equally at home with the jazz and contemporary classical idioms. His works often reveal fluid boundaries between the two genres, featuring improvisation and bop-inflected melodies, while also being highly influenced by classical forms and orchestration.

The two works presented tonight are in this sense quintessential Zimmerli works. Modern Music revolves around a Steve Reich–inspired vamp that is soon subjected to jazz-like gestures and eventually gives way to improvised solos. The overall structure of the work—in which two iterations of a theme bookend a contrasting, improvisation-based middle section—is common to jazzers as “head-solo-head” form, while the classical world would simply call it “ternary” form. Perhaps conscious of the fact that synthesizing a single work out of distinct styles is a time-honored tradition, Zimmerli has noted that the term “modern music” does not even actually refer to music being written today, and that the title expresses a sort of willful naïveté.

Generatrix, which takes its name from an obscure (and withdrawn) orchestral piece by Milton Babbitt, uses a pointillistic line reminiscent of that composer’s pioneering works as a jumping-off point. While a complex meter dominates (alternating between 21/8, 14/8, 7/8, and 4/4), the music is grounded by a repeating jazz-like harmony, and before long the pianists “trade twos” (alternate two-measure solos) in bluesy improvisation. The coda, firmly established in 4/4 meter and repeating an eight-measure harmonic phrase ad libitum, offers a much-needed sense of release.
—Jacob Cooper © 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation


Selections from Shy and Mighty

Andres first presented Shy And Mighty as his senior composition project at Yale College in 2007, releasing it on Nonesuch as his debut album last year. The work is scored for two pianos and consists of 10 movements, three of which will be performed this evening.

A nocturnal walk serves as the setting for “The night jaunt,” one of the first movements in the set. It is structured in a loose arch form: tranquil, floating material with an E-major tonality (seasoned by the “flat 6” C-natural) begins and ends the work, while in between, the rhythmic and harmonic activity gradually build up and recede. Andres has acknowledged that the smooth repeating arpeggiations and the prolonged harmonies express a debt to John Adams, whose landmark solo piano work Phrygian Gates he was learning at the time of composition.

“How can I live in your world of ideas?” takes its name from a cartoon by Andres (in addition to being a highly talented musician, he is also a gifted artist) in which a young penguin, visiting a museum with his parents, gazes at a painting of a naked woman and poses this question. The composer has explained the caption thus: “I feel like I’m often attracted to the surface qualities of art, to the exclusion of any intended deeper meaning or purpose that the artist may have in mind. So the question is partly about that frustration—here I am presenting myself as an artist, yet I have no authority.”

One piano launches the movement with a recurring “dark and funky” line in the bass register, upon which the other piano eventually layers quotes from the works of great Romantic masters like Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin—music that one might imagine causes a modern-day composer to feel humbled in a world of ideas. The two pianos seem to be on different pages throughout the movement, a concept most clearly manifested near the end, when one mechanically proceeds through 16th notes and the other sustains chords without regard for the tempo.

The title of the third selection being performed this evening is a nod to Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess), but the “compositeur” is Donald Martino, who had passed away shortly before Andres wrote this work. Martino’s music seemed to be ubiquitous at the time, to the point of infiltrating Andres’s thoughts and even sneaking its way into this composition. Ethereal quotes from piano works by the “compositeur défunt” are juxtaposed with (and subverted by) confident gospel-inspired music that features a sustained E-flat bass and simple harmonies.
—Jacob Cooper © 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

JEROME KERN (1885–1945)

“All the Things You Are”

“All the Things You Are” stands out in tonight’s concert as a jazz standard among a flock of new works. A staple in the jazz repertoire and the prototypical introduction to “circle-of-fifths” progressions for beginning improvisers, it is indeed the only piece on the program that is at least as well known as the composer who wrote it. But do not expect anything ordinary from this version by Mehldau and Hays. They are known for playing it at a rapid tempo in 7/4 time and for creating a web of multiple melodies around the theme, allowing their virtuosity to shine.
—Jacob Cooper © 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

KEVIN HAYS (b. 1965)


Hays was studying Portuguese when he wrote this two-piano composition four years ago, and its title adopts the language’s word for “lament.” Since the dawn of notated music, a lament has conventionally featured a falling melody, symbolically representing an emotional descent into grief or a physical descent into the grave. Not so with this piece; while no doubt underpinned by a minor-mode mournful character, Elegia is permeated by a melodic and harmonic sense of rising. Each time the main theme appears, it is transposed up a step, beginning in the key of G and ultimately reaching C. The closing melodic utterance floats upward, as a final declaration of openness. The intertwined presence of sorrow and levity is inspired by Hays’s desire to capture an element of the Brazilian soul, which, he writes, “always strikes me as simultaneously expressing a deep melancholy and a profound joy.”
—Jacob Cooper © 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

BRAD MEHLDAU (b. 1970)

Rock ’n’ Roll Dance No. 3 (World Premiere, commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
Rock ’n’ Roll Dance No. 4 (World Premiere, commissioned by Carnegie Hall)

Mehldau’s album Highway Rider, released last year to rave reviews, represented his first foray into writing long-form, chamber-style works. The in-progress set of Rock ’n’ Roll Dances—scored for voice, six reeds (saxophones doubling with flute and clarinet), and two pianos—continues in this vein. The inspiration for the dances comes from the classical dance suite. Just as a composer like Bach would generate material in a suite from standard Baroque dances like the Sarabande or Gigue, Mehldau uses rock-inflected grooves as the rhythmic basis for these works. While several of the dances have been sketched out, Nos. 3 and 4 are the first to be fully realized.

No. 3 is a rondo, returning to the opening piano groove in 7/4 meter numerous times. In between, Mehldau allows for much variety, including episodes of layered hand-clapping, a heavily chromatic passage in parallel motion, and extemporaneous solos on the soprano sax (by Joshua Redman) and voice (Becca Stevens). As is the case with all of the Rock ’n’ Roll Dances, the voice does not sing any predetermined text, but is used only as an instrumental color. The tempo is a blistering 240 beats per minute throughout.

Like the third dance, No. 4 opens with a theme in the piano before expanding to the other instruments. The texture continues to oscillate, at several points whittling down to a single piano only to grow outward again to the entire ensemble. After the last occurrence of expansion features a solo by Mehldau, a tutti passage blares forth “like a heavy metal army marching.” An episode of improvised cacophony ensues, and in the following climactic section all the reeds play tenor sax at a forte dynamic, creating what Mehldau has affectionately and enthusiastically called a “kind of dumb-assed, huge sound.” As if no act could top this, the work closes with the two pianos sustaining delicate chords.

Asked if he actually intended these pieces to be danced to, either by professionals on stage or amateurs at home, Mehldau replied, “I could imagine that people might want to dance to some of this. I dance a lot to all sorts of stuff—symphonic music, jazz, metal.” What a pity he is tied to the piano for the entire concert.
—Jacob Cooper © 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Brad Mehldau is holder of the 2010-2011 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall.
This concert is made possible, in part, by the A.L. and Jennie L. Luria Foundation.
This performance is part of Chamber Sessions III.

Part of