Barbara Lieurance for GBHConcerts

A Salon Concert Review of
Inside the Piano – Outside the Box with Barbara Lieurance, piano
By Frank E. Warren

Presented by:  Greater Boston House Concerts
Aaron Larget-Caplan, Director
15 September 2012 • Season 2

Whether one plays inside the piano, or lives outside the box, Ms. Lieurance presented a truly musical event.  It seemed too, that the intimacy of the Greater Boston House Concerts, combined with Ms. Lieurance’s  natural charm, created the perfect atmosphere for this program of “modern” piano music.  The evening was so great, it is difficult to know where to begin.  So, we’ll talk first about Greater Boston House Concerts.

There's more than one way...to play a piano

Barbara Lieurance

Founded by Boston Conservatory and UMass-Boston classical guitarist Aaron Larget-Caplan in 2011, Greater Boston House Concerts (www.GBHConcerts.com) presents monthly, salon-style programs, open to the public.  With the expert assistance of Caroline Larget and Catherine Larget-Caplan, the house is transformed into the perfect balance of a casual social evening,  and a music program of the highest professional level.  In Upham’s Corner in Dorchester, this beautiful 1885 Queen Anne Victorian home has the open space to seat 40 or more people comfortably, and it appeared to be a full house for this event.  Each concert is between one and two hours duration, followed by an informative question and answer session led by Mr. Larget-Caplan, and of course a Meet-The-Artist reception.  In polling the audience, it was a pleasant discovery to find a good percentage of the folks who lived in the neighborhood, while others came in from the suburbs and other parts of Boston.  There were as many non-musicians as musicians in every age category, and academics as well as tradesmen – a true salon experience.   This 1885 house has truly re-discovered a magical time in history.

Known for her innovative performances and her daring programming, Barbara Lieurance brings new music to concerts halls (and parlors) throughout  North America and Europe.  She has been a special guest artist at the Banff  Centre in Alberta, Canada, with the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, performed two tours with the Keys to Music program, bringing avant-garde music to hundreds of school children in Michigan, and was invited to perform  a full recital in celebration of the Swiss composer, Meinrad Schutter.  She is also a founding member of the new music trio, Antares Project.

For the GBHC presentation, Ms. Lieurance built her program around a C. Curtis-Smith composition entitled: Rhapsodies, written in 1973. When discussing the music on the program,  she raised the following points: These Rhapsodies are the first compositions (we know in modern times) written for bowed-piano – an effect where nylon line is pulled along the piano strings to create new sounds, there are four movements that all borrow titles from the Ordre, of François Couperin (1668-1733), recognized as the first French composer to write keyboard compositions of lasting significance, and in her study of the Rhapsodies, finding suggestions that  the music of Prof. Curtis-Smith is highly influenced by the sound and gestures of French Impressionism.

Greater Boston House Concerts

There were five compositions on the program, two were performed strictly on the keys, and three very much performed inside the piano sound box.  The order in which these compositions were presented  framed the featured work beautifully while allowing each piece to “live” in its own time.  The overall balance of the full program was quite perfect and extremely satisfying.  It seems the entire audience shared in this opinion.

Relaxing post-concert

To link with the French Impressionist concept alluded to earlier, the program started with Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune, a well-known work to music audiences.  A fine selection, as it settled the listeners for upcoming events.  Ms. Lieurance’s performance was perhaps a little slower than we might be accustomed to hearing yet, the phrasing and nuance of her interpretation allowed the tempo to enhance, rather than distract from the lovely and familiar tune.  From this point on, she had captured the willing audience…

The next composition, Sonata, by Russian composer Sofia Gubaidalina (b. 1931) can be described as powerful, virtuosic, and sometimes “jazzy.”  As the performer points out, it is music that requires hearing more than one time, to best appreciate its complexities.  In three movements (the first two connected), and the fast-slow-fast defining of movements, the piece is identifiably what I might call a post-Beethoven sonata in form.  The first two movements make heavy use of varying techniques for playing Inside the Piano, while the last movement is virtually performed all on the keyboard, introducing more clearly the composer’s concepts regarding Jazz harmony and rhythm.  As throughout the entire program, Ms. Lieurance performs this music with full truth.

After such an energetic piece, it is always nice to “cool down” with something that is a little more relaxing.  Ms. Lieurance does this, while keeping to the program idea of the avant-garde with a John Cage piece, Dream, from 1948, and written for Merce Cunningham.  In some respects I found this music to link more closely with the Debussy.  It would be interesting to know if that was the performer’s intention?  Either way, her choice shows much insight for excellent programming, and understanding of audience/participation.  For those unfamiliar with this work, it is in every sense of the word “traditional.”  As the title implies, it is a dream piece, for the most part running up and down minor scales.  It is affective music, and served its purpose well.

Prepared Piano

Up next is what most of the audience came to hear – and see – whatever it is that is called Bowed piano!  Like any prepared piano, this has the added effect of drawing nylon line across the strings.  The composition is in four movements (with the Couperin reference), each becoming more involved with the inside of the piano, until the keyboard is almost entirely ignored by the last movement.  In this space, with the available piano, some adjustments were required for resetting the “bows” between movements.  This necessity in one sense made it difficult to find any continuity from one movement to another.  On the other hand, it provided a nice opportunity to meet the wonderful people sitting next to us!

Sometimes when listening to a piece for the first time, it is hard to determine whether we are understanding the composer better or, if the music is simply getting better as it goes along?  All kidding aside, my sense was that the composer was exploring in this composition, and it finally came together in the last movement.  With a few more hearings my understanding might become more detailed yet, even in the program notes it says, “… a journey that parallels that of the exploring composer;…”  What is clear is that Ms. Lieurance has worked with this music for a long time, enjoys bringing it to the public, and firmly believes in its value.  The skill with which she conjures various sounds from within the piano is a fascinating pleasure, one that this listener will surely explore more deeply, and look forward to hearing more often.

The performer’s interest in this concept has grown to the point that she’s commissioned selected composers to write new music specifically for bowed piano and, she plans to make archival recordings of each project.  The first composer she commissioned, John Oliver (b. 1959) of Vancouver, BC, wrote Meditation for Barbara, which is the music she uses to close the program.  It is a beautiful piece in one movement, about six minutes in length, through composed yet, closely resembling a simple song form.  What is most striking is that within all this exploration of sound… shape and proportion remain the most important elements.  It is not possible to imagine that this music could have been performed any better than what we heard this evening.  Every type of mood, expression, articulation, dynamic, phrasing, you name it, was brought out by Ms. Lieurance – in a way that we understood – the music was most important.  No doubt, this woman will leave a lasting, and positive mark on the landscape of 21st Century music.  She may be Out of the Box yet, she IS in step with the music.

Post Concert peak Inside the Box (piano)

After the music, the audience was invited to look Inside the Piano while she informatively answered every question.  One bit of information that Ms. Lieurance shared that was not lost on anyone in the audience was; “…with everything going on inside the piano, the most important aspect is to know the instrument is safe.  Any time a new idea is introduced, I speak with the piano technician.  If we agree it is safe, OK.  Otherwise we find an alternative approach, in order to preserve the piano.”  Outside the Box must mean With responsibility!

Any opportunity you have to hear Ms. Lieurance, attend a Greater Boston House Concert activity, or do both, this writer recommends that you mark it on your calendar.  This performance was a memorable experience.

________   Frank E. Warren

Is a Composer, Publisher and Educator based in Boston.
fewpub@juno.com • http://FEW-Music.com

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