Sonorous Brushes

July 28, 2018

For some musicians, every note has its own hue. Others find that certain phrases taste bitter, or feel rough. For Jenny Q Chai, a pianist whose dazzling facility is matched by her deep musicality, some pieces explode with “strong colors and light,” phenomena that she learned to re-create in pigment during a residency at the Cité des Arts, in Paris.

 

For some musicians, every note has its own hue. Others find that certain phrases taste bitter, or feel rough. For Jenny Q Chai, a pianist whose dazzling facility is matched by her deep musicality, some pieces explode with “strong colors and light,” phenomena that she learned to re-create in pigment during a residency at the Cité des Arts, in Paris. Fergus McIntosh

Review: The Pianist Jenny Q Chai, Evoking Chopin Without His Work

January 11, 2016

The dynamic Chinese-American pianist Jenny Q Chai has gained attention for unconventional programs that combine piano pieces, live electronics and video imagery, like the one she presented on Sunday afternoon at Le Poisson Rouge, intriguingly titled “Where Is Chopin?”

 

The program, the second in Ms. Chai’s Piano Steampunk series, began with “Oli’s Dream,” a work for piano and computer projections by the composer Jaroslaw Kapuscinski, though many people in the audience might not have known what was being played. A description of the “Where Is Chopin?” program, with a list of works to be performed, was available in advance on the Poisson Rouge website. But no programs were passed out. And Ms. Chai did not speak to the audience to explain, for example, why “Where Is Chopin?” included no piece by that classic composer.

 

Mr. Kapuscinski, who was born in Warsaw and teaches composition at Stanford University, writes works in which the playing of instruments influences live multimedia content, as in “Oli’s Dream.” The piano dominated this 15-minute piece, which unfolds in quizzical episodes: stretches of lacy filigree, jittery riffs, oscillating repetitive chords and chorale-like passages that suggest Messiaen. The projected images mostly involved letters and words that kept reforming into fragments, like: “I am a,” “a not her,” “another.”

 

Ms. Chai then turned to nine selections from Schumann’s popular piano suite “Carnaval.” By not providing a written or spoken introduction, she didn’t make it easy for those who didn’t know the piece to understand why, for example, a dreamy piece called “Eusebius” was followed by the restless “Florestan.” Surely many in the audience were unaware that Eusebius was Schumann’s name for the pensive, poetic side of his personality, while he called his hotheaded half Florestan. Still, Ms. Chai played all the excerpts vividly, especially her bouncy, lilting account of “Reconnaissance.”

 

After a break, she played Mr. Kapuscinski’s “Where Is Chopin?,” created in 2010 for the composer’s bicentennial. The composer takes fragments, motifs, chords and other details from Chopin’s Preludes (Op. 28) and uses them as elements in a series of his own pieces: fractured, eerie works that come across like contemporary ruminations on the Chopin preludes, heightened with hazy, whooshing electronic sounds. The projected images included collections of peoples’ faces in close-ups, urban scenes from various cities and more. Alas, toward the end, the Poisson Rouge projector went dead, so Ms. Chai skipped the final two pieces and went straight to her concluding work: “Chopin,” Schumann’s tribute to the composer from “Carnaval.”

 

As an encore, she played a work by the composer Marco Stroppa, introducing it with some perceptive spoken comments. If only she had begun the whole program that way.

Classical Music & Opera Listings for Jan. 8-14

January 7, 2016

Opera

‘Anna Bolena’ (Saturday) The formidable soprano Sondra Radvanovsky brings impressive coloratura technique, earthy sound and intense expressivity to the title role of Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena,” in a revival of David McVicar’s 2011 production that wraps up this weekend. It is the first installment in Ms. Radvanovsky’s ambitious project to sing all three of Donizetti’s Tudor Queens this season as the Met. (“Maria Stuarda” is up next, at the end of January.) The strong cast includes the mezzo-soprano Jaime Barton as Jane Seymour and the tenor Stephen Costello as Lord Percy. Marco Armiliato conducts. At 1 p.m., Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, 212-362-6000, metopera.org. (Anthony Tommasini)

 

‘La Bohème’ (Saturday and Wednesday) Franco Zeffirelli’s colorful fairground ride of a production returns with a new cast led by the soprano Maria Agresta and the tenor Bryan Hymel as the ill-fated pair of lovers. The soprano Susanna Phillips is Musetta; Dan Ettinger conducts. Saturday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, 212-362-6000, metopera.org. (Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim)

 

‘The Pearl Fishers’ (Friday and Tuesday) Bizet’s overlooked early opera “The Pearl Fishers,” which had not been presented at the Metropolitan Opera in a century, can now be seen in an intensely dramatic production that could be the sleeper hit of the season. The director Penny Woolcock has sensitively updated the story from ancient Ceylon to an unspecified Asian country today, set in a coastal shantytown where villages both depend upon the sea and fear its power. The dream cast includes the tenor Matthew Polenzani as Nadir and the baritone Mariusz Kwiecien as Zurga, fisherman who have been friends since childhood; the soprano Diana Damrau plays Leila, the Hindu priestess who comes between them. Gianandrea Noseda conducts an urgent and colorful performance. Friday and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., Lincoln Center, 212-362-6000, metopera.org. (Tommasini)

 

Prototype Festival (through Jan. 17) What is opera? And what is it capable of? This ultra feisty, young festival, now in its fourth season, has become the best testing ground for these questions. The current crop of experimental works presented in spaces across Manhattan and Brooklyn include: The highly acclaimed opera “Dog Days” by the composer David T. Little and the librettist Royce Vavrek; the human-trafficking drama “Angel’s Bone” by the composer Du Yun and Mr. Vavrek; “The Good Swimmer,” billed as “part Requiem, part lifesaving drill,” by the composer Heidi Rodewald and the librettist Donna Di Novelli; and “The Last Hotel” by Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh. Three other shows, “Saga,” “Bombay Rickey” and “La Reina,” promise a potent mix of global narrative and musical traditions. At various times and locations; a full schedule is at prototypefestival.org. (da Fonseca-Wollheim)

 

‘Turandot’ (Monday and next Friday) Three Turandots have so far succumbed to the charms, such as they are, of Calàf at the Met this season. Now the great Nina Stemme becomes the fourth, stepping into Franco Zeffirelli’s resplendent production for the first of a half-dozen performances this month. Performers in the roles of Calaf (Marco Berti) and Liù (Anita Hartig) are both new to the run, but the conductor Paolo Carignani remains on the rostrum. Monday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, 212-362-6000, metopera.org. (David Allen)

Classical Music

Bargemusic (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) Violins take the spotlight at this floating concert hall this weekend with Johnny Gandelsman reprising his lithe and gracefully vulnerable interpretation of the complete sonatas and partitas for solo violin on Saturday and Sunday. Friday’s New World program, performed by Mark and Maggie O’Connor, features Mr. O’Connor’s arrangements of music from the Appalachians to Argentina. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 4 p.m., Bargemusic, Fulton Ferry Landing, next to the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn, 800-838-3006, bargemusic.org. (da Fonseca-Wollheim)

 

Jenny Q Chai (Sunday) This thoughtful pianist narrates and performs a multimedia program that explores the relationship between the piano and electronics. She will play pieces by Schumann and Chopin, as well as Jaroslaw Kapuscinski’s “Where is Chopin?” — a work for Disklavier piano, stereo sound and visual projection. At 3:30 p.m., Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, near Thompson Street, Greenwich Village, 212-505-3474, lepoissonrouge.com. (Vivien Schweitzer)

 

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (Thursday) Ideally, chamber music should be performed in chambers, that is, intimate spaces where you can experience the music up close. The Rose Studio at Lincoln Center is one such place. The Chamber Music Society’s next Rose Studio Concert offers works by Bridge, Penderecki and Mendelssohn. Performers include the violinists Sean Lee and Danbi Um; the violists Paul Neubauer and Richard O’Neill; and the cellist Mihai Marica. At 6:30 p.m., 212-875-5788, chambermusicsociety.org. (Tommasini)

 

Ensemble Pamplemousse (Saturday) Judging by the titles of the works offered by this group of composer-performers, there will be an unpredictable element to the lineup, which includes Chris Bailey’s “Composition for S#!++\/ Piano With Drum Samples, Concrete Sounds and Processing” and Cathy van Eck’s “Wings” for three performers, feedback and movable foam boards. At 8 p.m., Jack, 505 ½ Waverly Avenue, near Fulton Street, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, jackny.org. (Schweitzer)

 

Juilliard ChamberFest (Monday through Jan. 16) ChamberFest is an intense way to spend the end of a winter break for Juilliard students: oodles of rehearsal time, constant coaching, evening performances. The first of seven concerts features Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat,” Ligeti’s “Hommage á Brahms,” and Mendelssohn’s Piano Sextet in D (Monday at 7:30 p.m., Paul Hall, Lincoln Center). Further details and the rest of the week’s programs are available at juilliard.edu/chamberfest2016. (Allen)

 

New York Philharmonic (Friday, Saturday and Tuesday) The powerful bass-baritone Eric Owen and the soprano Heidi Melton headline a program of extracts from Wagner’s “Die Walküre” (including the famous equestrian romp) and orchestral lied selections by Strauss (Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.) And on Saturday, at 2 p.m., the program includes Grieg’s String Quartet and Sibelius’s Symphony No. 4. Alan Gilbert conducts. David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, 212-875-5656, nyphil.org. (da Fonseca-Wollheim)

 

Lisette Oropesa (Tuesday and Wednesday) Accompanied by the pianist John Churchwell in the Park Avenue Armory’s intimate, luxuriant Board of Officers Room, this excellent lyric coloratura soprano will showcase her alluring voice in a program of Spanish art song and selections by Handel, Schumann and Fauré. At 7:30 p.m., 643 Park Avenue, at 67th Street, 212-933-5812, armoryonpark.org. (Schweitzer)

 

Philadelphia Orchestra (Thursday) Music written after World War II makes it into a Philadelphia Orchestra program for the one and only time this season at Carnegie Hall: HK Gruber’s “Charivari” rounds out an evening of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 (with the cultured young pianist Jan Lisiecki); Mahler’s arrangement of Beethoven’s “Serioso” string quartet; and a Strauss waltz. At 8 p.m., Stern Auditorium, 212-247-7800, carnegiehall.org. (Allen)

 

Quatuor Danel (Sunday) This Brussels based ensemble makes its New York debut with a program featuring Tchaikovsky’s Quartet No. 1, Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 5 and the Quartet in B-flat by Mieczyslaw Weinberg, the 20th century Russian composer whose music has been given a well-deserved renaissance in recent years. At 5 p.m., Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street, Manhattan, 212-288-0700, frick.org; sold out. (Schweitzer)

 

Peter Takács (Thursday) The pianist Peter Takács, a Beethoven specialist who has been exploring the composer’s works from all periods, ends the series in a program offering latter works. With the violinist Soovin Kim, he plays the Violin Sonata No. 10 (Op. 96), and with the tenor Virgil Hartinger he performs the song cycle “An die ferne Geliebte.” On his own Mr. Takács plays Beethoven’s last piano sonata (No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111) and the Six Bagatelles (Op. 126). At 7:30 p.m., Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, 212-247-7800, carnegiehall.org. (Tommasini)

 

VIA Ferus Festival (Thursday) This festival of new music, run by VisionIntoArt, is now in its third season. On opening night there are two performances: Early in the evening, the composer-vocalist Agata Zubel joins the cellist Jeffrey Zeigler and the artist Ashley Robicheaux for her opera-ballet “Between”; later, there’s a recital from the saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh. At 7 and 9:30 p.m., National Sawdust, 80 North Sixth Street, at Wythe Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 646-779-8455, nationalsawdust.org. (Allen)

A Piano, an iPad, a Mirror: Tools for a Modern Recital

November 5, 2012

In recent years the piano recital format has become more flexible. While many performers stick to the standard recipe of large-scale sonatas, multimovement pieces and oft-heard shorter works, others, like the pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard and David Greilsammer, might juxtapose a dozen smaller pieces by composers as varied as Cage and Chopin, Scarlatti and Stockhausen.

 

The Chinese-born 29-year-old American pianist Jenny Q Chai, who has studied with Mr. Aimard, is following the more eclectic path, as demonstrated by her program on Sunday evening at Le Poisson Rouge. She told the small audience that because of Hurricane Sandy she had barely been able to make it back to New York from China in time for the event.

 

Ms. Chai wore a pale blue gown with satin top and billowing skirt for the first half of the program and a slinky dress and black high-heeled boots for the second half. A small mirror tucked into the back of each dress reflected light against the wall. She used an iPad instead of paper scores, a fast-growing trend on the concert stage. (An increasing number of professional pianists have begun to use music in solo recitals, bucking the unfair dictum that pianists should perform only from memory.)

 

Ms. Chai opened her program with an atmospheric rendition of Satie’s “Three Gymnopédies,” followed by a thoughtfully conceived interpretation of Schoenberg’s Three Piano Pieces (Op. 11), about which the composer wrote that he had “no formal, architectural or other artistic intentions (except perhaps of capturing the mood of a poem), no aesthetic intentions.” Ms. Chai played two Scarlatti sonatas with a deft, light touch and concluded the first half of the program with the multilayered textures of “Innige Cavatina” by the Italian composer Marco Stroppa.

 

The second part of the program opened with John Cage’s “Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs,” in which she gently tapped rhythms on the closed piano lid and sang an enigmatic melody. The postintermission highlights were André Boucourechliev’s rambunctious “Orion III,” with its crashing chords, rumbling bass and misty interludes, and the Barcarole from Nils Vigeland’s “Life Sketches.” A descending motif in the upper register meshed with prepared piano notes in the lower register to create an eerie canvas.

 

The least convincing part of the program was the standard repertory, with stilted interpretations of Chopin’s Barcarole and “Child Falling Asleep,” the penultimate movement from Schumann’s “Kinderszenen.”

 

Ms. Chai sounded back in her element with the whispered vocals of the encore, Victoria Jordanova’s “Prayer.”

Jenny Q Chai’s Smart, Intuitive Carnegie Hall Debut

REVIEWS

May 18, 2020

Pianist Jenny Q Chai’s Carnegie Hall debut last night was expertly programmed and packed with joie de vivre: she played as if she had a secret and couldn’t wait to share it with everybody. Her approach to a mix of premieres, 20th and 21st century compositions and an old High Romantic concert favorite matched fearsome technique to a confidently matter-of-fact emotional intelligence. When the material called for space, she let it linger, most notably (and amusingly) in one of the world premieres, Inhyun Kim’s Parallel Lines, a playfully rigorous study in parallelistic close harmonies punctuated by a Day in the Life-style sustained pause.

 

The joke going around the hall was that Chai could have rubatoed it if she’d wanted to. And when she had to reach back for all the power and precision she could muster, whether for the cruelly difficult machine-gun staccato passages of Marco Stroppa’s Innige Cavatina (a US premiere), or the torrid, torrential rivulets of Debussy’s Etude No. 6, she awed the crowd with what seemed to be an effortless articulacy.

 

Yet despite the pyrotechnics, it was Chai’s sensitivity to color, timbre and emotion that resonated the most. She nailgunned the stratospherically high notes in Ashley Fu-tsun Wang’s Current (another world premiere), but let the murky, contrasting depths speak for themselves. It was arguably the high point of the night, icily misty tonalities in a rather Rachmaninovian architecture, alternating between spacious minimalism and jaunty flair. And when Chai reached the final variation on the opening theme, she let it go out on a quietly brooding note which packed quite a wallop.

 

Messiaen’s Canteyodjaya was a mixed bag: Chai handled its herky-jerky, explosive clusters with aplomb and then seemed to revel in its low, stalking basslines, one of the piece’s high points: it could have been a hit single, so to speak, if Messiaen had only edited it down to the juicy passages. And even a wardrobe malfunction didn’t distract Chai from from expertly negotiating the juxtaposition between jarring dissonance and comfortable resonance in a couple of Kurtag miniatures, Quiet Talk with the Devil and Les Adieux, both selections from his Jaketok suite.

 

After all this harshness, Schumann’s Kreisleriana was dessert, and Chai played it as as bittersweet reminscence rather than nostalgia: her phrasing throughout it, whether the rivulets of the main theme, the stately requiem of sorts, or the closing waltz, was judiciously terse, a fitting elegy for Schumann’s old friend from literature. The crowd roared for an encore and got two: the first, an unfamiliar, fluid miniature that would have made a good theme for the PBS special Springtime in Alaska (or the equivalent), the second a John Cage vocal number that she tapped out on the piano lid as she sang.

Closing Evening - Concert by Jenny Q Chai & WYVE

May 18, 2020

As part of PLAY ME, I’M YOURS 2017

On the occasion of the last Play Me concert, I’m Yours 2017, we invite you to 88 Ménilmontant, the new ephemeral place of La Bellevilloise to celebrate the end of this 6 th edition. On the program, Jenny Q Chai & WYVE!

 

Jenny Q Chai:

Pianist Jenny Q Chai is a performer renowned for highlighting the relationships between music from different eras. With her zest for life and her intense energy, she develops multimedia programs and performances that explore science, nature, fashion and the arts by mixing them with music. As the New York Times pointed out: “Jenny Q Chai, who was the student of Pierre-Laurent Aimard, pursues a very eclectic path”.

Combining a spontaneous understanding of new music with a deep knowledge of the classical repertoire, Jenny has a particular affinity for Schumann, Scarlatti, Beethoven, Bach, Debussy and Ravel and is a popular interpreter of works by masters of the 20th century such as Cage, Messiaen and Ligeti. Over the course of her career, she has developed solid relationships with a number of renowned contemporary composers, including Marco Stroppa, Jaroslaw Kapuściński and György Kurtág.

Among the important moments of his career we must mention, among many others, his debut at Carnegie Hall in 2012, numerous concerts at Poisson Rouge, including a program using Antescofo, Where is Chopin? ; conferences and recitals at the Symphony Hall in Shanghai; his participation in the program of the Leo Brouwer Festival in Havana …

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JQChai/
Website: https://www.jennychai.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jennyQchai
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jennyqchai/?hl=fr

 

Jenny’s movie – contemporary pianist Jenny Q Chai

 

WYVE:

It all starts with a birth, an abyssal wave that inhabits you and transports you between light and mist. With “Birth” (March 17, 2017, Modulor) the Ile-de-France duo WYVE, created in 2015, signs a first dreamlike opus.

Noticed by OUI FM, supported by Rock & Folk and TSUGI, they provide the first part of Cocoon the day after their album release.

With common influences like AaRON, The XX or Woodkid, the duo and their auroral pop seduce with nuance and elegance.

Immersion in a stellar region remains total, one would almost lose the notion of time.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wyvemusic/
Website: http://wyvemusic.com/
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/wyvemusic
Twitter: https://twitter.com/WYVETHEBAND
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wyvetheband/?hl=fr

WYVE – Drifting Away

Jenny Q Chai brings Synaesthesia to CNMAT in Berkeley

March 12, 2019

Jenny Q. Chai is a graduate of Curtis Institute and the Manhattan School of Music. She is trained as a pianist but she is in the process of expanding that role somewhat. Chai is one of an unusual group of people called “synaesthetes”, that is, people who see sounds and hear colors. Her program tonight is entitled, “Sonorous Brushes”.

I am not a synaesthete and it is most likely that most of the audience was more like me. The actual prevalence of synaesthesia in which stimulation of one sense (such as sound) simultaneously stimulates another sensory or cognitive pathway (such as color or emotion) is estimated to occur in about 4% of the general population (estimates vary). This condition is unusual but is not pathological. The interest or the challenge here is the artist’s attempt to convey her personal synaesthetic perceptions in a way that can be understood by those not similarly wired.

Chai spoke eloquently about her research to the audience.

The program was divided into sections. In the first Chai performed some mostly conventional repertoire from the early twentieth century namely Debussy, Ravel, Messiaen. The four Debussy pieces with which Ms. Chai opened this recital (two etudes, “Pour les huits doigts” and “Pour les quartes” and preludes 11 and 12 from book 2) left absolutely and no doubt as to and the artist’s virtuosity and interpretive skills. She then launched into a Ravel homage by one Frederic Durieux followed by Ravel’s Oiseaux Tristes and a truly athletic Messiaen piece. Understandably these pieces inspired visual creations by this artist and seemed to be the seed for her ongoing research.

It is curious and somehow very fitting that this musical exploration begin with music that was inspired by the visual. Impressionism was pretty much paralleled by the music which appears to have been inspired by the visual art, an early argument for synaesthesia. There is little doubt that many artists (and non-artists) have had this condition for better or worse but it is likely that such unusual perceptions would have been classified as pathological and not the topic of polite conversation back in the 19th century and before.

On this night it would be not merely a topic of conversation but an introduction to research which began with a grant Chai received from the French government for research into synaesthesia and presenting these ideas to a wider audience. Far from pathology, this could even be seen as a deficit in those who lack this ability. The key then is to explore synaesthesia as a potential asset. Of course a complete and detailed explanation was not the goal of the evening. This was to whet our appetites.

This next part of the program involved the work of Jarosław Kapuściński (Warsaw, 1964-) whose two pieces were slated for the last portion of the program. He is, since 2016, the chair of the music department at Stanford University and no doubt spends time with CCRMA (Stanford’s equivalent of CNMAT) investigating music, sound and computers. He spoke of being inspired by a calligrapher who was also well known to Ms. Chai, a Chinese woman and master calligrapher named Shanshan Zhao (the film was done at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music). While he did not go into great detail the composer basically shared his visual inspirations and spoke a bit about how his composition program “listens” to the performer (see the photo with the two mikes inside the piano below) and responds in some way. This sounds like another chapter in the book which includes David Behrman’s early computer/performer interactive experiments. Some 50 years later (this piece, “Calligraphies for Ziqi” is from 2018 and got its US premiere here tonight). Another generation shows its expertise.


Composer Jarosław Kapuściński explains some of the technology behind his compositions and the visual art that accompanied these performances.

Chai playing the interactive piano part to the visuals in “Calligraphies for Ziqi” (2018), This was the California premiere.

This was followed by another visual/musical collaboration, Side Effects (2017) also by Kapuściński involves music set to videos by Kacper Kowalski who shoots from a perspective 150 meters directly above his subjects. Think a latter day Koyaanisqatsi (do I need to footnote that reference?). Again we see affecting music which captures the composer’s reaction to the visuals. I didn’t get the sense that there was any computer interaction here, just some good music to some stunning visuals.

Chai playing the music to the visuals in “Side Effects” (2017)

The capacity audience (the room capacity is only 49) was very appreciative and gave a standing ovation which compelled no less than two encores. Forgive your reviewer for not being able to recall the first but there seemed to be a new magic afoot when this pianist launched into the second, a wonderful rendition of the aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations. It was a loving and intense interpretation (no doubt full of colors as well) and it left the audience satisfied as a dessert would cap the climax of a fine meal. Brava, Ms. Chai. And thank you Mr. Kapuściński.

5 Questions to Jenny Q Chai (pianist)

January 7, 2019

Jenny Q Chai is a pianist well known for creating unconventional recitals combining live electronics, artificial intelligence technology, environmental research, and fashion. Her upcoming performance, Where Is Chopin?, investigates interactions between piano and electronics through various forms of audio/visual storytelling. The program will feature works by Jaroslaw Kapuscinski alongside Robert Schumann’s Carnaval, aided by multi-screen video projection and the AI program Antescofo.

 

SOME OF THE MUSIC ON THIS PROGRAM MAKES USE OF THE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE PROGRAM ANTESCOFO. CAN YOU EXPLAIN TO US EXACTLY HOW IT WORKS DURING YOUR PERFORMANCE? DO YOU CONSIDER THE INTERACTION WITH ANTESCOFO TO BE A DIALOGUE; THAT IS, YOU RESPOND AS MUCH TO THE PROGRAM AS IT RESPONDS TO YOU?

Antescofo is an AI program invented by scientist Arshia Cont in collaboration with composer Marco Stroppa at Ircam. It is a music following program; there are mics placed inside the piano to catch the sounds I make, then the sound signals are sent to Antescofo. Within milliseconds, Antescofo learns and predicts every following note I’ll be playing. Then it shoots out the according electronic sounds and visuals, which are composed and programmed by the composer. It is like playing with a live electronic musician and a visual artist in the same time. So yes, it is more of a chamber music trio setting.

 

YOUR CONCERT FEATURES JAROSLAW KAPUSCINSKI’S WHERE IS CHOPIN? WHICH WAS ORIGINALLY CREATED AS AN INSTALLATION WITH NO LIVE PERFORMER. HOW DOES YOUR LIVE PERFORMANCE VERSION DIFFER FROM THE WORK’S FIRST ITERATION? WHAT COMPOSITIONAL CHOICES ARE YOU MAKING IN ADDITION TO KAPUSCINSKI’S?

The most fundamental importance Mr. Kapuscinski spoke to me about regarding his music is timing, which also means rubato, the stretching in real time. This is very much in tune with Chopin’s music and performance aesthetic. I believe in interpretation of the moment, looking at all live performances as the Moment Form. The concept is both old and new. I think it was Josef Hofmann who said, “It’s great to play it this way now. But when it’s raining outside, play it differently.”

In other words, I don’t know yet exactly what I will be doing with my interpretations this Sunday at the concert. What I can guarantee will be a version that will never be identical to another, and will be completely truthful of me, in that very moment. The piece Where is Chopin? is constructed of 16 different short movements, with many inspirational quotes from Chopin, reconstructed and reinterpreted in a personal way by the composer. It gives me a lot of room for a contrasting and personalized interpretation.

YOU’VE BEEN KNOWN TO PROGRAM BOTH CANONICAL AND CONTEMPORARY COMPOSITIONS IN A MULTIMEDIA SETTING, EMPLOYING VIDEO OR EVEN THEATRICAL LECTURE. DO YOU CONSIDER INTERDISCIPLINARY PERFORMANCE TO BE A FUNDAMENTAL BRIDGE BETWEEN THESE TWO TYPES OF CLASSICAL MUSIC? IN OTHER WORDS, IS IT NO LONGER ENOUGH TO SIMPLY PROGRAM THE OLD WITH THE NEW ON A RECITAL AS IS?

I’ve never thought just listening to a piece of acoustic music is “not enough.” For me, the world is no longer a binary form, an either/or. I no longer believe in making definitions such as old or new music, visual or acoustic music. We have created too many divisions, borders, boxes for ourselves; like categories such as “Classical Music,” “Western Art Music,” “Modernist Classical Music,” and so on. 

All they do is to stop people from enjoying what it is, which is just music! Alex Ross has written a great article on this topic, starting with the phrase “I hate ‘classical music’: not the thing but the name.” I’d follow by saying:”I hate the term “new music” or “multimedia.” Why don’t we just enjoy a great moment of our lives together, with all our senses?

FASHION PLAYS AN IMPORTANT PART IN YOUR PERFORMANCES; YOU’VE DESIGNED DRESSES FOR YOUR CONCERTS FOR THE PAST THREE YEARS. WHAT CONCEPTS INFORMED YOUR OUTFIT DESIGN FOR THIS CONCERT AND WHAT DO YOU HOPE YOUR AUDIENCE WILL TAKE AWAY FROM IT?

For me music, design, and now painting: everything comes and goes, in constant flux. All senses blend, culminating into an exuberant flow of energy. My design comes from such moments, inspired by the emotions of the music on the program, then becoming one with it. I’ll have two outfits for this concert. The first is inspired by the dreamy quality of the first piece on the program, Kapuscinski’s Oli’s Dream, with an organic flow of nature. In the second, I’ll appear as one of the many people featured in the video portion of Where is Chopin? who revealed their vivid facial expressions while listening to Chopin’s preludes.

YOU SEEM TO HAVE A HYPER AWARENESS OF ALL THE POTENTIAL VISUAL AND AURAL ELEMENTS THAT MIGHT AFFECT AN AUDIENCE MEMBER DURING ONE OF YOUR PERFORMANCES. DO YOU TRY TO MANAGE THE RISK OF OVERSTIMULATION OR DISTRACTION FOR AN AUDIENCE, OR DO YOU LEAVE IT TO THEM TO CHOOSE WHAT TO FOCUS ON AND TAKE IN?
I don’t think my programs and design risk overstimulating or distracting people from experiencing the moment of music. All the elements are created as one, for one purpose, one unity of sensation. It’s an idea sort of close to Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk or Scriabin’s wish to blend in scents and lighting for his music. The visual and aural elements did not exist separately before, and cannot live or work without one another.
In terms of audiences’ reactions: in general, I have become more and more Taoist in approach, as I also studied cognitive science and psychology. Human cognition and the psyche are so interesting and complex, but also highly individual. As Marco Stroppa, said to me, “I drop many keys. It is up to you whichever key you pick up.” Jenny Q Chai will perform Where Is Chopin? at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City this Sunday, January 10th. Tickets can be purchased here. More info about Jenny Q Chai can be found at www.jennychai.com.

Disc review: Jenny Q. Chai, Life Sketches: ‘Piano Music of Nils Vigeland’

October 15, 2014

Nils Vigeland’s is a Buffalo-born and Buffalo-formed career. His father, Hans, was one of Buffalo’s best-known and most pivotal musicians for decades – organist and music director of Westminster Church, teacher and chorus director at the Buffalo Seminary.


The notes on this somewhat forbidding disc of his piano music are happy to tell us Vigeland’s professional debut as a pianist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Lukas Foss and that he later studied with Foss at Harvard and Morton Feldman at the State University at Buffalo. He often conducted Feldman and Cage in New York City.


One of the longer and more inviting pieces on this uncompromising disc is Vigeland’s “Life Sketches” which was composed in memory of Yvar Mikhashoff, longtime pianist and piano professor at UB and one of the great resident figures in Buffalo music.


Writes Vigeland, “Yvar was a person of opposites: publicly gregarious, privately lonely. He loved all things theatrical as well as arcane. A large man, somewhat ungainly, he was an exquisite ballroom dancer.”


Another piece on the disc was inspired by the paintings of Rene Magritte.


Despite such admirable sources, the music on the disc seems rather redolent of opposites too – warm and affectionate sometimes and thorny, distant and rhetorical sometimes.


All the individual pieces are terse. Their totality, said Vigeland, comprises half of his composed music for the piano. Presented in reverse order of composition here, most of the pieces are interesting but as superbly played as it all is by Shanghai pianist Jenny O. Chai, the disc provides almost no coherent portrait of the composer.
– Jeff Simon

In Waves

 June 10, 2013

It’s still so unbelievable and so marvelous, that John Cage would be able to perform such a piece on national television, on a game show! It’s the sort of thing that was not supposed to be possible before the Internet, but there it is, and at the time it was shown there was little chance that the federal government knew who was watching it.


“Water Walk” seems to me to be convivial, like a party, with the same aesthetic values as “Living Room Music,” something that friends should enjoy together in an intimate setting. It can be performed by anyone with the time and equipment to prepare and an inclination for quick thinking and good humor. I think Jenny Q. Chai has most of those qualities, but she’s a busy musician with many demands on her time, and in the living room concert venue, Spectrum, on May 7, she was a little flustered and a little rushed as she checked the running time on her iPhone and moved from object to object. Practicing the piano is one thing, setting up and knocking down all the bric-a-brac on tables, and doing it again and again, is a challenge on time that I don’t image Cage expected many musicians to undertake.


But in the context of the concert, and in the Spectrum setting with books lining the walls and easy chairs and couches, it was a convivial encore, a trick at the end of a good party. The party was a collection of old and new pieces, set together into short suites. Chai is known for her playing and her programs that demolish distinctions between past and present and show that the Western classical tradition is an endless flow, no part of it beyond the reach of any composer or the ears of any listener. The program was called Acqua Alta, the music having in some way to do with water.


She’s not the only musician who does this — most prominently in my mind is Marino Formenti — but she does so without didacticism, which is unusual and compelling. She plays the music with great skill, intelligence and commitment, but she doesn’t belabor her points or our need to hear what she hears, and as a critical listener I have utmost respect for that. I don’t think all the music she played in Aqua Alta was successful, but I was left feeling that everything she played was offered as it should be.


The opening suite sandwiched Kurtag’s “Hommage à Scarlatti,”, a couple Scarlatti Sonatas, and Gibbons’ “The Italian Ground” with premieres from Milica Paranosic and Nils Vigeland. Scarlatti’s are some of the finest keyboard works in the literature, and Chai played them with accuracy and insouciance, an ideal combination. All the older works put the new ones in difficult contrast, their combination of craft and the focussed exploration of controlled ideas set an example that Paranosic’s underdone, programmatic and overlong minimalism couldn’t match, Vigeland’s “I Turisti” sounded great, but the result didn’t match his own description, the composition too clear to encompass the sound of chattering tourists that was somehow supposed to drown out the music.


The large scale piece on the program was a new work from Michael Vincent Waller, “Acqua Santa,” that started modestly but grew into an ambitious and attractive work. Waller’s basic pulse both lengthens and picks up the pace as the music moves along, the structure builds from monophony to homophony, and there’s some of the pleasantly mesmerizing quality of watching waves from the shore. It’s essentially minimal without being minimalist in the repetitive sense, and the appearance of whole-tone scales develops an impressionistic aesthetic that elided nicely with the closing set of pieces: Ravel’s “Une Barque Sur L’océan,” Debussy’s prelude to “La cathédrale engloutie,” and Liszt’s “La lugubre gondola,” finished off with Marco Stroppa’s effective adaptation of a traditional lullaby, “Ninnananna.” This whole stretch of the concert was involving and powerful. While even the most sensitive, intelligent listener has to navigate their way through how a brand new piece should go, it’s easy to hear exceptional Ravel, Debussy and Liszt. Chai is great in this music: she has the technique to pull it off, the power to play it with expression and confidence, and the intelligence to make it coherent and meaningful. There are few musicians who can play both Scarlatti and Liszt naturally and convincingly — Formenti is one, there’s Mikhail Pletnev — and Chai does it. She plays Cage well too, and probably no one but the man himself can pull off “Water Walk.”

UnCage That Pianist!

 May 7, 2013

Milica Paranosic: Bubble (World Premiere)
György Kurtág: Hommage à Scarlatti
Domenico Scarlatti: Two Sonatas
Orlando Gibbons: The Italian Ground
Nils Vigeland: I Turisti (World Premiere)
Michael Vincent Waller: Acqua Santa (World Premiere)
Maurice Ravel: Miroirs: «Une barque sur l’océan»
Claude Debussy: Préludes: «La Cathédrale engloutie»
Franz Liszt: La lugubre gondola
Marco Stroppa: Miniature estrose: «Ninnananna»
John Cage: Water Walk

Jenny Q. Chai (Pianist)
On Manhattan’s most incongruous street, thronged with cool Paris bistros, Chinese dumpling shops, remnants of Russian Jewish markets, 50-flavor ice cream parlors, art galleries, Thai restaurants, a dazzling museum and the hippest clientele, up the steps to the second floor of a 135-year-old synagogue, is the most unlikely concert hall in the city.

 

Audiences in Spectrum lounge on sofas, folding chairs, armchairs or they stand. The dress code includes formal suits, shoeless/sockless feet, Steve Madden loafers, dresses, blouses or saris. They peruse the dense libraries holding everything from the great Alex Ross to the despicable Frances Fukuyama. On the walls are a dozen different guitars, a mandolin, an Indian veena, a Medieval sackbut, a light box and 21st Century electronic gear.

 

As well as a Steinway Grand. And it was the performer on this Grand, introduced as a “ brutal piano monster”, for whom this hip, straight, nerdy, geeky, electro-cool audience piled in last night.

 

Shanghai-born Jenny Q. Chai, internationally renowned for her eclectic choices, with partialities for composers who love to compose for her, is hardly “brutal”. When necessary, she plays Ravel and Debussy with a firm technique and excellent phrasing, albeit a sound which was engulfed by the resonating acoustics of Spectrum. (Her “Engulfed Cathedral” actually did sound like it was bubbling up with infinite overtones, from the depths of some fantasy ocean.)

 

But in a concert devoted to the ecology of water, many had come to hear her final work, John Cage’s rarely performed Water Walk, which was plainly the most boring work on the program.

 

The saving grace was that Water Walk (the title of which Cage had explained, “It has water, and I walk around”) was only about seven minutes long.

 

During those seven minutes, Ms. Chai, dutifully held her stopwatch, blew a few streamers, heated a pressure cooker for the steam, played a few radios (knocked off the table at the grand finale), drank a glass of Campari (hardly the wine which Mr. Cage had specified) and did other things.

 

It had amused a television audience half a century ago, but in the midst of this so vividly interesting apartment and audience, the Cage seemed particularly prosaic.

 

Especially because otherwise Ms. Chai is such an engaging pianist. For the “mainstream” water works, the dimensions of Spectrum may have precluded the mysterious isolation of Ravel’s boat on the ocean, but her technique in this most challenging work was superb. Liszt’s desolate The Gondola in the Funeral (my translation, since Liszt was inspired by a Venetian funeral procession) was given all the mystery which the Ravel lacked. This was Liszt at his most mystical, and the end–actually an infinite pause–was startling.

 

My favorite works were two pieces which not only deconstructed but pulverized familiar songs. One of György Kurtág’s homages, this to Scarlatti, was anything but Scarlattiana. Yet in the tiny piece, one heard bits and pieces of the hunting sonatas, a few notes which could have come from the Master’s works. It was peeking through a keyhole into a dark with a few unexpected flashes. And Ms. Chai solved the mystery right after with two rarely performed Scarlatti sonatas, played with crisp, brightly colored precision. And that was followed by a Gibbons work where Ms. Chai actually came near to imitating a harpsichord.

 

The second deconstruction was Nils Vigeland’s I Turisti, supposedly tourists speaking around two Roman edifices, marked by Three Coins in a Fountain and O Sole Mio. Those tourists were speaking so loudly on the piano, that perhaps my imagination filled in the gaps of those popular songs. But imagination was the key in a fantasy piece illustrative work of great imagination.

 

The first piece on the program was Bubble and Ms. Chai dutifully entered blowing bubbles from a pipe. It was played, alas, against some electronic sounds almost drowning out the piano. They may have been bubbles but sounds varied from Gargantuan toilet-flushing to radiators burping.

Michael Vincent Waller’s Acqua Santa was another piece that didn’t quite hit the spot. Starting with minuscule variations on three contiguous notes, it went onto other variations, ending with a Javanese-style pentatonic motif. Obviously ingenious on music paper, but not even Ms. Chai’s playing could overcome its dryness.

 

But Marco Stroppa had written a lullaby (or anti-lullaby) called “Ninnananna” which I found delicious. Not meant to lull a baby to sleep, Ms. Chai played the moments between waking and sleeping which included physical gyrations, hints of nightmares, very loud chords and, I guess, final sleep.

 

“Ninnananna” could well have been called “Insomnia”, because nobody could actually relax. Which was the way Jenny Q. Chai arranged her program. The unexpected, the mysterious, unusual, and comic were all part of the show. But the artist herself has such easy expertise that each challenge (and each occasional failure) was joyfully arousing.

Harry Rolnick

Jenny Q. Chai playing Satie, Schoenberg, Stockhausen, and others at Le Poisson Rouge on Sunday night.

 November 6, 2012

Chai’s performance of Satie’s “Gymnopédies” was different from any I’d heard before — particularly in its exceptionally slow tempo, which let Satie’s languid chordal alternations ring exquisitely. Most pianists complement the piece’s lack of harmonic movement with a similarly restrained dynamic range. Chai, on the other hand, rendered the piece much more dynamically, with pianissimo segments alternating with assertive keypresses. It’s strange and exciting to hear such an unusual performance of such a familiar piece, for which Chai definitely deserves commendation.

 

Another daring choice was Victoria Jordanova’s “Prayer”, an unusual piece in which Chai sang between bursts of fractured piano. The best and strangest moment, though, was in Chai’s performance of John Cage’s “The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs”, in which she sang a simple, folksy melody in a high and clear voice, accompanied only by arrhythmic percussion on the body of the piano.

 

Programme:

  • Erik Satie- Three Gymnopedies
  • Arnold Schoenberg- op. 11 Drei Klavierstücke
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen- Klavierstücke no. 8
  • Scarlatti- two sonatas
  • Marco Stroppa- Innige Cavatina
  • John Cage- The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen
  • Springs/Nowth Upon Nacht
  • André Bouchorechliev- Orion III
  • Nils Vigeland- Five Pieces (for Jenny Q Chai) No. 3
  • Frédéric Chopin- Barcarolle
  • Victoria Jordanova- Prayer
  • Robert Schumann- A Child Falling Asleep

Jenny Q Chai’s Smart, Intuitive Carnegie Hall Debut

 November 5, 2012

Pianist Jenny Q Chai’s Carnegie Hall debut last night was expertly programmed and packed with joie de vivre: she played as if she had a secret and couldn’t wait to share it with everybody. Her approach to a mix of premieres, 20th and 21st century compositions and an old High Romantic concert favorite matched fearsome technique to a confidently matter-of-fact emotional intelligence. When the material called for space, she let it linger, most notably (and amusingly) in one of the world premieres, Inhyun Kim’s Parallel Lines, a playfully rigorous study in parallelistic close harmonies punctuated by a Day in the Life-style sustained pause. The joke going around the hall was that Chai could have rubatoed it if she’d wanted to. And when she had to reach back for all the power and precision she could muster, whether for the cruelly difficult machine-gun staccato passages of Marco Stroppa’s Innige Cavatina (a US premiere), or the torrid, torrential rivulets of Debussy’s Etude No. 6, she awed the crowd with what seemed to be an effortless articulacy.

 

Yet despite the pyrotechnics, it was Chai’s sensitivity to color, timbre and emotion that resonated the most. She nailgunned the stratospherically high notes in Ashley Fu-tsun Wang’s Current (another world premiere), but let the murky, contrasting depths speak for themselves. It was arguably the high point of the night, icily misty tonalities in a rather Rachmaninovian architecture, alternating between spacious minimalism and jaunty flair. And when Chai reached the final variation on the opening theme, she let it go out on a quietly brooding note which packed quite a wallop.


Messiaen’s Canteyodjaya was a mixed bag: Chai handled its herky-jerky, explosive clusters with aplomb and then seemed to revel in its low, stalking basslines, one of the piece’s high points: it could have been a hit single, so to speak, if Messiaen had only edited it down to the juicy passages. And even a wardrobe malfunction didn’t distract Chai from from expertly negotiating the juxtaposition between jarring dissonance and comfortable resonance in a couple of Kurtag miniatures, Quiet Talk with the Devil and Les Adieux, both selections from his Jaketok suite. After all this harshness, Schumann’s Kreisleriana was dessert, and Chai played it as as bittersweet reminscence rather than nostalgia: her phrasing throughout it, whether the rivulets of the main theme, the stately requiem of sorts, or the closing waltz, was judiciously terse, a fitting elegy for Schumann’s old friend from literature. The crowd roared for an encore and got two: the first, an unfamiliar, fluid miniature that would have made a good theme for the PBS special Springtime in Alaska (or the equivalent), the second a John Cage vocal number that she tapped out on the piano lid as she sang.

Pianist Jenny Q Chai at (le) Poisson Rouge

 November 5, 2012

The hurricane affected everyone in the New York/New Jersey area to some degree, and pianist Jenny Q Chai also felt the repercussions of the “superstorm.” After coming back from intermission, Chai said that this was the first time she had slept on couches for two consecutive nights in order to give a recital. The 25 or so people in attendance at (le) Poisson Rouge on Sunday evening were glad she was willing to do so: Her intensity and control throughout a program full of technically challenging repertoire was impressive. Chai has the enviable ability able push past the sometimes overwhelming amount of notes on the page to give the audience a comprehensive musical narrative.


Beginning the program was a rather cold and austere interpretation of Satie’s Three Gymnopédies, followed by a performance of Schoenberg’s Drie Klavierstuck that was both mesmerizing and powerful. Chai played the piece in exactly the manner it was intended, with emphatic gestures and some lovely usage of rubato. She also gave a scorching rendition of French composer André Bouchorechliev’s Orion III–full of fire, but never lacking in subtlety.


The rest of the program was technically precise and well-rounded. Chai was willing to sing, tap on the piano, and reach inside the instrument to provide any of the more eccentric colors required by the thornier compositions on the program. The ever-versatile performer selected two vocal works to perform, John Cage’s The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs and, as an encore, Victoria Jordanova’s Prayer. Her reedy voice entered into fervent recitation during Wonderful Widow, highlighting the eeriness of text.


The last two pieces on the program were two Barcarolles, one by American composer Nils Vigeland, the other more familiar of the two, by Chopin. Chai joked that when she decided to program these two pieces she didn’t think that boating through lower Manhattan would be a distinct possibility. Her delicate touch served her well for the Vigeland work, although there was a slight rhythmic misstep in the middle of the piece. The Chopin sounded simple and elegant after all the complex and often harsh music from earlier in the program. If it was easier on the listener’s ears, it was certainly easier on her fingers, too; she played it confidently and with great rhythmic control.


Both an intellectually and viscerally fulfilling performance, Chai made a good case for the continued importance of the avant-garde in 20th- and 21st-century music. Wishing the audience goodnight with a second encore, “Child Falling Asleep” from Schumann’s Kinderszenen, audience members left the venue with a simple, yet strange, lullaby ringing in their ears.