Douze Notations (1944-45)                                                 Pierre Boulez (1935- )
First performed publicly in Paris in 1946, these 12 very short pieces were early indications of the Boulez genius that later manifested itself in his immense contribution to twentieth century music as conductor, composer, writer and public personality. Influenced by such Second Viennese School greats and their champions as Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, René Leibowitz and Olivier Messiaen,  Boulez, in his 12 notations for piano, planted the seeds of ideas he would later transform into orchestral pieces, further realizing the rhythmic strength and coloristic opulence of the miniature works. Abstract, atonal and imaginative, Douze Notations, after a half century, still challenge the ears to a fresh approach in experiencing musical art. The 12 Notations vary in length from about 20 seconds to two minutes. They bear the following markings:

  1. Fantasque – Modéré (angular, dissonant, moody);
  2. Très Vif (a whirlwind of activity);
  3. Assez lent (moody);
  4. Rhythmique (repetition of pattern);
  5. Doux et Improvisé (placid);
  6. Rapide (frantic);
  7. Hiératique (calm, soulful);
  8. Modéré Jusqu’a Très Vif  (amassed repeated notes, built up sonorities);
  9. Lointain – Calme (use of lower notes as  kind of pedal point, introspective);
  10. Mécanique et Très Sec (aggressive);
  11. Scintillant (pensive);
  12. Lent – Puissant et Âpre (harsh, percussive). The brevity of these ephemeral works and their Webern-like economy of means call for intense, focussed listening.

Sonata in E-flat Major, Opus 27, No. 1                          Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Beethoven attached the phrase «quasi una fantasia» to the title of the two sonatas published as Opus 27. The implication was that they would not follow the traditional pattern established by predecessors such as Haydn and Mozart.  Age 31 and living in Vienna, Beethoven was known as one of the finer pianists of his time. By giving public performances, he had gained a certain freedom of expression in his writing and was especially renowned as an improviser.  This sonata has the traditional four movements, but they lack the usual thematic relationships found in sonata-alegro form. The opening movement, marked Andante – Allegro – Andante, is in ternary form. The Andante section is in E-flat Major and the middle section is in C Major – eschewing the traditional tonic-dominant relationship.The second movement, Allegro molto vivace, is in ternary form and interpolates the key of C minor with a middle section in A-flat Major.  The third movement, a pleasantly lyrical, chorale-like statement marked Adagio espressione and fourth movement, Allegro vivace, are played without interruption. A short presto section brings the sonata to a close.

Synchronism No. 6 for Piano and Tape                         Mario Davidovsky (1934- )
One of the leading exponents of electro-acoustic repertoire, Davidovsky won a Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for his Synchronism No. 6 for Piano and Tape. Argentinian by birth, he has held several important teaching posts in this country including the Fanny P. Mason Professor of Music position at Harvard University. His specialty has been the pairing of an acoustic instrument with an electronically generated tape recording of various electronic sounds. Seeking an extension and broadening of the sound of an acoustical instrument such as the piano, Davidovsky blends the two sound resources into an integrated whole with enhanced effect. Reminiscent of such early explorations in the field of electronics as Edgar Varése’ Poéme électronique (created for the Brussels World’s Fair in 1956 – an early effort in his vision of liberating sound), Davidovsky has broadened the scope of the genre by complementing the electronic and the acoustical. This unlimited palette of sound creates a unique listening experience.

Reminiscences of Norma, S. 394                                      Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Before the advent of recordings, videotapes, etc., the operatic experience was available only in live performances. While this is still probably the preferred way to enjoy opera, composers of the nineteenth century often came up with paraphrases, transcriptions and other formats for enjoying the themes and musical episodes from some of the greatest of these works. Notable among them was Franz Liszt whose operatic paraphrases are still popular fodder for today’s virtuosi. Liszt used the operas of practically every major operatic composer of his day. Employing his transcendental pianistic technique, he evoked the essence of popular operas by using themes of their major arias and choruses as points of departure. One of the leading operatic exponents of the popular bel canto style was Vincenzo Bellini whose opera Norma Liszt chose to transcribe into a virtuoso piano piece. Whether one has experienced the opera live or not, Liszt’s appealing treatment of some of its main themes still makes it a staple of concert programs today.

Shifting Shades                                                                     Huang Ruo (1976- )               
Chinese-American composer, Huang Ruo, was born on Hainan Island, China in1976, the year that saw the demise of the Chinese Revolution. As China opened up to Western influences, Huang Ruo was exposed to both a traditional and western education at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music where he received his early musical training. As a result, he was influenced by a diverse combination of cultural influences. He moved to the United States in 1995 and studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music where he earned a Bachelor of Music degree. Later he received a Master of Music degree from the Juilliard School of Music and continued postgraduate studies there under the eminent composer Samuel Adler. Huang’s numerous compositions have won international recognition and include the Henry Mancini Award at the International Film and Music Festival in Switzerland (1995). His music has been performed by such notable groups as the American Composers Orchestra, the Chicago Pro Musica, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Other activities include the post of artistic director and conductor of the International Contemporary Ensemble in New York City. He edited the book « Selection of Classical Chinese Folk Songs. »  He was a visiting composer in residence at the University of Georgia in 2003. He is currently a composition faculty member at Purhase College, the State University of New York.
The Hilton Head International Piano Competition commissioned Huang Ruo to write Shifting Shades for Ran Dank to be premiered at this concert.

Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Opus 82                                   Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Prokofiev’s nine piano sonatas have become a standard fixture in twentieth century keyboard repertoire. The third and seventh sonatas are frequently programmed as well as the sixth, the grandest of the lot. A product of 1939-40, the turbulent early war years, the sixth sonata is a biting, powerful statement emerging from an era when a fickle society bestowed approval one day and condemntion the next. Since his death in 1953 (just about an hour before the demise of Stalin) Prokofiev has gained increasing respect and the recognition he deserved. The sixth sonata’s opening movement is a ponderous Allegro moderato in sonata-allegro form. The acerbic harmonies contribute to an anguished mood reflective of its time.A catchy March follows as the second movement . Abrupt chords and a lyrical section recall the same quirky charm as his piano transcription of the March from the opera, Love for Three Oranges. A dream-like, slow motion waltz occupies the third movement position. The final movement, a high speed rondo marked Vivace, serves as a thrilling climax to this pianistic tour de force.

– Program notes by Dr. Sterling Adams