Piano Spheres – Marc Robson plays April 12 @ Zipper Hall

Something that you need to know and I do not have much time to tell you:

Marc Robson will be playing a recital at Piano Spheres this Tuesday evening at Colburn School Zipper Hall. This I so recommend that my voice is hushed with awe.

Robson beautifully and intelligently presents his thoughts on this music that he has chosen for us here in the online program notes.



Anders Brødsgaard – Pyro-mani
Béla Bartók – Four Dirges
Vera Ivanova – Aftertouch
Charles Wuorinen – The Haroun Piano Book
Salvatore Sciarrino – Prelude and Anamorfosi
György Kurtág – excerpts from Játékok
Philippe Bodin – Pools (excerpt from “Inner Banners“)
Mark Robson – dolcissimo


Marc – I am cutting and pasting your bio and your notes. I have to, too many people who do not follow links. See below friends.

This concert has less evident thematic underpinning than many of my previous recitals, but the listener may discern some connecting threads with an exploration of texture, an allusion to the elements (in particular, water and fire) and a navigation between the extroverted and the introverted. As for repertoire choices, Bartók’s Dirges have been on the back burner for some time, one can never do enough excerpts from Játékok, it’s great to support local composers and yes, we need some balance with a bit of New York uptown writing once in a while! May it be an evening that brings you into the present awareness of the unimagined, the unusual, the provocative, the beautiful and the astonishing.

Gesture, in this case decoration as gesture, is the generator of Salvatore Sciarrino’s Prélude at the top of the program. On one large and beautiful page of musical calligraphy we are offered as much visual delight as the audible. A series of signs and symbols without specified pitches is laid out on a grid of horizontal lines that represent the registers of the piano from the bottom line to the top. Standard ornamental symbols—those of the turn, trill and mordent—stand out against arrows signifying glissandi, which the interpreter realizes in an improvised performance. The texture is ever-shimmering and electric.

Pyro-Mani is one of several piano works (including a concerto) in a cycle that Anders Brødsgaard has come to call in girum imus nocte et consumimum igni. The Latin palindrome is translated as ‘we enter the circle at night and are consumed by fire’, and “Pyromania” is probably the most overtly fiery piece of the bunch. It takes its departure from an octatonic scale based on E, where harmonic and melodic elements are merged in the texture in a way reminiscent of late Scriabin. A constant flux of arpeggiation, beginning in the right hand, fans the flames as it were of a melody unfolding with an elusive pulse. About two-thirds of the way into the piece there is a climactic moment in which these two elements are given to the right hand while a new, rising figure in the left hand converges upon it. The musical discourse becomes calm again and the swirling patterns dwindle away.

With a view to mutual illumination, two Hungarian masters have been brought together in a dialogue on mourning and memorialization. Bartók’s Dirges were composed without a specified tribute; they are at once majestic, serene, tragic and by turns like an inexorable procession. (The second one of them has been orchestrated and its theme provided the contour for the opening motif of the composer’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle.) The pieces from Kurtág’s multivolume series Játékok (Games) were selected for their allusions to final moments, passings and remembrances. Though miniatures, they propose condensed expression which takes on much larger proportions as they project a few chords, a slip of melody or a jagged and frenzied scherzo of gestures. An interweaving of the two sets of pieces was planned to create an overall ritual that would be held together not only with the emotional content but with the shared elements of triadic harmonies, parallel or symmetrical chords, and a certain discursive tone.

Philippe Bodin, a composer of diverse talents both musical and otherwise, writes Pools is the third of three pieces in the set Inner Banners, which were written for Genevieve Feiwen Lee on a commission from the Barlow Endowment. It begins as a tentative melodic line which is eventually underscore by quartal harmonies. As the accompaniment gains in momentum the melody develops broader arching; a new, highly rhapsodic section unfolds in which the right hand has fused melodic and accompanimental elements while the left hand streams forth with an arpeggiated accompaniment in the grand romantic manner. The title of the piece could suggest an ever-widening influence of a gesture or movement or ‘reflection’ upon another. A final section invokes the opening material; the self-harmonized melody is now supported by an accompaniment of chords in steady quarter notes. Only in the last few bars does the pulse begin to disintegrate and take us back to the spare atmosphere of the opening lines.

In the notes provided by Vera Ivanova, she writes that “the word ‘aftertouch’ is a term used to describe the response of a key on electronic MIDI-keyboards to pressure. On an electronic keyboard with aftertouch, a performer can change the amplitude of the pitch after the attack by varying the pressure with which one holds the key. While this feature is not an option on a classical acoustic piano, the richness and variety of the piano timbre is far more superior and individual on every single instrument. Exploring the sensitivity of the piano keys to the different types of pressure (including the silent pressure of the keys with the sustaining pedal held) is my interpretation of the term aftertouch, if one can apply it to the acoustic piano. On the other hand, this title implies the composer’s intent to make the listener pay attention to the life and death of each sound with regard to the variety in attacks and decays. This variety and timbral richness of the instrument, along with the resonances of short and sustained sounds which produce quite different effects, were the main inspiration for this piece.”

I have been inspired by an expressive marking in the creation of dolcissimo, given here in its first performance. It aims to create a point of calm in which the ear is directed to the individuality of chords (whether struck simultaneously or unfolded note by note), melodic fragments and the shifting colors of a harmonic progression. A few overtones from the bass strings suggest a spirit beyond the instrument to which the harmonic constructs emanate or perhaps to which they aspire.

The Haroun Piano Book is a reworking of material from Charles Wuorinen’s opera Haroun and the Sea of Stories, based on the fable by Salman Rushdie. The opera, composed by 2001, was produced only in 2004; in the interim the composer prepared this piano suite and a cycle entitled The Haroun Songbook for vocal quartet and piano which preserves the basic scheme of the story in a chamber version. In the succession of movements of the piano work, which is initiated by a reference to the magical world that will be embarked upon, we are introduced to three characters: Haroun, a clever boy who gets into a variety of adventures, his dad Rashid, a dreamer and renowned storyteller who’s suddenly off his game, and Mr. Sengupta, who has just run off with Rashid’s wife who has had enough of her husband’s dreamy ways. Rashid is portrayed in both his reflective and active guises; the Strophic Finale is mostly drawn from the song “It’s a party!” from the vocal quartet setting in which Haroun’s efforts to save the day have gotten Rashid out of a jam and everyone celebrates.

Sciarrino’s Anamorfosi is a post-modernist bon-bon in which two worlds of water collide, one as crooned by Gene Kelly and the other as spun out by Maurice Ravel.

– Notes by Mark Robson

Mark Robson has been hailed by the Los Angeles Times as a performer with a “monster technique”, “an inquiring mind” and a pianist for whom everything he “touched sparkled”; he continues to impress with his multi-faceted career as a soloist, chamber musician and teacher. Mr. Robson is equally comfortable in styles ranging from early music that he performs on the harpsichord and organ to the great Romantic repertoire and beyond to contemporary piano works demanding theatrical participation from the performer. He is also a highly respected collaborative artist with singers and instrumentalists.

As a founding member of the Los Angeles- based series Piano Spheres, he presents recitals devoted to new and rarely played music and has frequently played on the Jacaranda series in Santa Monica, CA. In his capacity as an organist he has played at Disney Hall on the Green Umbrella series and in the ‘Minimalist Jukebox’, as well as assuming the organ part for Mahler’s 8th Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl.

After completing conservatory and university training, Mr. Robson amplified his musical studies by studying in Paris where he was a pupil of Yvonne Loriod and subsequently Alain Motard. Additional musical evolution came through his work on the music staff of the Los Angeles Opera for fourteen years as an assistant conductor and assistant chorus master. During this time he collaborated with renowned international singers and conductors, gaining further insight into the vocal arts. He has also been a musical assistant at the Salzburg and Spoleto (Italy) festivals.

As a composer, Robson has been programmed on concerts in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Barcelona and Paris. Two of his orchestral works—Apollo Rising and Christmas Suite—were premiered by the Brentwood-Westwood Symphony. Soprano Patricia Prunty has recorded his song cycle A Child of Air, and the same piece was presented by Sari Gruber at the winter Ravinia Festival. Other compositions include a trio Dances and Dirges for piano, clarinet and cello, Södergran-Dagbok for baritone and piano, numerous songs, Trio Botanica for three bassoons, Ribono shel olam for tenor, cello and organ, and a set of 24 left-hand preludes for the piano.

The recipient of several scholarships and awards (including the Certificate of Excellence from the Corvina Cultural Circle for artistic contributions to Hungary), Mark Robson has received degrees from the University of Southern California and Oberlin College; included among his teachers are Lydia Frumkin, John Perry and James Bonn. He has worked as a vocal coach on the faculties of USC, Chapman University, the California Institute of the Arts and Cal State Fullerton. Two of his large-scale music projects have been the performance of the complete Beethoven sonatas and multiple performances of Messiaen’s great piano cycle Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *