American Concerto | Interview
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What is American about this piece?
KATHRYN: The expansive feeling. The reference to freedom and the need to constantly renew it. The feeling of the American landscape.
KIM: I grew up in a small town in Middle America. My mother was an immigrant. All of that ends up in this concerto…
What will the audience listen for that you consider an “American sound”?
KIM: Folk tune references. Kathryn is related to Stephen Foster, America’s first great tunesmith so we begin the concerto with some “Americana” and a reference to the Stephen Foster sound. There are echoes of folk-songs (although no actual quotes. All of the music in the concerto is original), banjo strumming and fiddle-playing. A free and improvisational spirit pervades the concerto. Some listeners will hear Copland, and a nod to the American songbook (Gershwin and Porter)
KATHRYN: But all of these influences are sublimated. It ends up sounding like Kluge & Kluge.
What composers are your greatest influences? Was any one composer particularly influential for this piece?
KIM: In addition to all of the American composers mentioned, this concerto grows out of the grand piano concerto tradition of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.
Tell us a little about your collaboration as composers. How do your strengths and unique backgrounds interact to create a finished work?
KATHRYN: We are both pianists so the writing is very idiomatic and flattering to the pianist. Kim’s symphonic background was indispensable.
KIM: Kathryn is a world-class melodist. I tend to be intellectual and conceptual in my approach.
In the second movement, how does the story of an imprisoned writer come into play? What techniques and devices did you use to paint that picture?
KATHRYN: Our friend Joanne Ackerman, president of the Penn Society, introduced us to an anthology of poetry and prose by imprisoned writers from around the world. We were deeply affected by The Prison Where I Live.
KIM: We felt that setting one of the poems would create an effective dramatic foil to the epic last movement which conveys the expansive open spaces and spirit of the American landscape and psyche. We use sounds that convey solitude and a yearning for freedom. Bells. Very sparse textures and single notes. Lots of silence. A quiet internal world. Surreal sounds as if lost in thought or in twilight daydreams. Haunting use of an offstage boys choir.
What was the greatest obstacle in composing this piece?
KATHRYN: The big scope of the work. Conveying the breadth of what it means to be an American and the concept of Freedom. And incorporating all of that into the large musical structure of the piano concerto. Living up to our own expectations of the piece.
KIM: But we feel that these are not really obstacles— they are more like challenges. Also…composing a piece that will appeal to current and future audiences.
How was Thomas Pandolfi involved in the composition process?
KATHRYN: We approached Thomas because of our great respect for him. It was a good marriage. Thomas is a true virtuoso in the great romantic piano tradition. But he is also a thoughtful contemporary artist whose goal is to reach a broad audience with music that speaks to the heart. He also has shares with us very eclectic tastes including a love for the American songbook!
Did you consider the audience and musicians who will experience the premiere in your composition? How did those relationships shape the work?
KIM: We always compose with the artist’s sound in our heads. The passionate and poetic sound of a full symphony orchestra resonated in our minds during the composition of The American Concerto for Piano & Orchestra. You can hear the soaring horns, searing trumpets, poignant winds and the passionate and sumptuous strings!
What ultimate message does this piece impart?
KATHRYN: That is intensely personal. Each listener will have to answer that for themselves. For Kim and me it was a very personal exploration of the idea of freedom and the need for it to be constantly renewed
What legacy would like to leave as composers?
KIM: We would like to write a piece that ours and future generations will love. To write for our 21 month-old daughter’s generation. We want Lily to be proud of us and to know that we were true to ourselves as artists.