“It’s a highly dynamic and expressive performance.
There’s a certain energy that is uniquely hers.”
— Philip Glass
“When I first encountered these pieces,” Vicky Chow recalls of the Etudes for Solo Piano by Philip Glass, “I was brought back to my roots of playing piano. Each one is so different — they can be very sophisticated and simple at the same time. So for me, it was all about going back to playing acoustic piano, with no electronics or extended technique or preparation, and utilizing that part of my brain.”
Glass has said that he composed the Etudes “to explore a variety of tempi, textures, and piano techniques,” and as the title suggests, these are keyboard studies at their most elemental and freewheeling. The composer also sought to refine his own piano technique (he began work on the Etudes in the early 1990s), exploring a range of moods and emotions that shift from hypnotic to stark, meditative to ebullient and beyond.
The original Etudes were compiled into two books of ten individual pieces each. While the work has been recorded by numerous pianists over the years — including, of course, Glass himself — Chow’s interpretation stands out, attributable in part to her own connections with the composer, as well as their shared presence in New York City’s new music community. Chow has been a member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars for over a decade; she first met Glass while performing with him on stage, at the same piano, during one of the legendary Bang on a Can Marathons staged annually in the city.
Years later, Chow encountered the composer again at the 2018 Winnipeg New Music Festival, with four other pianists, for a performance of all twenty Etudes. “He sat at the side of the stage and listened while we played,” she recalls. “He was very encouraging to all of us. He really cared about the music, and you could tell he was grateful and supportive. And I mean, he’s Philip Glass, you know? He wanted to share his thoughts with all of us. He was really genuine and down-to-earth.”
Produced by Argeo Ascani
Engineered and mastered by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio
Piano Technician: Kazuya Tsujio
Yamaha CFX concert grand piano provided by Yamaha Artist Services New York
Recorded on February 15th & 16th, 2020 at Oktaven Audio
The music of Philip Glass is published by Dunvagen Music Publishers Inc (ASCAP).
Cover art: Ku-158 (Free Essence-158) by Niyoko Ikuta, courtesy of A Lighthouse called Kanata, ©2021