On March 7 at 3PM EDT, Bang on a Can presents the video premiere of All-Star Vicky Chow’s performance of Michael Gordon’s Sonatra as a Watch Party. The program will include a Q & A about the work with Chow and Gordon, moderated by Ethan Iverson, also a pianist, composer, and critic best known for his work with the Bad Plus. Aside from Chow’s album release of the work (released February 23, 2018 on Cantaloupe Music – get it here!), this new video made by Denver-based director, writer, and cinematographer Souki Mehdaoui, is the only other recording of the piece.
“It’s by far the most challenging piece of music I’ve worked on,” says Vicky. “When I first looked at the score, I knew immediately that I’ll live with it for the rest of my life. Every few months, I slowly worked up each section, like chipping away at a slab of marble. I had to pace myself, push myself, and be sharp at every twist and turn, or else I’d trip and fall flat on my face.”
The Watch Party will include demonstrations of the work’s difficulty by way of brief excerpts performed by Chow in her home, alongside a display of the score.
In his original program notes for Sonatra, Michael Gordon writes that he conceived of the piece for solo piano as a sideways tribute to Frank Sinatra, but with the sonata form as an equal and opposite force that tugs at the music from within.
“I grew up playing, or mis-playing, the piano,” he notes. “When I started writing Sonatra, I decided that since I would probably only ever write one piano piece in my entire life, I wanted to use all the keys on the piano, and use them often. I constructed long chains or links of major and minor thirds that ceaselessly wind their way up and down the piano. Eventually they start cascading and intersperse with glissandos half the length of the keyboard, sounding to me like the performer has at least four hands.”