RAGA ÉTUDES FOR PIANO
Book 1: Winter
Recorded by Steve Peters at the Chapel Performance Space (Seattle), March 2, 2021. Commissioned and produced by Wayward Music Series.
Up until now I’ve mainly created largescale opera-theatre productions, and these études are the first real pieces I’ve written for any solo instrument. In my operatic work, I weave in “ragas” – improvisatory frameworks inspired by Indian classical music – that intentionally disguise my own inspiration in order to encourage performers to discover their own. This freedom is foreign to most western musicians, and requires great trust and extensive practice. It also yields performances that are fresh and alive as we never know what the performer is going to come up with.
With these piano ragas, I stepped out of the world of theatre and entirely into the world of sound. I’ve also taken my raga work to a new experimental level, creating a framework for 72 expanding or contracting modes assigned to 12 “seasons” (including early/mid/late) of the year and six times of day, which together offer a comprehensive spectrum of musical moods reflective of the natural world around us. I’ve used 18 of these modes as seeds for the Études. Although I trained as a classical pianist at Oberlin, this is my first official composition for the instrument.
Each raga étude is based on a blueprint that can include straightforward musical parameters (like time signatures, chordal structures, harmonic modulations, and rhythmic motifs) as well as more abstract instructions such as “unfolding,” “sparky”, or “orbiting”. Each blueprint is more similar to a stage play, or rules for a board game, than traditional musical compositions. Neither fully represents the intended creation; both depend on a player’s selection from multiple, if not innumerable, interpretive possibilities, yet each execution reflects a recognizable essence of the game or play.
As I fleshed them out I came across videos of GraceANN playing Prokoviev’s "Toccata in D minor." I thought she was a fearless performer, and I knew immediately that she was the one meant to bring these to life. Thankfully, she was as into it as I was. Unlike my work with opera-theatre, where the pieces are developed through an intensive rehearsal process, GraceANN and I have had no rehearsals, only trust which was established within minutes of our first meeting. She’s been as silent as my blueprints. As with you, this performance is the first time I’ve heard these live. It’s an exciting new direction and I’m thrilled by the results. On to Book 2!
Are you interested in looking at the score? Contact me and I’ll send you a link.
[0:00] 1: Winter Solstice - Night
[2:25] 2: Winter Solstice - Dusk
[5:40] 3: Mid Spring - Dawn
[7:15] 4: Mid Winter - Morning
[8:33] 5: Mid Fall - Dawn
[12:58] 6: Late Fall - Afternoon
[15:31] 7: Late Summer - Morning
[18:10] 8: Fall Equinox - Noon
[21:06] 9: Late Spring - Noon
[23:40] 10: Mid Summer - Dusk
[26:12] 11: Late Winter - Afternoon
[29:53] 12: Spring Equinox - Night
[32:04] 13: Summer Solstice - Noon
[33:37] 14: Late Winter - Dawn
[34:38] 15: Mid Winter - Dawn
[37:27] 16: Mid Summer - Dawn
[40:39] 17: Summer Solstice - Dawn
[42:24] 18: Late Fall - Noon