-- Believed to be the First Such Performance of the Concord Sonata by Charles Ives --
Flushing, NY, November 8, 2016 — Nearly 80 years after its first documented performance, Charles Ives’s Concord Sonata may be making its debut as conceived by the composer. In a historic event co-sponsored by Queens College and the American Festival of Microtonal Music at LeFrak Concert Hall on Friday, November 11, at 7:30 pm, two pianists—using instruments specially tuned for the occasion—will play the piece as it was originally envisioned.
Writing at the turn of the 20th century, Ives was an advocate of experimental tuning and harmony. Historians theorize that during parades in Danbury, Connecticut, where his father was a bandleader, Ives got used to hearing multiple themes sounding at the same time. New England influenced him in other ways, too. The Concord Sonata’s four movements are dedicated to prominent thinkers from the region, including Emerson and Thoreau.
This week’s sonata presentation rests on the scholarship of Johnny Reinhard, executive director of the American Festival of Microtonal Music, who observed that Ives stipulated different pitches for notes that are usually seen as synonymous, such as D-sharp and E-flat. “Ives used spellings that make no sense if the goal was for one pianist to play the piece on a single piano,” explains Joel Mandelbaum, music professor emeritus, who planned this concert with Reinhard.
Therefore, the sonata score was split into two complementary parts. Each is built around Pythagorean tuning that displaces even tempering with larger or smaller intervals. “The first piano has about 70 percent of the music, corresponding to all the white keys and the notes written as sharps,” Mandelbaum continues. “The second piano, covering the flats, has the other 30 percent of the notes.” Pianists Gabriel Zucker and Erika Dohi, accomplished soloists and chamber musicians, faced the technical challenge of relearning a familiar piece and reassembling its fragments in a seamless manner.
For all the keyboard skill and talent on display, the most virtuosic performance may be that of the piano tuners, Andrew Saderman and David Meeting. On Friday afternoon, they will adjust a pair of Steinways as needed for the Ives. “They’re more nervous than the pianists,” says Mandelbaum. Afterward, they will restore the pianos to conventional tuning. (On-site interviews with Mr. Sederman and Mr. Meeting may be arranged in advance.)
QC’s Aaron Copland School of Music is a center for Ives scholarship and the exploration of microtonal compositions. The rest of the program will include a work by Reinhard, and a French horn fantasy in which Mandelbaum exploits the instrument’s overtones—higher pitches generated by the fundamental note.
About Queens College
Queens College enjoys a national reputation for its liberal arts and sciences and pre-professional programs. With its graduate and undergraduate degrees, honors programs, and research and internship opportunities, the college helps its nearly 19,000 students realize their potential in countless ways, assisted by an accessible, award-winning faculty. Located on a beautiful, 80-acre campus in Flushing, the college is cited each year in the Princeton Review as one of the nation’s 100 “Best Value” colleges, as well as being ranked a U.S. News and World Report Best College and Forbes Magazine Best Value College thanks to its outstanding academics, generous financial aid packages, and relatively low costs. Learn more at www.qc.cuny.edu.