Many musicians are sports fans, but this personal aspect does not often appear in classical music. Charles Ives, who was a serious athlete when he was young, wrote plays that tried to emulate the experiences of playing baseball and football.
Pianist Nadia Shpachenko dared her own contribution to Bargemusic on Friday night, with a program she titled “GOAT,” a set of nine new and recent pieces that were, in one way or another, about football .
These are pieces that Shpachenko requested (with the support of New Music USA) around the idea of ”beautiful playing”. It was intriguing at first glance for this musician, who has superb technique and a spirit of fun around her playing, two things one would hope for in athletics as well.
Along with the football theme, much of the music was about electronics, mixing non-acoustic sounds and processes with the piano. These two themes have come together, although not always in sync and with varying degrees of success.
Electronics are always welcome with the piano which, despite its strengths, cannot modulate either the dynamics, the timbre, or the expression once the notes have been struck. The first disappointment of the evening was that the electronics were all pre-recorded, with no real-time signal processing. Chalk this up to unfounded expectations.
The connection to football was more central, and if one felt any presence of sport in the music, it was perhaps due to his low level of interest in sport.
In purely musical terms, there were fine and satisfying works from Ian Dicke, David Sanford, Pamela Z and Adam Schoenberg. Dicke’s and Z’s tracks had an electronic component, the others were acoustic.
Dicke’s Telstar Lopps, named after a famous soccer ball design, opened the program, with a piano accompanied by (pre-recorded) sound. The electronic part had processed piano sounds which, for example, crescendo as they are sustained, or modulated timbres. It was a nice balance with what was a well-crafted three-movement variation form. Variations were a clever way to describe different perspectives of a physical object.
by David Sanford La Pulga Variations were more conceptually abstract and musically concrete. This seven-movement piece covered different historical aspects of football, from famous personalities and moments to styles of play. Sandford’s manner was baroque, strongly contrapuntal, transparent, intelligent and full of fine detail, and also covered the widest range of atmosphere of the evening. Shpachenko gave her a sparkling performance.
The pianist explained that Balloon, from Z, was a piece they both played in performance, where there are enough variables that it came out differently each time. Performing solo, she was accompanied by pre-recorded Z, the singing and speaking composer, describing the geometry of a soccer ball. There was a game-like interaction between the two parties, the piece was beautiful and playful as the musical idea passed back and forth between piano and audio.
by Schoenberg Last Dance, an expressive and bittersweet ode to the inevitable end of every athlete’s career. It was another well-made piece, musical rather than narrative, in thought, and the pianist played it as if hearing the words to a ballad in her head. Last Dance, appropriately closed out the gig, and was a good conclusion and even better backup to a gig that also had some issues.
One was the length – the final piece came after an hour and three quarters, with no intermission, and by then one felt that the football theme limited the emotional and intellectual reach of the whole programme.
Also, some of the composers seemed uncomfortably limited. by Christopher Cerrone Corridor of uncertainty used piano and electronics to create the anxiety that can arise between goalkeeper and defender when the ball is between them. Cerrone can usually be counted on for surprises. but this work has only pushed the same idea over and over again.
This was also the problem with God’s hand by Oliver Dubon, who had the ambition to somehow express the anti-colonial spirit of the Argentina-England World Cup match in 1986. It would be a tall order for any composer, and Dubon’s piece was just an exercise in agitation, often on one or two notes.
by Evan Ware Skill set and Tom Flaherty Mining objective also tried to convey football practice and a match itself in music, which meant obvious cliches that sounded neither like a team sport nor the music.
Meanwhile, Dana Kaufman honey ball was lost in its own concept, a polemic against snobby objections in England when the first women’s football team was formed in 1895. It is believed that there are more resonant and pressing current issues to tackle in sport, and the piece had a fatal flaw between the second and last section, where Shpachenko had to get up from the piano, put on white gloves and change his shoes for soccer cleats. It’s the kind of thing that deflates attention and does nothing for the music.
In the end, an exceptional and inspired game was undermined by several errors of judgment. The score after extra time was 0-0.
Musicians from The Knights play music around the idea of ”The Sea”, 7 p.m. July 28 bargemusic.org