5 Great People | 1 Good Question:
Born in Palo Alto, composer and pianist Timo Andres has a gift for connecting with audiences that shines through even in a digital medium. His recent project to reconstruct his canceled Carnegie Hall debut program on YouTube was hugely successful and landed him this recent New York Times article. His list of creative collaborations is long and includes Philip Glass, with whom he has performed the complete Glass Études, and who selected Andres as the recipient of the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize in 2016.
Notable recent works include Everything Happens So Much for the Boston Symphony; Strong Language for the Takács Quartet, commissioned by Carnegie Hall and the Shriver Hall Concert Series; Steady Hand, a two-piano concerto commissioned by the Britten Sinfonia premiered at the Barbican by Andres and David Kaplan; and The Blind Banister, a concerto for Jonathan Biss, which was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize Finalist.
As a pianist, Timo Andres has appeared with symphonies from around the world and solo recitals for Lincoln Center, Wigmore Hall, the Phillips Collection, (le) Poisson Rouge and four engagements with SFP. During our 2020–21 season Timo will be performing chamber music with Jennifer Koh and Jay Campbell; a solo recital; and a collaboration with a new commission for Anthony Roth Costanzo, the Attacca Quartet, and himself. Timo Andres’ full bio is available on each of the performance pages.
So what’s our One Good Question to ask Timo?
Your January 2021 solo recital with us will be the same concert you were to perform at Carnegie Hall in April, called I Still Play. Can you describe the new piece on the program by Gabriella Smith called Imaginary Pancake and did Carnegie Hall suggest her for their commission or did you? Feel free to also talk about the program as a whole.
I first heard Gabriella’s music around five years ago, and was bowled over by its confidence, resourcefulness, and structural sweep. That ability to articulate a given chunk of time is the main thing I look for in a composer, and it’s probably the hardest thing to learn to do. I’d been keeping an eye on her work since then, and when Carnegie offered me the chance to commission a work (expecting, I think, I’d use it to commission myself) I immediately thought of Gabriella. It turned out to be her first solo piano work—so all the more exciting for both of us.
I love to put myself on the other side of the composer-performer relationship when I can. Helping other composers’ music into the world is always a thrill, because it feels like such an important responsibility, like being a tattoo artist or a doula—if it goes poorly you can never take it back.
The piece Gabriella wrote, which is called Imaginary Pancake, bears all the traits about her music I loved from the beginning. It’s a powerful, almost elemental stream of energy that’s carefully modulated into a beautiful narrative. I’ve compared it to a small landscape painting—the field of view is large even though the canvas is relatively small. The piece uses the range of the piano structurally, starting from the outer reaches and moving inwards until the hands fuse into an ostinato pattern. This contour repeats a couple more times over the rest of the piece, though with different music, each time becoming bigger but less detailed—pulling back the frame, allowing the landscape to become even wider. That’s actually what the title means—it refers to the spread of the pianist’s arms across the keyboard when playing at the extremes of register, and the need to almost flatten one’s posture in order to play it. It’s a geological pancake.