Kenji Anderson Concert Preview
It’s not often that you see classical concert programs aim to reflect the sensibilities of pop music — nor do you find these examinations of ideas populated by artists such as Billie Eilish and Mitski be approached with nuance in the themes reflected within their songs.
Fourth-year pianist Kenji Anderson, set to perform in Warner Concert Hall on Saturday, March 11th with his recital program, …Orpheus never liked words…, will extrapolate on the mythos of the American pop star among various literary ideas populated by figures within Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice.”
“Going into the recital I knew I wanted to try to present a pretty musically diverse program. The selections came together in a very interesting way in that a lot of it was deliberate and then other parts, less so,” Anderson said in a conversation over Zoom.
The program will began with two Bartók pieces; Three Hungarian Folksongs from Csîk and Fourteen Bagatelles. The inclusion of these two works ties into the overall integration of ideas presented both within the classical tradition and other music subcultures. Mitski’s interest in Schoenberg and Bartók and their use of percussive elements resonates with Anderson, who similarly seeks to highlight the rhythmic quality of these pieces within his program.
“I was really attracted to Bartók because of the way he borrows and uses melodies from various cultural idioms — he uses compositional techniques where one hand is in one key signature and the other hand is in another one, leading to flashes of Hungarian folk influences among others.”
With electronic accompaniment, Anderson will then perform Missy Mazzoli’s Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos. The work chronicles the life of 20th century writer Isabelle Eberhardt, who abandoned a comfortable aristocratic position for a nomadic life in North Africa. She would later go on to die in a desert flash flood at the age of twenty-seven. Mazzoli’s piece reimagines Eberhardt on horseback through the desert remembering sounds and sensations of her old life.
“I had played another piece by Mazzoli called Heartbreaker, which my teacher really loved, so she encouraged me to play another piece by the same composer. I ended up finding this work with electronics where sounds are coming in and out of the piano — circling between various textures and timbres.”
Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg’s Ballade, Op.24 will continue the program’s navigation through world music traditions.
“That was actually a piece that came from Professor Shannon during our time working together on the concerto competition in the fall — preparations which served me a lot as a pianist. There were a lot of personal breakthroughs that happened for me in the preliminaries. To see it fit into the program is something we hadn’t anticipated until much later.”
Pianists are often more enthralled to platform Grieg’s more expansive piano concert,which has led to the Ballade’s minimal appearances in programs. With this trajectory in mind, Kenji speaks to the “rough-around-the-edges” quality of many works on the concert, and how that highlights his goals for a tone of brutalism within the program.
The threads of adaptation and repurposing of various cultural traditions presents itself in the programs’ finale, an arrangement of Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell’s 2019 record, when the party’s over by Oberlin graduate Benjamin Martin.
“The song is a pop melody reflective of sounds that populate our everyday lives. It’s a really beautiful arrangement that Benjamin has done — a touching way to close out the program,” Anderson said.