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From East to West

Michael Arnowitt, piano

pieces on the program:

Peter Feuchtwanger - Study no. 4 in an Eastern Idiom - Tariqa 1 (1982)
W.A. Mozart - Rondo alla turca (Turkish march), from Sonata no. 11 in A major, K. 331 (1778)
Claude Debussy - Pagodes, from Estampes (1903)
    (Pagodas, from Prints)
Alexander Scriabin - Sonata no. 9 “Messe noire” (Black Mass), op. 68 (1912-1913)
Toru Takemitsu - Rain Tree Sketch (1982)
Gustav Mahler - Der Einsame im Herbst, from Das Lied von der Erde (1908-1909)
    (The Lonely One in Autumn, from The Song of the Earth), transcribed for piano by Michael Arnowitt
Fazil Say - Black Earth (1997)
Excerpt from the Chinese opera “Red Lake,” transcribed for piano
Nikolai Kapustin - 3 selected jazz-influenced classical pieces
    From 24 Preludes in Jazz Style, op. 53 (1989):
       Prelude no. 13 in G-flat major (Allegretto)
       Prelude no. 3 in G major (Larghetto)
    Scherzo from Sonata for Piano no. 2, op. 54 (1989)

program description

Michael Arnowitt’s new program “From East to West” explores the influence on Western classical composition of the music of eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, and southeast Asia. The concert program features many pieces by great composers of the past, including Mozart’s well-known “Rondo alla turca (Turkish march),” music by Gustav Mahler based on 8th century Chinese poetry from the Tang Dynasty, and Debussy’s “Pagodas,” influenced by his experience seeing a gamelan group from Java at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris.

The program also presents several intriguing and colorful pieces from recent decades. The English composer Peter Feuchtwanger’s “Tariqa 1” offers an amazingly realistic evocation of the meditative, mesmeric sounds of the santur, an Iranian dulcimer. “Black Earth,” by the Turkish pianist-composer Fazil Say, is based on a moving song for saz, a Turkish lute, written by Asik Veysel, a blind musician who was part of the thousand-year long Turkish tradition of the nomadic balladeer. The song depicts the narrator’s desolation after having lost his beloved, his only friend now the black earth of the lands of his native town.

Several pieces of music on the program highlight the East’s influence on the West in the area of spirituality. Alexander Scriabin’s powerful “Black Mass” Sonata was affected by his reading in 1905 the controversial writings on the occult of the Russian aristocrat Helena Blavatsky. Through her Theosophy movement, Blavatsky, who claimed to be receiving guidance from supernatural Indo-Tibetan sages, disseminated a blend of Eastern views on mysticism with modern science, foreshadowing by a century some of today’s New Age thinking.

The program also reveals the flip side of the coin, how the West has influenced the East, through pieces from Japan and China as well as the charming jazz-influenced classical music of the Russian pianist-composer Nikolai Kapustin, whose unique musical style shows traces of Chopin and Rachmaninoff mixed with jazz harmonies, syncopated rhythms, and rambunctious hijinks. Kapustin’s music is just now being discovered by Western listeners.

A running theme of the program is how artfully these composers have merged material drawn from the music and cultures of the East into the mainstream of the romantic concert piano sound developed in the West.

The music of this concert resonates personally with Michael Arnowitt as his mother grew up in Korea under Japanese occupation and emigrated in the late 1950’s to the United States where she met her eventual American husband. On a trip to Korea in the 1970’s, Arnowitt discovered his mother’s uncle was a well-known pianist, conductor, and composer in Korea in the mid-20th century. Like the program’s title, Michael Arnowitt is himself a mixture of East and West.