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Alternating Current for solo piano (1997)
Commissioned by Young Concert Artists for performance by Jeremy Denk
Premiere: Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, 1998
Alternating Current was commissioned by Young Concert Artists, Inc. for
pianist Jeremy Denk and made possible through a generous grant from
Ernest Levenstein. It was premiered on February 9, 1998 at the Kennedy
Center, Washington D.C.
Writing piano music is a daunting task due to the enormous repertoire of
great works pianists already have available to them. So in my
preliminary improvisations for Alternating Current I allowed myself to
gravitate toward the aspects of piano pieces I have studied since
childhood: the motoric clarity of toccatas by Bach, the ennobling
harmonic progressions of Beethovens slow movements, the terrifying
neurosis of Ravels Scarbo.
The title refers to the use of alternating meter which occurs in all
three movements, and also to the flowing nature, which characterizes the
entire work. The first movement is quick and Baroque. Like the other
two movements, this movement alternates in mode as well as meter,
shifting between the key signatures of D and F.
The second movement is a slow dance in which contrasts descending triads
with Beethovenian pedal points (repeated or held central pitches which
provide a tonal reference point and focus the musics energy). My aim
was a sense of quiet nobility.
The last movement is bubbling and relentless, its dissonance achieved by
placing the key of the first movement in one hand and the key of the
second in the other. It contains a variety of things including darting
scherzando chords, soaring melodic arches, percussive, toccata-like
rhythms reminiscent of Prokofievs piano works. The notion of being in
two keys at once eventually gives way to a return of the first
movements harmonies, this time cast in a more rhythmic, minimalist
guise. This leads to a very virtuosic ending which covers the entire
range of the keyboard.