For the Kigawa-Choi-Drehmann Pop Up concert (somewhat misleadingly billed as an Either/Or performance), the music was all by Gyorgi Ligeti (1923-2006).
The first half of the program consisted of Kigawa’s performance of six of Ligeti’s Piano Etudes (Book 3 Number 15, Book 2, Number 8, Book 1 Number 4, and then, all from Book 2, Numbers 11, 9 and 13). Kigawa performed them essentially without break, thereby creating one something like one single extended etude, one long rhapsodic essay.
Kigawa exacts of the piano its every possibility. His playing matches sensuality with percussive dynamism, shimmer with hammer, and glow with pizzicato precision. As Ligeti’s writing, in these etudes composed between 1985 and 2001, encompasses moods and explorations that range from pastoral meditation to dense immersion in speed itself, Kigawa shapes the sound of the piano to meet the composer’s intentions: the music is rhythmically demanding, even as the texture constantly moves from smooth gentleness to abrasive roughness and back.
Each individual etude is its own brief examination of a subject; the etudes are often speculations, unconcluded examinations of particular questions. As Kigawa assembled these six etudes, several subjects emerged. Microcosm and macrocosm are each other’s reflections; contemplation’s object is simultaneously everything and nothing; intense examination of any particular theme leads to both outward explosion and toughly focused introversion.
Kigawa brings technical precision and intellectual lucidity to Ligeti’s projects: the pianist’s rigor illuminates the composer’s modernity.
The second half of the Pop Up concert consisted of Ligety’s 1982 Trio for horn, violin and piano, often called the “Homage to Brahms.” Kigawa and Choi are Either/Or colleagues and work together on a regular basis; Drehmann is an independent musician. The three together played together as a coherent, fluently collaborative trio, subtly attuned to each other’s pacing and breathing; their mutual alertness to the spaces between sounds and silence on each other’s instruments was crucial to the success of this performance, as Ligeti’s score makes complex demands on all three instruments, especially the horn.
Ligeti’s Trio makes explicit reference to the historical musical past: it expresses gratitude to the insights of Romanticism, even as it negotiates modern stresses by means of vocabularies as diverse as jazzy cynicism and near symphonic anguish. At various moments during the trio, two instruments engage in dialogue while the third maintains a muted, constant presence; at other times, all three are engaged in musical interconnections involving several rhythmic and melodic subjects at once.
In the hands of less virtuosic musicians, Ligeti’s material can spin out of control. Kigawa, Choi and Drehmann, however, from the very opening, invited the audience into an experience of listening based on complete trust. The work’s elegant, almost wistful conclusion – a distillation of harmonic lines into quiet, unresolved ambiguities – was compelling.
This Trio, a familiar piece of the complex Ligeti repertoire, was beautifully presented by Kigawa, Choi and Drehmann, and the Pop Up concert audience was appropriately pleased.
For audiences who want more of Ligeti’s piano etudes, Kigawa will provide another opportunity: on May 16, at the Poisson Rouge here in New York City, he will perform all eighteen.
All in all, this was a wonderful presentation of demanding music by marvelous musicians.
Either/Or: Music of Gyorgi Ligeti (April 26, 2016)
Pop Up Concerts
Miller Theatre at Columbia University
2960 Broadway at 116th Street, in Manhattan
For more information, call 212-854-7799 or visit http://www.millertheatre.org
Running time: one hour and five minutes with no intermission