Vicky Chow - A O R T A
Acclaimed pianist Vicky Chow released her sophomore solo album, A O R T A, on November 18, 2016. The album features six new works written for piano by composers Andy Akiho, Christopher Cerrone, Jakub Ciupinski, Jacob Cooper, Molly Joyce, and Daniel Wohl. A O R T A follows Chow's recent recordings of Steve Reich’s Piano Counterpoint (Nonesuch) and Tristan Perich’s Surface Image (New Amsterdam Records).
A O R T A is a deeply personal album for Chow, who is the pianist for the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Grand Band, New Music Detroit, and has worked with other ensembles such as the International Contemporary Ensemble. Each composer featured on A O R T A is a longtime friend and collaborator, and each piece captures how she has felt at her most vulnerable in life.
"A O R T A is named as such because it is a collection of pieces from my heart. I searched for music that resonated with me during desperate times, alone in a cramped apartment at 2 a.m. and wide awake, trying to find meaning.
When I put out my first solo recording, I was obsessed with perfection -- everything had to be in its right place. I wanted A O R T A to be different. I chose the longest takes, preserving my sense of this world as much as possible -- the rawness and difficulty of being alive. I wanted to create an album about light, love, emotion, and humanity."
The album opens with Christopher Cerrone's "Hoyt-Schermerhorn", a tribute to the New York nightscape, and explores the competing feelings that come to us late at night -- nostalgia, joy, panic, anxiety. "Clifton Gates" by Jacob Cooper follows, named for the place it was written (Clifton Place, Brooklyn) and the piece it pays homage to (John Adams’s "Phrygian Gates"). "Clifton Gates" employs—among other digital effects—actual audio gates, creating a rhythmic alteration out of sudden shifts in amplitude. The gating effect is especially audible as the work begins, processing music whose tonality and texture are reminiscent of the slow middle section of Adams’s piece.
Then arrives Jakub Ciupinski's four-movement piece "Morning Tale", which centers around the motion from a place of darkness to a new beginning. Technically, the piece strives to use electronics as an extension of the piano's capabilities rather than a separate medium by featuring an electronic layer derived from piano sounds, with the speakers placed inside the instrument to achieve a greater blend with acoustic sounds.
Molly Joyce's "Rave" follows, written specifically for Chow's sound and style. "Rave" incorporates an inverse relationship between live piano and pre-recorded electronics, exploring the sonic possibilities of this complex relationship as it evolves over the course of the piece using inverse interaction. Next are Daniel Wohl's two works, which feature different interactions between the electronics and the piano. In "Limbs", the electronics match the intricate rhythm played by Chow, and in "Bones", a second recording of the piano interlocks with the one played in real time by Chow.
The album closes with Andy Akiho's piece "Vick(i/y)", a piece written and named for Vick(y) Chow and pianist Vick(i) Ray. The work uses auditory and structural palindromes throughout the work to symbolize the subtle differences that lie beneath an assumed symmetrical structure or state of being. The bell-like preparation notes of diminishing pulses, which are continuously interrupted by the conventional notes, represent a consistent, yet fading mental image. Akiho's goal was to create a miniature percussion ensemble with the piano by incorporating extended instrument-preparation and compositional techniques inspired by John Cage, George Crumb, Béla Bartók and Jacob Druckman.
Press and News:
Pitchfork: "Avant-garde pianist Vicky Chow releases an album full of roving, tense compositions from modern-day composers, blending her traditional piano with blurs of digital effects and percussion."