- Sergei Rachmaninoff – 3 Moments Musicaux op. 16 no. 1,5,4
What other way to kick-off this fundraising than with the composer who has sparked my love for classical music in the first place: Sergei Rachmaninoff.
I heard his Second Piano Concerto for the first time while I was staying with my grandparents and from that moment on, I decided I would become a pianist. He is one of the composers who sticked with me from the very beginning and, as I got to know more and more of his music, my love and admiration for him kept deepening to this day.
On February 16, I will play 3 out of 6 Moments Musicaux. Rachmaninoff wrote these pieces when he was about the same age as I am now, facing a similar problem: financial struggles. He therefore composed this wonderful set of 6 pieces, dedicated to his friend and fellow-composer Alexandr Zatayevich. Each piece can be played as a concert piece on its own or as part of the cycle.
The first Moment Musical in B-flat minor is the longest of them all and is divided into four sections. It starts with a syncopated melody, accompanied by triplets in the left hand, to which a beautiful descending countermelody is placed by the second time we hear the theme. This is followed by a seemingly improvisational section in G-flat major that leads us to a cadenza, after which the original theme returns in a quiet, rapid formation. I remember my teacher, Vitaly Samoshko, referring to it as “haze” or “mist”. To me, that seems to describe this part perfectly. The last section is a reprise of the original theme, accompanied by arpeggiated harmony, after which Rachmaninoff concludes his first Moment Musical in the original key. For the sake of the music, I will continue the concert first with Moment Musical no. 5 in D-flat major. This is a beautiful barcarolle, where Rachmaninoff establishes one of his rhythmical favorites: triplets against eighth notes.The melody is a classic example of Rachmaninoff’s praised lyricism, though the lines may be somewhat shorter than usual. To me, it depicts the sound of a warm home, cherished moments and lovely memories. After this interlude, it is time for another characteristic trait of Rachmaninoff’s music: virtuosity. Moment Musical no. 4 in E minor immediately shatters all lovely dreams of the previous piece with its stormy accompaniment and pressing melody. A quieter intersection seems to embody the “eye of the storm” right before the original theme is reprised in different registers and storms off to its violent ending.
- Marc Matthys – Vocalise & Toccata
Rachmaninoff of course, is not the only composer responsible for my love for music. Growing up in the house of musicians, with me and my sisters also playing instruments, ensured our house was rarely silent. But every now and then, everything went quiet when my father presented a brand-new composition he had just finished. It is something…hearing a piece when it is played for the first time.
His Vocalise & Toccata for piano solo consists of two very contradicting parts, as is stated in its title. The Vocalise was originally written for voice and piano and has been arranged for a number of instruments, including cello, violin and flute. After the tsunami of sound from the previous piece, this will serve as the perfect antidote to calm the heart rate and enjoy music in all its honesty.
The Toccata afterwards will bring back the adrenaline, even though it will be far more rhythmical this time. A lot of staccato, dynamic contrasts and jazz rhythms should keep you at the edge of your seat while it culminates to its sudden fortissimo ending.
Paul Gulda once referred to the piece this way: “the Toccata stays in your head…but the Vocalise stays in your heart.” That about sums it up.
- Maurice Ravel – Piano Concerto in G, part II: Adagio assai
This piece is probably the most beautiful part of any piano concerto ever written. But that’s not the only reason why I have programmed it for the fundraising.
My goal during my studies at Jacobs School of Music is to focus on 20th century classical music with strong links to jazz and to find connections between the two genres. Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G is often referred to as jazz-influenced and you will clearly hear blue-notes and extended harmonies in the course of this piece. Most likely a result of his encounter with Gershwin and his (jazz) music.
Although much of the brilliance of this piece is to be found in its breathtaking melody and exquisite harmony, we should not underestimate the rhythmical trick Ravel uses to create tension. He deliberately puts the listener – and the pianist for that matter – on the wrong foot by writing the left hand in 6 (1-2-3, 2-2-3), while the right hand plays a very slow 3-count signature above it (1–2–3–). This creates two separate worlds, one for each hand, that agree on the first beat of every bar, but disagree on the other. Pure mastery.
- John Williams – Escapades
It only seemed fit that an American composer should have the honors to close the first part of the concert. John Williams, a jazz pianist himself, composed Escapades for the movie Catch Me if You Can (2002) whereafter he made a reduction for saxophone and piano. Since the storyline of the film is set in the 1960s, Williams wanted to recreate the progressive jazz music of that time. The suite consists of three parts, starting with Closing In. It embodies FBI investigator Carl Hanratty’s frantic search for the con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. Definitely a huge amount of detective-vibes going on in this piece.
Reflections then gives us the opportunity to have a closer look at the main character’s social life and family relationships. It is not a very happy reality he lives in, which explains the fantasy world he creates for himself in Joy Ride. A marvelous rollercoaster of fast notes and a recognizable melody is everything John Williams needed to end the suite and his musical view on Frank’s story.
- Marc Matthys/Nathalie Matthys – Illusion
I am in love with classical music and piano, but there was a time where I was unable to play due to a physical injury. The only thing keeping me sane in that period was singing jazz music. This is something I have been doing almost equally as long as I have been playing the piano, but especially since this event, I have made it a life goal to combine singing and playing. And while I am at it, why not try and write lyrics too?
Illusion was originally composed by my father for my mother and has lived a long life before I set any words to it. Then last year, I gave it my best shot and tried to tell a relatable story, set to the original sound. Even though this will not be the premiere of the piece, it will be performed for the first time in a concert hall of this calibre.
- Marc Matthys – 5 plus 3
No words this time, only chords, melody and improvisation. Especially that last bit will cause some personal stress, but the song is so upbeat and fun, I am confident it will work out. The piece consists of two time signatures that alternate between 5/4 and 3/4, creating a jazz waltz and…well, not a jazz waltz. It is a varied landscape, this one, which makes it all the more exciting.
- Marc Matthys/Nathalie Matthys – Sad Waltz
This is probably one of my favorite jazz waltzes of all time. Also a song that existed way before the words, this will be the first time ever Sad Waltz is performed with lyrics in public. Premiere on the fundraising concert: check!
A friend of mine inspired me to write the lyrics and I am hoping you can relate to its story.
- Eden ahbez – Nature Boy
On to jazz standards. This song was first recorded by pianist-singer Nat King Cole, but the arrangement you will hear was originally performed by Kurt Elling. An uptempo, James Bond-like version with a lot of power and grit…In my opinion, this one should start a party.
- Aaron Parks/Nathalie Matthys – Praise
I had the privilege of hearing Aaron Parks live with Dhafer Youssef two years ago in Handelsbeurs Ghent and I remember wondering how in the world he was able to play such fast licks with such an unusual fingering. One of the great mysteries of life no-doubt.
Praise, however, is in no need of virtuosity and consists of long lines in a 5/4 signature. I wrote the lyrics and the backings to it as a project for my jazz lessons and got explicit permission by Aaron Parks himself to perform the song with my additions. Sometimes internet and Instagram are truly fabulous.
- Ulf Wakenius – Momento Magico
Since I already displayed my piano technique, it is time to showcast my vocal skills. Momento Magico became very popular with Korean jazz singer Youn Sun Nah and is a purely scatted song, consisting of fast licks and a two-octave jump every once in a while. I guess, life would not be fun without a challenge, right? At least, that is definitely what our teacher thought when he presented the song to us.
- Elliott Smith – Between the Bars
One of his most popular songs, Between the Bars featured on his 1997 album Either/Or and was used for the movie Good Will Hunting (1997). However, I only knew the arrangement you are about to hear, because of the recording my sister and jazz singer, Vanessa Matthys, made with her Quartet. The original indie ballad becomes a jazz ballad in composed signatures, but the power of the lyric remains unquestionable.
- Snarky Puppy – Gone Under
Snarky Puppy, probably one of the most popular collectives of today, is not easily labeled within music genres. But whatever it is, it does not matter, because their first devotion is to music and the joy of playing together. Gone Under is a powersong, recorded by Snarky Puppy featuring Shayna Steele for the album Family Dinner, Vol. 1 in 2013. Originally written by Shayna and produced and arranged by Snarky Puppy’s bandleader Michael League, this is bound for a killer finale of the fundraiser.