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One evening in the early 1970s a college friend dragged me to a piano recital at the Port Washington Library in Long Island. The program contained a work I had never heard before – Pierre Boulez’s daunting Piano Sonata No. 2, featuring a young pianist named Frederic Rzewski, who simply played the hell out of the thing. Soon after, I heard Frederic play his own works for the first time. The music was passionate, alternately tonal and atonal, with notes piling up on each other like harried commuters jostling for seats at rush hour. Yet there were dramatic silences, and optional improvisations. Suddenly the great composer/pianist tradition was alive again, and I unwittingly landed myself a role model.
Happily, Frederic’s brief mid-1970s period in New York coincided with my student years, and I heard him in many contexts, including one concert that opened with Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata (the Boulez 2nd of its time), and closed with Frederic’s variation set “The People United Will Never Be Defeated” (the Beethoven DIabelli Variations of our time, based on the protest song by Sergio Ortega).
Still, I didn’t really get to know Frederic well until the 1990s, when CCi began to present him, most ambitiously during the 2003 Solo Flights festival, when Frederic premiered his complete eight-plus hour “novel for piano” The Road over the course of six concerts. It seems fitting in CCi’s 25th anniversary year that Frederic will grace the Serial Underground stage with a rare New York appearance. Don’t miss him.