NYTimes Review

New York Times, Nov, 20 2019, by Zachary Woolfe, Photo by Hiroyuki Ito


Review: Philip Glass, at 82, Unveils His First Piano Sonata

Thousands of people took in the bronzed, glacial grandeur of Philip Glass’s “Akhnaten” at the Metropolitan Opera on Tuesday evening. A couple of miles downtown, a far smaller group heard a very different Glass — lively and sly; intimate and changeable — as Maki Namekawa gave the American premiere of his new piano sonata, his first venture into that genre, at the Morgan Library & Museum.

Mr. Glass may not care about his legacy, but he’s hardly unaware of the dynamics that shape a composer’s reputation. “If I’m to be remembered for anything,” he is quoted as saying in the program notes at the Morgan, “it might be for the piano music, because people can play it.”

As his career took off, he was increasingly asked to play solo concerts. So, simply enough, he began to write piano pieces to perform at them. For a while, he kept these mainly for his own use; if people wanted to hear them, he reasoned, they’d have to hire him. And, as he observes, they were eminently playable; while a good pianist, Mr. Glass was never a virtuoso.

These works — like the first book of études, the five parts of “Metamorphosis,” “Mad Rush” — have since been published and widely recorded, and they are what Mr. Glass means when he says that his piano music is what’s most likely to be remembered among his massive output. But gradually, and especially over the past decade, his piano compositions moved beyond the level of what he could plausibly perform, their technical demands perhaps culminating — at least for the moment — in the new sonata.

The first movement begins with gently surging, triumphal motifs, passing swiftly between major and minor moods before settling into bustling activity and, suddenly, a mournful tenderness that carries into the start of the second movement: an oscillating pattern in the left hand, familiar in Mr. Glass’s music, and a deliberate melody in the right.

Dissonances creep in, but nothing too troubling, especially in a passage of serene chords that’s the prettiest part of the sonata. For all the work’s switches of mood — between major and minor, churning and calm — the stakes feel low, though not unagreeably. Even when it’s headlong, as in the chugga-chugga perpetual motion of the third movement, the work is light, even superficial, a revue of Glassian riffs that’s pleasant and passing. While it’s imposing, at nearly 30 minutes, the sonata feels larky.

Ms. Namekawa is an old hand at all this; she was the first to record Mr. Glass’s complete études, and is the wife and piano-duo partner of the conductor Dennis Russell Davies, this composer’s most notable champion. She visibly grooved throughout the performance, emphasizing the dancing youthfulness of a piece by an 82-year-old composer.

The first half of the program was a kind of joke on this point: Berg wrote his noirish Piano Sonata when he was in his early 20s, and Mozart Camargo Guarnieri was 30 in 1937, when he wrote his genial Sonatina No. 3.

Most astonishing, Mendelssohn was still in his teens when he wrote his first piano sonata. Played by Ms. Namekawa with sprightly sensuality and exuberant wit, it burst with precocious energy — and outdid in profundity much music written by composers many decades older.

Maki Namekawa

Performed on Tuesday at the Morgan Library & Museum, Manhattan.

Ars Electronica Festival 2019 | Music Monday | Press Review

Credit: tom mesic

Three very favourable reviews (in German) for the Namekawa/Davies concert as well as the Austrian Premiere of the Piano Sonata by Philip Glass.


Volksblatt, 11.09.2019

Namekawa Dialog mit Glass

“Die Japanerin nach außen impulsiver, körperlich die Intensität ihres Spiels.
Das Glass-typische Fließen, die “Wassermusik”, versehen mit halsbrecherischen Sprüngen, die nur mit der Virtuosität einer Namekawa zu bewältigen sind. Der Mittelteil intim, ein Auskosten der Stille auch, in schönen Bögen schwebt die rechte Hand über die Tasten. Ein sensibler Dialog, als hätte der Komponist ein Zwiegespräch mit der Pianistin vor Augen gehabt.
Wilder Schlussakkord, Jubel in der Gleishalle. Die Begeisterung gilt ihr, der hinreißenden Musikerin.”

(Chris Pichler)

Kronen Zeitung, 11.09.2019 (S. 46)

Ein pianistisches Superereignis

Das perfekt harmonisierende Piano-Duo Maki Namekawa und Dennis Russell Davies begeisterte beim Abschlusskonzert des Ars Electronica Festivals mit dem Projekt “Piano Music meets Digital Images”. Die kreative und farbenprächtige Visualisierung von Cori O’lan geleitete die Musik.

Die österreichische Erstaufführung der “PianoSonata” for Maki Namekawa von Philip Glass wurde zum pianistischen Superereignis.
Maki Namekawa faszinierte mit Virtuosität sowie leidenschaftlicher Hingabe und meisterte das sprunghafte mit aufregenden Rhythmen gespickte Paradewerk bewundernswert.
Die direkte Begegnung zwischen dem musikalischen Klang und den farbenprächtigen digitalen Bildern von Cori O’lan lieferte ein Spannungsfeld von kreativer Vielfalt. Staunenswert war, dass der Klang in Echtzeit von einem Computer analysiert wurde und die Parameter für die Grafiken lieferte.”

(Fred Dorfer )



 Salzburger Nachrichten, 10.09.2019


Ars-Electronica-Abschluss: Klaviermusik mit Visualisierung

Mit einem digital visualisierten Klassikkonzert hat Montagabend in der Linzer PostCity das 40. Ars Electronica Festival geendet. Auf dem Programm des von Maki Namekawa und Dennis Russell Davies gespielten Klavierkonzerts stand die von Davies für vier Hände bearbeitete Ballettmusik “Der Feuervogel” von Igor Strawinsky sowie “Piano Sonata No.1 for Maki Namekawa” des Erfolgskomponisten Philip Glass.

Das 40. Ars Electronica Festival ist beendet Die beiden Programmpunkte wurden vom österreichischen Visualisten mit Künstlernamen Cori O’Lan mit spektakulären Videos begleitet. Den Angaben zufolge erfolgte alles in Echtzeit und ohne vorbereitete Bildsequenzen.

Lediglich der Klang des direkt über zwei Mikrofone aufgenommenen Klaviers sei am Computer analysiert worden und habe so die Parameter geliefert, mit denen die Grafiken erzeugt, animiert und verändert wurden – live im Moment der Aufführung. Dem Laien blieb der Vorgang unerklärlich. Das Ergebnis war jedoch sensationell.

In unglaublich perfekter Synchronisation mit der Musik bewegten sich im “Feuervogel” die einem echten Ballett nachempfundenen Figuren und Bildelemente auf der rund 20 Meter langen und vier Meter hohen Videowall. Die knapp einstündige Präsentation nahm die rund 500 Besucher total in Bann.

Die pianistische Leistung von Maki Namekawa und ihres Mannes Dennis Russell Davies stand den Visuals in keinem Moment nach. Davies, der von 2002 bis 2017 Chefdirigent des Bruckner Orchesters Linz und Linzer Generalmusikdirektor war, hatte ab 2003 die Zusammenarbeit des Orchester mit der Ars Electronica betrieben, deren jährlicher Höhepunkt die “Große Konzertnacht” in der einstigen Gleishalle des Postverteilungszentrums in Linz war.

Die künstlerische Freundschaft zwischen Glass und Davies hatte in seiner Linzer Zeit zu zahlreichen Konzert- und Opern-Aufführungen des amerikanischen Komponisten geführt.

Die im heurigen Sommer in Deutschland uraufgeführte Klaviersonate Nr. 1 folgte in ihren drei Sätzen den von Glass’ früheren Arbeiten vertrauten Stilelementen – durchaus melodisch, mit wiederholten Themen und perlenden Tastenläufen und so auch für die digitale Visualisierung geradezu perfekt. Maki Namekawa, mit dem Schaffen von Philip Glass bestens vertraut, nahm sich dem ihr gewidmeten Werk mit Virtuosität und innerer Anteilnahme an. Es herrschte große Begeisterung bei den Zuhörern.

→ Review Salzburger Nachrichten


A Flypast of Musical Minimalism

Press Review by Brno Music Friendly City

The piano recital by the chief conductor of the Filharmonie Brno Dennis Russell Davies and his wife the pianist Maki Namekawa yesterday in Besední dům offered three works by three significant figures from American minimalism.
The concert included minimalist works by Steve Reich in the shape of Piano Phase, the composition Hallelujah Junction by John Adams and Four Movements for Two Pianos by Philip Glass.

For a number of years musical minimalism has been unusually popular with listeners. This trend can be taken as the clear antithesis to the extreme heritage of expressionism, dropping the period’s musical approach and setting out on its own path of short repetitive motifs branching out into broader passages of gradually changing music. The early form of musical minimalism reflected the desire of composers in the fifties and sixties for radical change not only in the composition process itself but mainly for the way music was perceived in general. A minor change in the motif, which many would have not noticed, here becomes the centrepiece of the work. The meditative, and even hypnotic character, of these works stands in contrast to the musical production of the time. As composition developed however this revolutionary approach began as a result of becoming interwoven with the original musical culture to change and develop. For many contemporary composers the original concepts of minimalism often function as a springboard that gives rise to the synthesis of several different musical styles and compositional approaches. The wisely assembled programme for Saturday’s concert tried to illustrate this compositional development chronologically with the works of the leading composers of American minimalism.

Reich’s piece Piano Phase from 1967 is from what was still the early phase of American minimalism. The introductory motif drawn from a twelve-tone series is first played by one pianist and then by the other, who however after a short while imperceptibly speeds up. This then leads to a “phase shift”, which can also be found in others among Reich’s works. The concept requires an unbroken rhythmic precision from both interpreters, since the uniqueness and complexity of the musical structure arises precisely from this constant shift in both piano lines. Dennis Russell Davies and his spouse Maki Namekawa have great experience with minimalist compositions and so were able to sustain the constant melodic shifts completely without difficulty. While Reich’s Piano Phase his built on an almost monotonous repetition of short musical motifs, they managed – especially Maki Namekawa – to introduce to the work elements of lyricism and personal expression. Subtle, yet noticeable in the little things, the phrasing supplied the work with a significant new musical dimension.

The following work Hallelujah Junction by John Adams showed a newer face of minimalist music. In comparison with the uncompromising pulsing composition by Steve Reich it came across as much more traditional, even though it contained within itself a sharp minimalist ostinato. It was in Adams’ piece that the synthesis of the old and new musical worlds was most apparent – the stretching hypnotic musical passages alternating with unexpected melodic and harmonic twists and the dialogue between the two pianos offered space for a wide variety of compositional techniques. Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa brought the lyricism and toughness of the work to the surface – especially in the sudden contrast between aggressive utterances and the unexpectedly fragile and romantic entry in pianissimo which were brilliantly mastered by the pianists and were highly suggestive in their effect. Dennis Russell Davies generally chose a rather moderate approach, while Maki Namekawa went for a more exposed one. It should be added that this was what was required by her part.
The closing piece of the evening was the composition by Philip Glass Four Movements for Two Pianos, which the composer wrote for the couple in 2008. Glass does not only work with so-called “classical music”, but in certain places draws inspiration from popular music. This dichotomy is clear in Four Movements for Two Pianos, where the harmonically more colourful parts swap with classical chains of cadences ending clearly on the tonic, all accompanied by arpeggios. However it would be short-sighted to assess the value of the piece only on the basis of harmonic complexity. Glass’ work despite its flirtation with popular culture remains on the territory of classical music. The listener could be convinced of the possible colour and expressive shades that can be found in Glass by the performance of Maki Namekawa. The pianist skilfully passed from jubilant runs and attacked the milder parts of the romantic lyrical, expressive interpretation changes propped up by excellent work with dynamics. Dennis Russell Davies chose, as in the preceding composition, rather a more mumble, less emotionally expressive approach, which created a pleasant contrast to the other piano part.

This exceptional concert for the Chief Conductor’s Series very briefly outlined the development of American minimalism from its beginnings to more or less its current shape. However it would be wrong to think that this is the only form of musical minimalism. There also exist other more extreme musical experiments, hidden in the shadow of the better-known faces. Nevertheless, it is commendable that the Filharmonie Brno under the leadership of new chief conductor has offered this opportunity and enriches the cultural life of the city of Brno also with popular works that are rarely performed locally.

JOHN ADAMS Hallelujah Junction
PHILIP GLASS Four Movements for Two Pianos

Maki Namekawa, Piano
Dennis Russell Davies, Piano

Photo by Vojtěch Kába

→ read on BRNO Music Friendly City

On Apple Musics’ A-List

The Track Orphée from Namekawa/Davies’ new iTunes release “Three Pieces for four Hands” is on Apple Musics’ Classical A-List.

Auf zwei Klavieren virtuos tanzen | Oberösterreichische Nachrichten vom 23. Okt. 2018

Schon zur Zeit Mozarts war es Usus, große Symphonien für kleinere Besetzungen zu bearbeiten.

So auch für Klavier, wobei mehr Spielraum zwei Klaviere erlauben, die Maki Namekawa und Dennis Russell Davies bei ihrem Recital anlässlich des 100. Geburtstags von Leonard Bernstein am Sonntag im Großen Saal der Anton Bruckner Privatuniversität gehörig zum Klingen brachten.

Bernstein pur

Maki Namekawa und Dennis Russell Davies gelingt das Kunststück, die pianistische Analyse so zu interpretieren, dass die Klangfarben des orchestrierten Originals durchaus greifbar sind. Nicht minder sezierend sind György Kurtágs Choralpräludien von Johann Sebastian Bach, die in dieser Form jede Linie verfolgen lassen. Im zweiten Teil dann Leonard Bernstein pur. Zunächst “Music for two Pianos” des damals 19-Jährigen, die er bei einem Konzert der Klasse von Heinrich Gebhard mit Mildred Spiegel in Boston uraufgeführt hat. Hier sind die typischen Bernstein’schen Rhythmen angelegt. Manches davon findet sich in “On the Town” wieder.

John Musto hat Bernsteins “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story” für zwei Klaviere bearbeitet, eine Fassung, die Maki Namekawa und Dennis Russell Davies auf der ganzen Welt spielten. Das gesamte Programm wurde technisch fulminant, musikalisch hinreißend und den Gehalt der Werke auf den Punkt treffend umgesetzt.

Fazit: Das Duo Maki Namekawa und Dennis Russell Davies schafft es auf zwei Flügeln, die Klangfarben des orchestrierten Originals greifbar zu machen.

Bruckneruni: Klavierabend mit Maki Namekawa und Dennis Russell Davies, 21. 10.

Michael Wruss