I have reviewed a LOT of piano music over the past 25 or so years, but once in awhile an album comes along that really teaches me a thing or two (or three) about a different way of playing the piano. Nic Gerpe's The Makrokosmos 50 Project
is one of those albums. The Project
is a fiftieth anniversary celebration and commemoration of George Crumb's epic work, Makrokosmos, Volume 1
, completed in 1972, a work that Gerpe has found to be "a source of tremendous artistic inspiration" in his own musical life. Quoting Gerpe: "Makrokosmos
is loaded with musical and extramusical associations - poetry, spirituality, and big metaphysical and cosmic ideas. To me, however, the most special thing about the piece is its celebration of connections between people - friends, family, teachers, colleagues and those who inspire us, shape our lives and make us who we are.” Crumb's work was inspired by Bela Bartok's Mikrokosmos
and Claude Debussy's Preludes
, as well as what Crumb referred to as "the darker side of Chopin" and "the child-like fantasy of Schumann." (Phrases from Chopin's "Fantasie-Impromptu" are quoted within Crumb's "#11. Dream Images - Love/Death Music - Gemini.")
Crumb's original work was subtitled Twelve Fantasy-Pieces after the Zodiac for Amplified Piano
, and Gerpe performs the full work as the first half of the album. The second half is a group of twelve new pieces by twelve different composers (commissioned by and including Gerpe), each as an answer to one of the original Crumb pieces. Gerpe also performs these new works for the album and video. What I found especially helpful in enjoying this music is a full-length video of the complete performance, which allows the viewer to see just how all of those interesting sounds were created on (and in) a "normal-looking" Steinway B grand piano. Strummed, picked, muted and pounded strings; metal thimbles, a lightweight chain, various effects on the soundboard; chants, whistles, a moaning ghost, and more all contribute to this fascinating album. Gerpe plays the original Makrokosmos, Vol. 1
from memory, but I have seen a few examples of how Crumb notated some of the music into symbols and shapes, leading me to wonder just how it's read. Gerpe uses a computer screen to read the new pieces as he plays, and a few of those are also notated into symbolic shapes - including Eric Guinivan’s "Signal," which he says is based on Crumb's "Crucifixus" and “the WiFi logo, symbolizing our desire for connectedness with one another.” (The WiFi symbol on the sheet music is visible as Gerpe plays the piece.)
The twelve composers and the titles of their works are:
Vera Ivanova - "Karkata"
Fernanda Aoki Navarro - "Crumbling"
Gernot Wolfgang - "The Patience of Water"
Eric Guinivan - "Signal"
Nic Gerpe - "Ghost of the Manticore"
Alexander Elliott Miller - "The Celestial Crown"
Viet Cuong - "Scaling Back"
Julie Herndon - "Circle of"
Gilda Lyons - "The Transcendence of Time"
Timothy Peterson - "Aries"
Juhi Bansal - "... through cracked mirrors"
Thomas Osborne - "Supernova"
George Crumb (1929-2022) is considered to be a giant in modern classical music, so if his music is familiar to you, you might not need the visuals of the video to fully appreciate Nic Gerpe's project, but both the sound and high-resolution video are amazing. The sound quality of the album is also spectacular and provides a different experience from watching the music unfold. It's an amazing project and I very highly recommend both parts of it.
The Makrokosmos 50 Project
album is available to download and/or stream from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and from various streaming sites including Spotify. The videos are available on YouTube. A limited number of CDs will be available from https://makrokosmos50.com/