(…with lots of captivating recording projects)
Kickstarter is such an amazing idea. Richard Narroway, with whom I chatted a month or so ago, used it for his recording/tour project with the Bach cello suites, and in that same initial poking around process, I found an inspiring project that at first had me scratching my head.
Sure: symphonies have lots of overhead. To get 50-100 people (depending on the piece) together with their instruments and parts and a conductor and a venue just to rehearse a piece is a lot. I get that. On the contrary, though, are works for solo piano, an intimate, powerful way to hear a composer’s thoughts, performed by one person at the instrument, that bastion of musical expression, the piano.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I run across the My Cup Runneth Over project on Kickstarter. Nathaniel Dett, an African-Canadian/American composer/pianist whose work strikes a delectable balance between European tradition and American culture, with an impressive resume and career, who’s virtually unknown. And it’s outstanding, rich, vivid music for the piano.
Clipper Erickson has been dedicated to the music of R. Nathaniel Dett for some time now, and even knowing nothing about the pianist or the composer, just listening to the music, one agrees with Jed Distler at Gramophone when he says that “Erickson’s idiomatic, colourful, technically adroit and caring interpretations do the repertoire full justice.” I won’t continue to quote that article, but it’s a fantastic write-up of an almost-frustratingly compelling two-disc album. Why frustrating?
My initial response to hearing the music was not confusion, or head-scratching or befuddlement, at least not to the music itself; I was bowled over by that. Rather, it was like walking into an empty restaurant on a busy corner and discovering the food to be delicious and affordable, the atmosphere pleasant, staff friendly… and you wonder how the place isn’t buzzing with people. You’re excited to tell your friends and bring them to try it, this undiscovered or neglected little corner café or restaurant or whatever.
It seems this is a response that the pianist has gotten used to when presenting Dett’s work.
Why don’t people know about this music?! was my incredulous question for Erickson, a fantastically friendly, well-spoken, informed, talented gentleman with whom I chatted at length on more than one occasion. He has an insight into and passion for music in general, especially Dett’s, which is unsurprising after listening to the recordings.
In this episode, we chat about R. Nathaniel Dett, who he was, what he wrote, and what it’s like to be an advocate for this music that is, as a result of Erickson’s dedication, getting the attention it deserves. Part two of our conversation(s) is forthcoming, in which we talk about other exciting projects that Mr. Erickson is working on.
As a side note, I feel this is an example of the system not always working. This is something I’ve been talking a few people about lately, that some would argue that forgotten music is forgotten because it should be (it’s boring, or lacks something: ingenuity, a voice, creativity, etc.), and that what stands as the mainstays of concert hall repertoires is the best of the best, what’s floated to the top, but I don’t buy that. Things like racial prejudice, politics (industry-type who-you-know or who-doesn’t-like-you stuff), privilege and all the rest get in lots of people’s ways, and modern media give us a chance to hear stuff that might not have seen the light of day in another era. You decide. But go buy My Cup Runneth Over before you decide to get another set of Mozart sonatas.