The Tides and Currents of Timo Andres

By Steven Libowitz   |   July 9, 2024
Timo Andres takes on the complete Philip Glass Études (courtesy photo)

Timo Andres’ first visit to the Music Academy will include – for the fellows’ brass concert – the west coast premiere of the rising star pianist-composer’s “Land Lines”for triple brass quintet, as well as his “Tides and Currents” in the faculty concert at the Lobero. Andres once served on the judges panel for the fellows’ solo piano competition, then composed the three-part Moving Études for winner Zhu Wang to debut back at Hahn in February. 

Wang continued to perform the pieces several more times, and Andres himself finally learned them well enough to record during the pandemic lockdown. 

“It was a great collaboration,” Andres recalled. “He was just 20, so he hadn’t worked with a living composer one-on-one like that before. He was a raw talent – a monster pianist and a very sensitive artist, not just another technician. So it was really a great experience for both of us.” 

Seven years later, Andres’ profile has risen significantly, both as composer and pianist, as his 2023-24 season boasted his Carnegie Hall solo recital debut and a tour with the Calder Quartet, as well as the world premiere of a piano concerto commissioned for Aaron Diehl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But he’s thrilled to be immersing once again at MAW’s Miraflores campus for four events over five days. Next Monday, he and longtime pianist-colleague Conor Hanick will discuss Philip Glass’ collection of 20 Piano Études in advance of performing and mostly coaching the fellows for a concert of the complete works at week’s end; reprising (so to speak) Andres’ having joined four other pianists in performance of the Études at Walt Disney Concert Hall last March. 

“The Glass Études caught fire immediately when the first edition of the score of all 20 of them came out in 2014,” Andres said. “They’re being played by different pianists all over the world with all sorts of interpretations, adaptations and transcriptions, and in as broad a variety of performing contexts as you can imagine. These pieces that Glass wrote as an exercise in improving his own piano technique are a fantastic example of contemporary piano literature.”

Hearing them in their entirety is paramount to fully appreciate the Études, Andres said, essential to tracking Glass’ evolution over the course of composing them over nearly two decades. 

“There are all these technical aspects of piano playing that are very clearly defined in the first 10 etudes – [such as] a study on repeated notes, or on crossing the right hand over the left. But in the second book, the Études become more wide ranging, turning into compositional studies that go on complex structural journeys… There’s a sense of intentionality in these pieces where they encapsulate the different compositional techniques that he has explored over the years. A performance of the Études as a whole is like Philip Glass in a nutshell, a survey course of his career.” 

Andres said the Glass Études are also perfect for the Academy solo pianist fellows as he considers them “about as inescapable as any recent pieces I know.” Each of the six fellows will tackle three études bookended by the faculty members playing the first and last, a treat for both the performers and the audience. 

“It’s a thrilling thing to hear, especially so in splitting them up between a lot of pianists, because you get to hear many different perspectives and ways of approaching this music,” he said. “They’re like Bach in the modesty of the notational specificity in the scores. It’s clear that you need to do more than is on the page, but Glass doesn’t tell you specifically what – it’s up to you as the interpreter. We’ll be talking with the fellows about how to take the composer’s style and his influences and your own knowledge to build your own ideas of what can happen with them.” 

One of those latter coaching sessions will happen in public as Andres leads the solo piano masterclass on Friday afternoon, about 28 hours before the performance. The lecture, masterclass and performance in the space of five days is like a mini mirroring of the Études – a journey of discovery for the audience. 

For those who may be unfamiliar with Glass’ work, or even contemporary piano composition, Andres notes that Glass has had more of an influence on the sound of music in general than any other living composer.

“Even if you’ve never heard a note of his music, you kind of know what it sounds like,” he said. “This is music that has nothing to hide. There’s no subterfuge – everything is spelled right out for you. There’s a kind of trust, an honesty that I think is kind of rare among working contemporary composers. It’s part of the reason that his music has been so wildly popular.”

Andres’ residency also features one of his early compositions, “Some Connecticut Gospel,” kicking off the X2 faculty-fellows concert at Hahn Hall on July 11, an ensemble piece for 12 instrumentalists from another time and place in his life and career. 

“It was one of my first commissions, back when I was still in school in 2008,” he said. “I was weaving together a lot of music in polyrhythms, just trying things out. I don’t really write political music. But there was something in the air, a feeling of optimism and hope when we could vote for this inspiring young guy (Barack Obama).”

Andres said he hasn’t even heard a performance of “Connecticut” in years but he’s intrigued to revisit the work with Hanick and the fellows at this particular moment in history. 

“I wonder how it will feel in this context where we’re all kind of hiding our heads in our hands and dreading the next few months,” he said. “Maybe it will be good to hear that optimism again.” 

Xian Zhang leads the Academy Chamber Orchestra concert in Hahn Hall this Saturday, July 6

Friday, July 5: We wrote a bit about The Fauré Project in last week’s Jeremy Denk interview, and the concert is completely sold out. But this is one of those times to beg, cajole or bribe someone who already possesses tickets into parting with them, as tonight’s concert teaming Mosher guest artists Joshua Bell (violin) and Steven Isserlis (cello) with one-time Mosher-turned-faculty violinist Jeremy Denk and violist Richard O’Neill is an MAW must-see. The lads will perform three of Fauré’s exceptional chamber works (“Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 120”; “Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 45”; and, joined by violin fellow Anthony Chan, “Piano Quintet No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 115”) in honor of the 100-year anniversary of the French composer’s death. (Hahn, 7:30 pm; $65)

Saturday, July 6: While you’re at it with Fauré, maybe also try to secure ducats to this year’s Academy Chamber Orchestra concert in Hahn Hall, conducted tonight by Xian Zhang, the Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in her MAW debut. The orchestral fellows who aren’t playing for Carmen next weekend will perform a vital and variable program of Dorothy Chang’s “Northern Star,” Zoltán Kodály’s “Dances of Galánta” and Dvořák’s still delightful “Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, ‘From the New World.’” (Hahn, 7:30 pm; $18-$60)

Tuesday, July 9: Speaking of Carmen, with the official MAW opera performances slated for Friday & Sunday, it’s time for the annual covers concerts in which the Lehrer Vocal Institute singers who aren’t occupying starring roles get to strut their stuff on stage on campus. For the understudies, it’s a chance to actually perform the bigger roles in their entirety to ensure they are ready to jump in at a moment’s notice should it become necessary. For you, it’s an opportunity to enjoy the opera in the amazing acoustics and intimate environs of Hahn Hall, hearing the other massively talented vocal fellows in a semi-staged production, with the vocal pianists substituting for the orchestra. (Hahn, 1:30 pm; $10)

Wednesday, July 10: If Carmen isnot your cup of tea, or you’re simply craving more arias and art songs in concert, today’s Showcase Series concert features Lehrer Vocal Institute Studio Artists, including eight singers and a single vocal pianist, performing in an even more intimate space, with the program still TBA. (Lehmann, 1:30 pm; $40)  


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