Gilmore Keyboard Festival

phpthumb_generated_thumbnailpng I am on my way back to New York City after my debut at the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival. I had a fantastic experience at the festival and hope that I will have a chance to return again!  Several months ago, Gilmore reached out to Concert Artist Guild and asked them if I would be interested in performing some works on toy piano and prepared piano. I jumped at the opportunity instantly because most venues try to discourage me from preparing their concert pianos. At the Gilmore Festival, there are numerous Steinway pianos being used for the festival. There is even a Steinway on-site manager that looks after the tuning and condition of the instruments. Since I was performing a prepared piano work, Perilous Night by John Cage, as well as a acoustic piano piece, Nothing is Real by Alvin Lucier, Gilmore provided me with two Steinway Grands models D and O. I will mostly likely never have the opportunity to do this program again unless I find another venue/festival that is as generous with their pianos as the Gilmore Festival.

The Gilmore International Keyboard Festival has established itself as one of the most prestigious keyboard awards and festivals. Every four years they award a pianist of any age and nationality for their promising career as a concert pianist. This year, the award went to Kirill Gerstein who performed last night. Given the kind of classical piano festival this is, I was really honored that they were willing to incorporate me as a toy pianist, recognizing it’s unique place in the keyboard world. I found the audience members to be curious, knowledgeable of keyboard music and aware of contemporary arts/music. It was the first time several people after the concert mentioned to me that they thought my concert was inappropriate for young kids and found it amusing that people decided to bring their kids to a toy piano concert. I think because of the nature of the festival, audience members seem to “get it” a lot more than other venues where people automatically think the toy piano is for kids.  I wouldn’t say that the toy piano concert is not for kids, but I would say it is as kid-friendly ( or non-kid-friendly,for that matter) as any other classical music concert.

Tomorrow I begin my rehearsals for the world premiere of Karlheinz Essl’s new toy piano piece, Whatever Shall Be that will be premiered this weekend at the Look &Listen Festival. Read more later this week to keep up!

The Memoirist at the Temporary Toy Theater Museum

dsc_3264 I was recently cleaning out my apartment and was trying to decide on what to do with objects related to my projects/work that are not crucial to performance. I spent about 2 months creating a toy theater set that is the grounds for movie-making in The Memoirist part 2. I wasn’t sure what to do with this toy theater set in my cluttered NY apartment.

I decided to clean it up and take a few pictures before I was going to throw it out. As I was straightening up the set, I remembered how cumbersome it was to bring a fragile cardboard box-house to New York when moving here two years ago. I had to pack up the objects in the cardboard house as if it was going through a house move like I was. I kept wavering between keeping it and throwing it away…on one hand it is part of an artistic project that I made, on the other hand it is completely useless to every day life. I thought of the Temporary Toy Theater Museum that is part of the International Toy Theater Festival and decided to submit these materials to them as one last “hoorah” before it left my home. And to my great surprise and delight, they accepted it!

Hosted by Great Small Works, the Toy Theater Festival is one of the most interesting theater movements of our time. This is what they say…


Toy Theater (also called Paper Theater) was the rage in parlors across Europe and the Americas in the 19th century, a popular means of staging dramatic spectacles at home. But, just as revolutions in print technology had brought toy theater into 19th-century homes, 20th-century advances in electronic media and mass culture led to the virtual extinction of this inexpensive family entertainment. The small box used to stage sumptuous dances, battles and stories in the parlor was replaced by an all-too-familiar box in the modern living room. Fantastic in scope, easily affordable and open to any imaginable content, toy theater begs to be rescued from obscurity and re- invented in a wide variety of contemporary styles. Join Great Small Works in this exciting revival!

What’s funny about the house from The Memoirist is that I didn’t even know of toy theater when I was making it. I was simply making a miniature set from the things I had laying around my apartment at that time. You can only imagine how strangely re-affirming it was to see a full-blown sold out festival of toy theater 2 years later in New York. I really can’t dream of a better place for this small set piece to be before it becomes recycled to the earth once again. The set design and the video featuring the movie from The Memoirist will be on view from May 30-June 14 at St. Ann’s Warehouse. We open on May 28th so come out and celebrate with me! I’m sure the entire festival and museum will be an absolute delight!

Kneeshy’s new project for 88 keys

A couple of days ago, Rob and I both received our own mysterious package in the mail addressed to us.  I opened it up and there was a key of a piano in there. We had been abducted into an art project by our friends Shelley Harrison and Jeremy Kennedy (as a duo, aka Kneeshy) called Keys to the 88th.

The idea behind the piece is that Kneeshy gave 1 key from a piano to 88 different people (presumably around the country.) We are given complete artistic freedom to come up with what we want to do with each key, whether it be a performance, a sculpture or whatever else. On May 1st, we are to mail these keys back (or the documentation of what happened to them) to Kneeshy in Los Angeles where they will have an art show displaying the various interpretations of each individual key.

I was totally in love with the idea right away. I have always thought Kneeshy did really inventive and playful artistic pieces that involved community and friends.  This particular piece has a certain resonance to me because it comes from a piano. I had never really seen the back side of a piano key or studied the wood grain on the sides that are below the key bed and unpainted. It made me think of the idea behind the word “key” and how a “key” is just a tool to get from one place to another. In the case of a piano, it is the first step to a number of mechanical movements to produce a sound (hammer striking string.)  I will write again when the installation is up!

Show at Barbés

Next week I will be performing at Barbés with glass musician/improviser/electronic musician Miguel Frasconi. I have been looking forward to doing something with Miguel for quite some time. I came across his music for the first time while I was at Indiana looking for CD’s to play on my experimental music radio program. His first record on New Albion Records was in the library. The CD begins with a glass improvisation and I was sold instantly. He later includes a variety of instruments including mbira, toy pianos (of course), voice and others. He is probably one of the only people I know that has about as many toy pianos as I do.

Since I will be bringing my very first toy piano to my gig next week, I wanted to find the right repertoire for this particular instrument. My first toy piano is a 2 and a half octave baby grand Schoenhut with a very shallow touch. I have picked several pieces that sound quite good on the instrument, including  Milliampere by Dai Fujikura and …with the silences of the fishes by Ken Ueno. I haven’t performed either piece before, so come out and hear some new tunes!

TV interview in Taiwan

taiwan1While I was in Taiwan, I met Lee, the Schoenhut toy piano dealer, who scheduled a TV interview for me with channel 50 news in Taipei. It was going to be their first feature story on the toy piano. I was quite nervous to talk about the toy piano in Chinese and thankfully all of their outtakes were of me speaking English. The TV shoot took place in the basement of the Ecole Cafe, a music/arts/movie venue that I performed at last year. Since I didn’t bring a toy piano with me this trip, Lee brought a toy piano for me to perform from his shop. The news-makers work quickly in Taiwan! It was aired  just hours later on the evening news that night. I will post the video on my site in the next couple of weeks. Until then, here are a few photos.

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