Over the past five years, Los Angeles-based pianist Gloria Cheng has become one of the busiest champions of new and neglected works for keyboard. Her illuminating concerts have made her a local treasure in California, both to younger composers and younger listeners. She plays with clarity and intelligence, exuding such assurance that it seems she and the composer have plotted each note together. She's packed her most recent CD, Piano Dance (Telarc), with 23 rarely performed miniatures, interspersing familiar names like Debussy, Hindemith, and Henry Cowell with new ones like Joan Huang, Donald Davis, and Miguel del Aguila. Her earlier recordings demonstrate no less ambition: she's tackled the intricate, repetitive minimalism of John Adams and Terry Riley without making it sound tedious, and she's played Messiaen's Petites esquisses d'oiseaux--a collection of short pieces imitative of birdcalls that's often dismissed as precious--with uncommon conviction. For this solo recital, a Chicago Humanities Festival event, she'll perform the Messiaen, her mentor Pierre Boulez's homage to the toccata form, Incises, and two compositions by young British hotshots: Jonathan Harvey's Tombeau de Messiaen and Thomas Ades's Still Sorrowing. Harvey, an adherent of a loose movement called spectralism, works extensively with the psychoacoustic "colors" generated by kaleidoscopic layers of overtones; in Tombeau Cheng's piano overlaps with 12 prerecorded pianos, each tuned microtones apart from the others, to create a clangy, gamelan-like battery of textures and harmonics. And the Ades piece calls for a strip of Blu-Tack--an adhesive putty used as a damping compound--to be stretched across the piano's middle-register strings, transforming their sound into a dry pizzicato. With the exception of the Messiaen, composed in 1985, nothing on the program is even ten years old. During the recital, Cheng will discuss each piece with Chicago Symphony Orchestra program coordinator Matias Tarnopolsky--and if reports from California are to be believed, she can talk about the music as zealously as she plays it. Sunday, November 12, 2 PM, Buntrock Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-661-1028.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Diane Alancraig.