Sunday, May 1, 2016

1+1: Maley Performs Bach and Glass

Artwork by Kelly Schultz

Pianist Rachel Elizabeth Maley presented a 60-minute recital of works by Philip Glass and J.S. Bach to raise funds for three local human services charities Sunday at St. Patrick's Church of St. Charles. Conceived as a program exploring compositional parallels, to us it was realized as a program of intersections, or incongruities.

St. Patrick's is a light, spacious and beautiful building whose muted earth tone interior is decorated with stark contrasts. A few human likenesses are surrounded by overwhelming patterns of rigidly ordered geometric forms. In the stained glass windows, the human figures are intersected by shapes with dark, heavy boundaries. We leave the interpretation to you.

In the midst of these visual tessellations, Maley explored the non-melodic motifs of Bach in a slow movement from the Italian Concerto (1735), Partita No. 1 (1726) and Toccata in E minor (1706). As a master of counterpoint, Bach displayed an astonishing talent for building large scale works out of small materials: he could use a single four-note sequence to produce many bars of music by inverting, transposing, multiplying or subdividing it.

This is the parallel with Glass, whose Études 2, 3, 6, 12, 20 (written between 1992 and 2012) also demonstrate composition based on, as he puts it, "repetitive musical structures." Using a pair of alternating notes like blades of grass, his works are more like textural landscapes than melodic tableaux — colored and shaded, but abstract rather than descriptive.

Maley has combined these composers before, and the extent of her understanding was evident as she shifted easily from Bach to Glass twice without pausing. Working from a digital tablet, she "turned pages" by tapping a pedal, and executed 300 years of keyboard technique with the touch sensitivity of a pianist and the left-hand skill of an organist, varying her volume of sound independently from a volume of notes so massive they had to be performed by remembering rather than by reading.

And instead of a mere exhibition of the music, this recital was an art performance in which Maley herself was the meaningful gesture against the repetitive musical structures of thousands of dots and lines. Swaying fluidly from phrase to phrase, tensing and relaxing, leaning forward, cracking a smile — her performance was beautifully imperfect and essentially human. It's an intersection of form and gesture she gravitates to in her own work, and in the images she paired with this event.

And if you knew her, you might say it's the kind of incongruity she works with every day.

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