Two Chicago pianists perform a pair of rarely heard masterpieces by Morton Feldman | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Two Chicago pianists perform a pair of rarely heard masterpieces by Morton Feldman 

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click to enlarge Christopher Narloch

Christopher Narloch

Aleksandr Karjaka

Despite its profound and ongoing influence across a wide spectrum of musicians, the work of composer Morton Feldman is rarely performed in Chicago. That dearth can be explained in part by the durational intensity of many of his greatest works—which often clock in at more than an hour, and demand intense concentration and focus from its players. Pianists Christopher Narloch and Jonathan Hannau have been making their presence increasingly felt in Chicago’s new-music community: the former is a successful instructor with a strong grasp of 20th-century repertoire, while the latter splits his time between composing and performing, and both have an abiding love for Feldman. This week they offer Chicagoans the gift of a concert featuring two of Feldman’s late solo piano works in a single evening. Narloch will perform the 1981 masterpiece Triadic Memories, a meditative excursion that’s meticulously notated but centered on the way its chords and note patterns hang in the air and decay. There’s no clear structural conceit—instead we hear a deceptively simple landscape of oblique melodies and haunting harmonies and a brilliant engagement with space as the activity waxes and wanes in endlessly varied fashion. Hannau will play For Bunita Marcus, a 1985 work that explores similar territory; rigorous repetition gives way to subtle changes akin to the kind of imperfections Feldman loved in Persian rugs. The work develops slowly, but there’s a clear journey for the listener who chooses to hone in on its shifts. Both of these pieces are exquisitely quiet, and sometimes one has to strain to hear the sounds. The pianists are open to audience members arriving late or leaving early—and they even approve of them wearing their pajamas and bringing a pillow to the show—but it’s possible to either zoom in on the music or just let it wash over you and bask in its tender, refined atmospheres.   v

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