R. Andrew Lee - Minimalism in 12 Parts

R Andrew Lee

Friday 8 March 2013

Paul A. Epstein (b. 1938)
Alvin Curran (b. 1938)
Jürg Frey (b. 1953)

Tickets : £10 adv / £12 on the door

Doors open : 8pm

Saturday 9 March 2013

Dennis Johnson (b. 1938)

Tickets : £10 adv / £12 on the door

Doors open : 6pm (for a 6.30 start)

Two Day Pass: £18 advance


Pianist R. Andrew Lee celebrates the release of his recording of Dennis Johnson’s 5-hour minimalist epic, November, with two performances at Café OTO presented by Penultimate Press and Net Audio London.

Lee, a specialist in minimalist music, has been exploring the range of minimalist and minimalist-inspired repertoire this season with his Minimalism in Twelve Parts series. Featuring over 20 hours of music performed across the US, UK, and Canada, this series explores minimalism from its origins to multiple world-premieres of pieces inspired by the style.

The first concert will include four pieces by Paul A. Epstein, “who could be described as the Webern or Babbitt of postminimalism,” the quasi-improvisatory Inner Cities 2 and Inner Cities 8 by Alvin Curran, and the beautiful simplicity of Jürg Frey’s Klavierstück 2. The second concert will be November in all its glorious length. The first commercial recording of the piece, a joint production between Irritable Hedgehog and Penultimate Press, will be available at a reduced price.

NB: Considering November's extended duration, the audience is free to move around, leave and return...


Colorado-based pianist R. Andrew Lee is emerging as one of the foremost interpreters of minimal music. In his tenure recording for Irritable Hedgehog, he produced the first perfectly-timed recording of Tom Johnson’s An Hour for Piano, his CD of William Duckworth’s The Time Curve Preludes was chosen as a 2012 Critics’ Choice by Gramophone, and his recording of piano music by Jürg Frey has was described as “a necessary addition for the collection of any self-repsecting Wandelweiserian.”

Lee currently teaches at Regis University in Denver, Colorado, and was most recently Artist-in-Residence at Avila University. His research concerns the intersection of temporality and minimal music.



Paul A. Epstein - Drawing No. 5, No. 3, No. 4, and Landscape with Triads

Paul A. Epstein’s music is so strictly composed and so frequently complex in analysis that it would be tempting to exclude the minimalist influence upon first hearing. Yet the rigor of process directly stems from the influence of composers such as Steve Reich and Tom Johnson, and the diatonic, sparse material remains rather minimal.

In his Drawings series, Epstein reflects on the work of Sol LeWitt, whose artwork often consisted of “all possible combinations” of simple geometric figures. As such, Epstein will take small motivic ideas and rotate them in space such that pitches become rhythm and vice versa. All possible combinations are thus presented, as given by their subtitles, e.g. No. 5, “All possible combinations of one, two, three, four, and eight of eight variants of a twelve beat pattern.” The end result is music that clearly reflects the presence of patterns but never yields them fully to the ear.

Landscape with Triads, as the title implies, consists entirely of major and minor triads. Most elements of the music, such as duration, sectional dynamics, and inversions, are serialized, but because the basic musical material is extremely limited, the music seems to have little connection to the total serialism of the past. As with the Drawings, the patterns seem to remain just beyond the grasp of the listener, creating an essentially static experience.

Landscape with Triads and Drawing No. 5 were both written for R. Andrew Lee. Landscape is a world premiere.

Alvin Curran - Inner Cities 2 and 8

Each of the pieces in Alvin Curran’s sprawling Inner Cities series begins with a single idea. As he writes: “My goal, as always, was to reduce the musical elements to their ultimate essences, to repudiate and embrace dualism, and to emulate, even in permanent notation, the feel of spontaneous music-making.” Curran is often content to linger on these opening figures for extended periods of time, slowly working his way into new territory, whatever that may be. Both pieces open in calm simplicity, but might venture into jarring dissonance, passagework reminiscent of Charlemagne Palestine, or even snippets of a 1930s jazz standard. Nothing seems off limits, and yet in the context of these improvisatory pieces, nothing seems incorrect. Still, the simplicity and centrality of the opening figures in both Inner Cities 2 and Inner Cities 8 combined the slow, methodical pacing, make these pieces feel right at home alongside other minimalist compositions.

Jürg Frey - Klavierstück 2

Few would characterize the Wandelweiser composers as minimalists as musicologists or theorists might use the term, but it would be very difficult to argue that their music is not minimal. Yet while minimalists might use repetition or audible structure to draw a listener’s attention to other elements of the music, Wandelweiserians seem more intent on drawing the listener’s attention to the very nature of sound itself. Frey’s Klavierstück 2 is no exception. Toward the beginning of the piece, notes lasting as long as 45 seconds are allowed to fade completely, blurring the line between sound and silence. The middle of the piece consists of a perfect fourth, repeated 468 times over roughly 7.5 minutes—an exercise in duration that bears a striking resemblance to La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 #7. As the repetitions increase, the two notes that comprise the fourth, which initially were central to the listening experience, fade from consciousness. A swirl of overtones emerges, the mechanical noises of the piano are exposed, and sound, sound, sound comes to the fore. But after all playing is finished, the piece ends, appropriately, in silence.


Dennis Johnson - November

Until recently, one of the most substantial and significant pieces of the minimalist repertoire was virtually unknown. Written in 1959 by Dennis Johnson, November was purportedly six hours long as originally conceived. La Monte Young, who know Johnson while at UCLA in the late 50s, credited the piece for inspiring The Well-Tuned Piano. November anticipated many trends in minimalist music in addition to its prodigious duration: diatonic tonality, additive processes, and repetition of small motives. It is beautiful, slow-paced, and introspective, and was nearly lost entirely.

Johnson abandoned music (at least publicly) after 1962, no score was ever made released, and the only element of the work that remained was a 112-minute recording of a performance of the piece. Decades later, composer and musicologist Kyle Gann received a copy of the recording and later began the process of reconstructing the piece.

Gann was able to obtain a rough score from Johnson, though Gann described it as "slightly garbled and at places self-contradictory" and was advised to consider the recording as the definite guide for the piece. The score, such as it is, consists of several pages of short musical ideas, meant to be improvised upon as desired by the performer. Loose rules are also given for the order of the material to be performed. After a great deal of work, which he detailed in his blog and in the journal American Music, Gann was able to transcribe the original recording and construct a performance edition of the piece.

For this performance, Andrew Lee will begin with Gann's transcription of the original recording given its musical and historical significance. For the reminder of the performance, Lee will improvise based on suggestions by Gann for the piece's continuation. While November was said to have originally been six hours, the surviving material does not seem to lend itself to such duration. Lee anticipates a performance of approximately five hours.