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Better Half and I had dinner last weekend with composer Amanda Harberg (and her own B.H.), where she presented me with a recording of her new piece for 2 pianos, recently premiered up at Ithaca College. AH is an old friend from school, and back in the day, she lit up Juilliard with some fantastic music—inventive and fun and skillful. After enjoying this new work for a few listens, I got so excited I decided I’d take a breath from talking about myself for a change, to talk a little bit about Harberg.

Leaving aside the presumptions attached to picking apart someone else’s music, I’ve been thinking about the more obvious influences in her writing. Likely, her formative years playing jazz have informed the quote/unquote “American” language (ie. jazz harmonies usually equal “American sound”) shining through her music, and her year in Belgium studying with Fredrick Rzewski, the great anarchist composer/pianist, infused her style with a little bit of a playful wink, and often a tongue firmly implanted in cheek. But the music also draws it’s energy and dynamism from the 20th-century repertoire as a whole—as Stravinsky, Prokofieff, and Copland mix together with Bill Evans.

This new piece, called Tenement Rhapsody, is consistent with the strong and heady stuff I’m used to in Harberg works. It’s a perfect example of a voice that marries a lifetime of inhaling the world’s piano literature, with jazz idioms and propulsive rhythm. Like the first movement, a whirlwind of Prokofieff-spiked colors peppered with chunky blue notes … or the lyrical second movement, soaked in open mid-century American-harmonies—almost like a rippling reflection of Barber’s Nocturne … or the energetic closing movement’s homage to Mr. Gershwin…

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about, from the first movement

See what I mean? Pretty great stuff. This piece sparkles. It works pianistically, and musically as a whole. Let’s all shout out for more.

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