Liam Carey – Concerto for Piano & Electronics

Liam Carey’s world is one of opposites. His work orbits a creative fascination with consonance and dissonance, chaos and order, seriousness and stupidity and, in the case of his new composition, ‘Concerto for Piano & Electronics’, new and old. How can two opposites co-exist and be bridged together in a thoughtful and meaningful way? The self-described “metamodernist”, is not only an experienced composer (his work having been performed by RLPO’s Ensemble 10/10, Berg Orchestra, Solem Quartet, Pixels Ensemble and Line upon Line Percussion) but a talented engineer and live Max/MSP performer. He holds a PhD in Composition from the University of Liverpool, the city in which he still lives and works.

Composed in the form of a traditional three movement concerto, ‘Concerto for Piano & Electronics’ removes the orchestra, instead leaving the soloist to perform with a video accompaniment. This approach was born from a fascination of Carey’s regarding the interaction of past and present. Can a piece, written for the common contemporary ensemble of soloist and electronics/video, work like that of a traditional classical concerto?

The first movement begins in a more traditional setting, pairing the solo piano (performed by Ian Buckle) with an orchestral backing. However, the piece quickly begins to unravel, revealing its true chaotic nature. 214 separate clips, sourced from totally different pieces encompassing western classical, ensemble percussion, punk, jungle and pop music, are spliced together in an increasingly turbulent and unpredictable fashion. The cacophony of sound that culminates creates an intense crescendo, with the use of some rather iconic clips that harken to the Plunderphonics work of John Oswald.

The second movement sits in stark contrast to this, with a much more stripped back pairing of piano and sine waves. The movement develops slowly, with the simple sine tones leaving space for flourishing piano arpeggios that build gradually over the course of the movement. Hints of dissonance are interspersed sparingly, with the focus here on the simple, but striking interplay of luscious keys with the cold sine drones.

The final movement acts as a balancing point between the extremes of two previous sections. Stuttering, percussive bursts are sourced from playful recordings of Carey striking a piano in various different spots and tinkering with the strings, in a manner reminiscent of John Cage’s prepared pianos. The soloist meanwhile matches this pace, playing highly rhythmic, staccato chords, before himself leaning into the piano to play the strings by hand from the inside. Inspired by the character of some of Mozart’s Rondo finales, this last movement beautifully captures the fun of experimentation and ties the previous two movements together.

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