Stephen Fandrich on KEXP’s Sonarchy Radio

Stephen Fandrich, piano
Featured on Sonarchy Radio
Produced by Jack Straw Studios
Engineered by Doug Haire
Broadcast Sunday evening at midnight, September 15th on KEXP 90.3
Recorded June 1st 2013 before a live studio audience at Jack Straw Studios, Seattle Wa.

Crepuscule with Nellie
by Thelonious Monk

“Crepuscule” is French for twilight. Different recordings of Monk, particularly in a solo setting, reveal the ways that Monk elaborated on this composition, however, it is uniquely played with little or no improvisation. Nellie, Monk’s love and muse was in the hospital during the time this music was composed in 1957.

Vers la Flamme Op. 72
By Alexander Scriabin

The year was 1914, at the end of Scriabin’s life. 43 years before Crepuscule with Nellie was written, Scriabin worked this composition into form from a vision that a constant accumulation of heat would consume the earth. Financial needs drove this piece from its original exalted position as his 11th piano Sonata to that of a tone poem. Vers la Flamme depicts, in musical terms, the growth of an all consuming flame, thus a slow but constant ascendence of the melody and gradual increase in the density of sound from beginning to end, are very important architectural features.
The beginning of Verse la Flamme is so similar to the bare bones quality of Thelonious’ harmonic style that, in this program, I hoped it would be hard to tell where Monk ends and Scriabin begins. The tritone, a symmetrical, though dissonant interval that slices an octave into two equal parts, is the prime harmonic architectural component of this unique composition. The opening sequences are almost exclusively a pair of tritones. These opening sequences defined by this interval, reveal the skeletal ever-present components of a tonal structure that explodes into elaborate and rich extended harmonies that herald the tonality explored in the 20th century by Jazz composers and improvisors like Monk.

By John Seman
Improvisations on a Double Theme by Mark Ostrowski

These two composers are the ones responsible for the enduring nature of the Monktail Creative Music Concern. Both composers reside more completely in the realm of free improvisation however, they each have a substantial canon of rather heady compositions. The themes presented here on this program are perhaps two of the most emotionally lyrical moments of genius uttered by these celestial improvisors. Medleno is a russian word meaning slowly, and seeps Seman’s russian lyrical melodic heritage.
The two themes are from Mark Ostrowski’s work in progress titled, “For the Daughter of Sonoma O’neal”. He considers this work an homage to Beethoven and is dedicated to his mother. This work brought a melody into the world that needs no accompaniment.

Ballade no. 2
By Stephen Fandrich
Ballade no. 2 is a conversation between Orpheus and Cerberus.
Inspired by, Alexander Mosolov, Balinese processional music, Chopin’s second Ballade and Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Piano and Gamelan, Ballade no. 2 is an attempt to find common ground between piano and gamelan. In this bitonal work, the two tonal fields “Pelog” and “Slendro” as they are tuned on Si Thomas, a Javanese gamelan in residence at Cornish College of the arts, are combined to form one 8 note tonal field.

By Stephen Fandrich
Fulcrum was inspired long ago by a conversation with vocalist Jessika Kenney about how to sing in the Javanese tonal field called Slendro. She spoke of the experience of singing a pentatonic scale a half step away from a drone of a perfect fifth as being a way to get the feel of what it’s like to sing in such a mutable melodic space. This piece has evolved into a modal exploration much like a raag.


A review of our Jack Straw event last year.

By Keith Eisenbrey

John, Mark, and Stephen spoke about their personal musical history together, and Stephen performed three solo piano pieces. The first was his set of variations on John’s theme LG, the second a Nocturne by Mark, and lastly a gamelan-informed Ballade by Stephen. In each case I was quite taken by the starting points, but was disappointed by the end result. John’s jazzy little two-part theme would seem to make quite fine fodder for improvisation, and such shenanigans are apparently a big part of its back-story. The inside-the-piano strummy bits that start and finish Mark’s Nocturne are lovely and clear. And finally, the delicate rhythmic counterpoint with which Stephen’s Ballade opens are among the most exquisite episodes of piano figuration it has been my privilege to hear. But in each case the insidiously persistent phantomic memes of pianistic virtuosity take over and we are beset by the sterile ghosts of Scriabin and Sorabji, Liszt and Busoni. What for those guys were means to their various aesthetic ends becomes here a default end of its own – a kind of hollow shell, all two-fisted sound and fury, signifying (to me), what sound and fury always signify. There is lovely stuff here, I wish it had not been drowned out.


SF: Oh yuk, another cadenza, drowning out the real gems. Shall we put Mosolov in that hollow shell too. Oh should I dare to be virtuosic. Perhaps I should have played Medleno:)