WNMF 2: Steven Beck Program Notes



Wednesday, January 26, 2022, 7:30 pm CST
Centennial Concert Hall

Katherine BalchTwo Memories (2020)
I. Sentimental ma non troppo
II. Presto, crisp possibile

Steven Beck, piano

Commissioned by Young Concert Artists, Inc.
Premiered April 28, 2021 at Merkin Hall, NY
Albert Cano-Smit

The music of composer Katherine Balch captures the magic of everyday sounds, inviting audiences into a sonic world characterized by imagination, discovery, and a rich diversity of styles. Balch is often inspired by literature, nature, and science, aptly reflected in the San Francisco Chronicle’s description of her as “some kind of musical Thomas Edison – you can just hear her tinkering around in her workshop, putting together new sounds and textural ideas.”
European American Music Distributors Company

“I had played Katie’s piece a couple of months ago, says Beck. “I thought they’d be perfect for this concert. It feels like a very warm and welcoming way to open the evening.”


Olga Neuwirth – incidendo/fluido (2000)

Steven Beck, piano

The piano has always occupied a very modest place in Olga Neuwirth’s work. In incidendo/fluido, it appears for the first time as a solo instrument – a novelty in Olga Neuwirth’s repertoire. This does not mean, however, that the composer foregoes the ability to change sounds. The middle registers, in particular, are prepared with the help of silicone and foam. In addition, the piano becomes a resonator for sounds that are not produced by the instrument itself. This is done with a CD player placed inside the piano, through which sound fragments are played. The alien sound source enters into a constantly changing interrelationship with the sounds produced by the pianist, both sounds overlapping, complementing, commenting and mixing in different ways.
Stefan Drees, Ricordi Berlin

Neuworth has just received the Grawemayer Award for her opera Orlando about a man who becomes a woman. Based on a novel by Virginia Woolf, the work is the first female-composed opera to be performed by the Vienna State Opera.

The Grawemayer Awards program at the University of Louisville pays tribute to the power of creative idea, emphasizing the impact a single idea can have on the world.


Sarah Kirkland Snider – The Currents (2012)

Steven Beck, piano

Commissioned by The American Pianists Association
Premiered by Andrew Staupe, piano, at the American Pianists Association Classical Fellowship Awards, Butler University, Indianapolis, IN

The Currents was commissioned by the American Pianists Association for its Classical Fellowship Awards. Piano was my first instrument and musical passion, so a solo piano commission for a competition initially intimidated me. I know the literature well—how deeply and imaginatively the instrument has been explored, how difficult it is to invent new ways to challenge the pianist. There is an idea that a piece written for a competition should do this, that it should invent new technical demands and showcase pyrotechnical dazzle. When I was younger, I wrote some piano music that consciously strove for virtuosity, but these days I’m more interested in getting at what is most peculiarly personal and in need of expression.

So when I was asked to write this piece, I decided my contribution would be something that challenged the pianist to be at their most expressive, poetic, and lyrical, something that would reward a sharp attention to detail and sensitivity to pacing and narrative. Of course, the fact that it was for a competition never fully left my mind, so the piece does require a formidable technique, but my hope is that The Currents allows the performer to focus on storytelling as well—skills that, to my mind, are just as essential to becoming an unforgettable pianist.

The title of the piece, and the overall emotional impetus, was inspired by a larger cycle of poems, Unremembered, by poet Nathaniel Bellows, which I set a few years ago. The cycle is about memory, innocence, and the ways we cope with an unpredictable world. The line from which I drew the title reads “But like the hidden current/somewhere undersea/you caused the most upheaval on the other side of me.
– Sarah Kirkland Snider


Charles WuorinenAdagio/Doubletake

Steven Beck, piano

Adagio (2011)
Commissioned by the Jebediah Foundation and New York’s 92nd Street Y
Dedicated to Peter Serkin

Doubletake (2014)
Commissioned by Zaidee Parkinson
Dedicated to Steven Beck

George WalkerPiano Sonata No. 3 (1975, revised 1996)
I. Fantoms
II. Bell
III. Choral and Fughetta

Steven Beck, piano

Commissioned by the Washington Performing Arts Society.
Premiered in the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1976 by Leon Bates

The three movements of ‘Piano Sonata No.3’ each bear titles. ‘Fantoms’, although uncompromisingly dissonant, is reminiscent of ‘Spektra’ in temperament, with an ebb and flow of events that seem improvisatory yet coherent. ‘Bell’ is one of Walker’s most imposing musical ideas: a single chors, played 17 times. Walker did not, however, have minimalism in mind when he wrote this movement; he was capturing the sound he heard from a church bell in Italy. It is a prelude to the following movement, with staccato chords. The Fughetta does not actually have a fugue subject, and Walker says that “the word ‘fughetta’ essentially suggests the imitation that would be associated with the exposition of a fugue, but no more than that.” With the conciseness and variety of its ideas, the third sonata makes a striking impression. – Jefferey Chappell, Piano & Keyboard Magazine, November/December 1997 issue

Steven Beck has just released an album of all five of George Walker’s piano sonatas on the Bridge Records Label –the first time all these works have been recorded together.

“That was my pandemic project. I was excited to have the time to really delve in and make a good recording.” says Beck. “His music had always been around me. My mother went to Peabody Conservatory when George Walker was teaching there, one of my teachers, Seymour Lipkin , was a classmate of his and a close friend and I’m also in a new music group that had hoped to commission him. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible. We put together a concert to honour him, after he passed”