Anastasia Tsioulcas writes at NPR Music for “Deceptive Cadence” (http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence). Widely published as a writer on both classical and world music, she is the former North America editor for Gramophone Magazine and the classical music columnist for Billboard. She has also been an on-air contributor to many public radio programs, including WNYC’s Soundcheck, Minnesota Public Radio’s The Savvy Traveler, Public Radio International’s Weekend America, and the BBC’s The World.
Mozart, Charles Ives and Brian Eno: an unlikely trinity of musical idols, except if you're Timo Andres. The 27-year-old American composer and pianist weaves all of their DNA into his new album, Home Stretch, and the results provide thought-provoking glimpses into how the past and the present merge in classical music today.
Andres is something of an old hand in the public media sphere. Ten years ago, when he was 17, he appeared on the NPR-distributed From the Top, playing not just the Toccata from Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin, but also a sure-footed piece of his own called Tango. Seems like even back then, Andres knew he wanted to forge his own way in the classical world, using the musical canon as a springboard to the future.
The album-bookending points of departure for Andres' imagination are Mozart's Piano Concerto in D, nicknamed "Coronation," and, from what might seem to be the opposite end of the musical and chronological spectrum, a set of Andresian takes on musical ideas drawn from Eno's albums Apollo, Before and After Science and Another Green World.
The Mozart concerto presents an inspiring musical launching pad. Mozart, an extraordinary improviser, left much of the solo piano part unwritten in the score, especially the lines for the left hand. Andres, who plays the piano solos on this album forcefully and persuasively, seizes upon this situation as an opportunity to transform Mozart's harmonies into more pungent and contemporary sounds — in his own words, to "bastardize" the original.
Andres terms Paraphrase on Themes of Brian Eno "a 19th-century style 'orchestral paraphrase' on the subject of Eno's music." The result is suffused with dreamy sweetness, but it's not without its textural quirks, like the steel pans Andres introduces into the mix.
By contrast, Andres isn't expressly tweaking any of Charles Ives' music on this album the way he does with the work of Mozart and Eno, but Ives' spirit is indelibly imprinted in Andres' scores. (Andres, as a pianist, has long made a study of Ives' work.) As soon as you hear the spacious opening harmonies in the piano concerto Home Stretch, the album's title piece, you understand exactly where Andres is rooted: in the New England tradition of Charles Ives — a native of Connecticut, where the now Brooklyn-based Andres grew up, and a composer whom Andres plainly adores. But Home Stretch (out July 30) is not simply an act of idolatry. This 2008 concerto brims with rhythmic play and crackling energy, but it also dips into intimate interplay between soloist and orchestra — still vibrant, but all the more intense for its closely held energy. The New York-based Metropolis Ensemble, led by conductor Andrew Cyr, provides amiable companionship, as well as a group of devoted kindred spirits in Andres' forward-pressing quest.