Pianist Jenny Q. Chai (whom you might be familiar with from here because she has been on this blog several times interviewed and reviewed–if not, you must know her because she’s a respected figure in both classical and new music) had some time to sit and do another great interview with me, this time for The Glass Shō podcast, and I asked her to discuss her yet-to-be-released Naxos disc Life Sketches: Piano Music of Nils Vigeland, and some details about the composer and his music. Below is an excerpt from our chat, but you can hear the interview in its entirety on the Glass Sho link below and at the top right of this page.
“I’ve known Dr. Vigeland since I was 21, I was studying my first year of masters at MSM, and I think I just took a theory class of his. Back then I was a normal pianist that came out of Curtis Institute of Music and wanted to do horse-race type piano competitions. So my focus wasn’t on anything other than traditional classical repertoire, and just practicing a lot. I liked new music, and I had started playing it already at Curtis, but I wasn’t so serious–I wasn’t so sure about doing it full-time or really becoming a contemporary performer, but I was asked as a favor by a friend, John Slover, who ended up writing “Mallet Dance”, the 2-prepared piano piece I premiered in China. He was living on the same floor as the dorm, and he asked me if I could play this student piece of his, and I was like ‘Sure!’, and it didn’t take that much from me to work. The concert was great, and then I was asked to play for Dr. Vigeland because John Slover had studied with him. So that’s how we met–Later I took his theory class, and I guess he remembered me as a player. He was very warm, and he’d run into me in the library and hand me scores of Ives and Cage. He would just talk to me about new music, and then he eventually gave me the score for his own piece ‘Life Studies’. and I realized this was the first serious piano cycle I’ve ever received from a living composer, and I took it very seriously! I was also nervous because I felt my knowledge of new music wasn’t substantial enough to play it. but I practiced and worked with him, and it was great! He even offered to rewrite some passages because my hands were too small to play one particular page of the music, and I thought ‘Wow! How is that possible??’ That was my first real experience working with a living composer–I was someone who was used to playing classical composers like Beethoven and Mozart, and he was offering to rewrite a page for me–It was overwhelming! So that was the start of my longtime collaboration with Dr. Vigeland.”