As the streets of the City went quiet on a late Sunday evening, a semi-virtual meeting of 13 modern composers was unravelling in its heart. Brought together by a contemporary-classical US pianist, Anthony de Mare, and recorded for ECM across three CDs, the Liaisons: Reimagining Sondheim project demonstrates a fascination with the musical maestro's works as expressed through commissioned short piano pieces by 36 composers from Nico Muhly to Steve Reich.
Repetitive, yet playful, Phil Klein's 'Paraphrase' served as a bright beginning, an interpretation of 'Someone in a Tree' from Pacific Overtures which set the tone for the entire performance where invitation has been given to think and imagine beyond a backdrop of a grand piano in front of a heavy theatre curtains. Surprisingly, for a solo piano concert, De Mare regularly engaged with the audience, talking about pieces and introducing the composers. At other times, pre-recorded fragments of interviews would be aired, with composers discussing their written pieces by remote. Some works were quite minimalist, others spirited, while other scoped territories both sultry and melancholic. But arguably the peak of the concert arrived with Duncan Sheik's 'Johanna in Space' (after 'Johanna' from Sweeney Todd), a undulating sonic wave providing a foundation onto which the deft piano part was layered.
Not only could the audience take home the memories of an intimate and sophisticatedly piano recital, but also an appreciation of all the endless musical choices and possibilities Sondheim's work affords both composer and performer.
– Jekaterina Sarigina