Jenny Q Chai‘s “Acqua Alta (High Water)” performance collaboration with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratories scientist Dr. Ian Fenty focuses on global warming and its effects on the Earth’s oceans. The music on this program showcases the piano’s full range of expression, from exquisite nuance to bold gesture, as well as a wide range of musical understandings of water dating from both before and after the emergence of global climate change.
The performance also includes sound and video installations based on global warming data curated by Dr. Fenty. The effect of global warming on water has been Fenty’s field of specialization for years, and he offers talks such as “Global Sea Level Rise” and “A Shrinking Polar Ice Cap” alongside the performance centerpiece. In addition, some pieces on the program are paired with the digital paintings of artist Relja Penezic, all of which are related to water. A narrative unfolds over the course of the performance, at first showing the tranquility of water and of humanity living harmoniously with it, then gradually showing a breakdown of that harmony in an increasingly industrialized world, and a troubling of the delicate balance that oceanic life requires.
The first piece of the program, by Victoria Jordanova, is performed alongside the beautiful digital artwork of Relja Penezic. Tangata Manu (or “bird man”) from Marco Stroppa’s Miniature Estrose considers an old custom of the inhabitants of Easter Island, a race to swim across a dangerous stretch of water and retrieve an egg of the migratory sooty tern, thereby winning the coveted title of “tangata manu” for the year to come. La cathédrale engloutie by Debussy and Face of the Deep by Theodore Wiprud meditate further on the power and mystery of water. Wiprud’s piece, written for this project, comes from the point of view of a fisherman who is fascinated by water’s many forms and inhabitants. Orlando Gibbons’s Allemande (Italian Ground) pairs again with Penezic’s painting, this time with a large ship traveling on the ocean. One almost hears in Gibbons’s piece the music emanating from a luxury salon deep within the ship’s hull. The mood grows more precarious with Liszt’s La lugubre gondola and Milica Paranosic’s Bubble (in trouble). One can obviously hear the “trouble” which the ocean faces as the concert’s first half ends.
The second half starts with Kurtág’s Shadow-play, and “Ninnananna,” also from Marco Stroppa’s Miniature Estrose, which foreshadow the terrible changes which the oceans will soon have to undergo. Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata is a dramatic works that syncs with the videos of Fenty’s global warming data. In Musica Ricercata No. 7, the right hand sings a nostalgic and beautiful melody over an insistent, almost mechanical background provided by the left, evoking the division of the half-humanized, half-mechanized 21st century. Musica Ricercata No. 1 is a piece built on rhythm and rising intensity rather than tonal variation, and is performed alongside visual representation of climate data showing the Earth’s oceans overheating in recent years. The program finishes with a three-part audio/visual piece by Cole Ingraham written for the project, utilizing much of Fenty’s data as well as a dramatic half-improvised piano part and electronics.
Works to be performed on the “Acqua Alta (High Water)” program include:
Victoria Jordanova, Loveling
Marco Stroppa, “Tangata Manu” from Miniature Estrose
Claude Debussy, La cathédrale engloutie
Theodore Wiprud, Face of the Deep*
Orlando Gibbons, Allemande (Italian Ground) (1613)
Franz Liszt, La lugubre gondola
Milica Paranosic, Bubble (in trouble)
György Kurtág, Shadow-play
Marco Stroppa, “Ninnananna” from Miniature Estrose
György Ligeti, from Musica Ricercata
Cole Ingraham, Entropy (3 parts)*
*commissioned for this program
- Mastering the Art of Creative Programming
“In recent years the piano recital format has become more flexible...Jenny Q Chai, who has studied with [Pierre-Laurent] Aimard, is following the more eclectic path..." --The New York Times
- Global Sea Level Rise
Talk 1 by Dr. Ian Fenty
- A Shrinking Polar Ice Cap
Talk 2 by Dr. Ian Fenty