Concert pianist Anthony de Mare, the mastermind behind the Liaisons project – “Re-imagining Sondheim from the Piano” – gave an outstanding performance at the Milton Court Concert Hall, part of the Guildhall School of Music at the Barbican, this Sunday evening.
This landmark commissioning and concert project invited 36 composers to rework a Sondheim song of their choice for solo piano, and the result is a fascinating – and gorgeous – collection of works that take classic Sondheim themes and motifs and knead them into something new.
The concert, which saw around 30 Society members in attendance, featured a selection of 13 of the new commissions, from composers as diverse as Winton Marsalis, Steve Reich, Duncan Sheik and Mark Anthony Turnage… a roster of composers who, between them, have won 34 Pulitzers, Grammys, Tonys and Academy Awards.
I, for one, found it utterly compelling, hearing these familiar, much-loved melodies stretched, folded and moulded into new works of art. In some instances, the melodies are instantly recognisable, while in others, it takes a while for the brain to kick in and detect the tune.
The challenge facing de Mare’s composers, I suspect, was finding the meaning and content of a song – with its rich Sondheimian lyrics, no less – and expressing it with just the notes of the piano. They do this, in my opinion, incredibly well, particularly Paul Moravec’s compulsively obsessive “I Think About You” (adapted from “Losing My Mind”) and Ricardo Lorenz’s comedic Latin American re-grooving of “The Worst Pies in London” as “The Worst [Empanadas] In London”.
Anyway, if you missed the concert, the Liaisons tour next heads to the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester for a one-off on Tuesday, November 15th. De Mare is an exceptional pianist, and there’s so much to discover here that it takes a good few listens to discover the rich depth of the material. I urge you to go. Otherwise, you can find out more about the three-disc recording – and listen to extracts – here.