Effortless virtuoso in complete command of this (quite literally) electrifying modern repertoire.

Metropolis New Music Festival 2015
Melbourne Recital Centre, Salon
May 8, 2015

Australian pianist Zubin Kanga is an internationally acclaimed performer who specialises in contemporary new music repertoire. He holds a Masters and PhD from the Royal Academy of Music, and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at IRCAM (Paris) and the University of Nice. Kanga is an adept subverter of the piano concert experience, on this occasion creating ‘music of mystery and multiplicity for piano and multimedia.’

Julian Day’s Dark Twin (2015) was the first of three world premieres on the programme by Australian composers. This work for piano and electronics began in an upper register like an elongated trill. Gradually, the pianist was pitted against an electronically manipulated version of their own playing, all of which built into a glorious melange of subtly shifting pitches and tones that reverberated magnificently in the superb acoustic of the Recital Centre Salon. It was immersive and utterly mesmerising.

Cat Hope’s The Fourth Estate (2015) is scored for piano, radios and e-bows (a small magnetic device designed for guitars that creates a drone when held over the strings), which are placed inside the piano in order to ‘compete’ with its strings. As the piece develops, this instrumentation emerges as an elegant metaphor for the ‘unofficial’ yet powerful voices of various media outlets, pulling the stunningly-scored cascading ripples of piano off-course into a sonic landscape outside the one it usually occupies.

The final world premiere, FrostbYte: Chalk Outline (2015), by Sydney composer Daniel Blinkhorn, incorporates Arctic field recordings, electronics, piano and video. Images of creaking ships, glacial landscapes and glistening sun-filled vistas become increasingly stylised as this long, hypnotic work unfolds, paralleled by a progressively mechanised piano part that, in conjunction with electronics, moves into dark techno territory. 

Transit (2009) by Michel van der Aa also includes a complex video component with piano and electronics, fusing back and white footage into a deeply unsettling and constantly destabilised narrative. This work premiered in Australia alongside Stefan Prins’ Piano Hero (2014) for MIDI keyboard and live video, in which an avatar of a pianist plays inside the piano and is controlled from the keyboard. In another innovative example of musical technology, Benjamin Carey’s _derivations (2013) is a program that he developed which uses artificial intelligence to ‘learn’ to be a duetting partner while a performer is playing any solo instrument. Tonight’s was the first ever performance with piano, and Kanga used a combination of timbral exploration inside the piano with extremely delicate movement on the keys.

Steve Reich’s Piano Counterpoint closed this program of pieces dedicated to exploring and expanding the sonic possibilities of the piano through the use of electronics. Kanga performed this new arrangement of Reich’s Six Pianos (1974) as a solo pianist with pre-recordings of the five other piano tracks. Densely textured, long and enthralling, its repetitive and gradually shifting tones draw the listener irresistibly into its expansive sonic universe. This ‘groovy epic,’ as Kanga describes it, closed an exciting program of new works that were conceptually united by the idea of extension and expansion through various forms of electronically generated mirroring. Kanga is an equally exciting pianist, effortlessly virtuosic and in complete command of this (quite literally) electrifying modern repertoire.