Meet Jenny Q Chai, a pianist who performs solely contemporary music.  I recently had the pleasure of attending one of Chai’s “lecture recitals,” in which she talks about the pieces she plays, and encourages the audience to share their reactions to the music.  On this particular evening, Jenny, whose playing is the perfect marriage of precision and passion, presented works by four relatively established new music composers, three of whom are still living: Hungary’s György Kurtág, France’s Olivier Messiaen (who died in 1992), Italy’s Marco Stroppa, and New York City’s own Nils Vigeland.

As you can hear in the video clip above, Kurtág’s piece sounds free-form, almost like stream-of-consciousness for piano.  That’s because his inspiration for this short piece (which is part of a larger collection) was the approach a child takes when playing piano, that is, experimental and spontaneous.

The next clip on the video is a piece by Messiaen, who derived the rhythms for this work from a 13th century Hindu rhythm book.  In the clip, you can hear one of these distinctive rhythms at about 13 seconds in.

The third clip features a piece by Marco Stroppa, which uses sympathetic vibrations of the piano strings to create nuanced, delicate textures. (This is achieved via the use of the piano’s sostenuto pedal.)  Listen closely to hear these shimmering notes vibrating the air inside the piano.

Last on the video is Jenny playing a piece by Nils Vigeland, who she proclaimed to be “one of the most important composers in America.”