Last Wednesday night found me out in the cold, off to see Vicky Chow perform </un> prepared piano at The Stone.  When I walked in at around 9:45pm, Vicky and Vivian Fung (one of the composers) were performing surgery on the piano to get it prepared for Vivian’s piece.  The room filled up over the next fifteen minutes, eventually holding an impressive crowd considering the time and temperature.  I notice as I take a look at the program that three of the four pieces that Vicky will perform were written within the last five years (the “older” piece, by Lachenmann, was written in 1980).

After much careful preparation of the piano, Vicky played the first movement of Glimpses by Fung, called “Kotekan” (which means “interlocking parts”), a percussive piece with gamelan overtones—most likely arising from Fung’s involvement with Gamelan Dharma Swara—that had Vicky playing the roles of percussionist and melody-maker.  [Click on the video above to hear clips from the concert; the use of headphones to catch the finer details is advised.]  The application of silly putty to the piano’s strings was used to simulate the dampened sound of falling snow in the atmospheric second movement, and the third movement, “Chant,” featured a highly effective technique that created a broad sound like a lion’s roar (see the video to watch Vicky pulling a highly rosined string through the piano).

Ein Kinderspiel by Helmut Lachenmann was next, and, true to its title, featured all the playful hammering of a child sitting down at the instrument for the first time.  Virtuosic at times despite the simplistic theme of the piece, Vicky played each movement with carefree ease and ferocity.  Watch her right foot to catch Lachenmann’s use of the damper pedal to create washes of sympathetic vibrations inside the body of the piano.

The next piece, Vick(i/y), was written by Andy Akiho for Vicky in 2008, when she first performed it at The Stone and was handed the last page of the score an hour before the performance.  Happy to have the entire score well in advance this time around, Vicky played her piece with obvious appreciation for the passionate nature of the music.  Like the Fung piece, Akiho’s piece had Vicky playing two roles: pianist and percussionist.  The percussive, rhythmic landscape was interspersed with striking piano declamations, and the interaction between the two was reminiscent of mellow electronica.

Ryan Anthony Francis‘ virtuosic 4 Etudes was last on the program, and Vicky’s formidable skill as a keyboardist was put on full display, particularly in the last etude, “Loop,” during which her hands flew over the keyboard with fluid precision and power.  A recording of Francis’ piano music, performed by Vicky, is forthcoming on the Tzadik label.