Classical music is fluid. Try as we might, we can never pin down a definitive “beginning” or “end” to the arbitrary musical eras we’ve created. And while we may broadly categorize music as Baroque or Classical, Romantic or Modern, ultimately all of these seemingly individualized movements blend into a much broader pool: the Western classical music tradition.
But this pool is not static—it continues to change and evolve as composers and performers continue to make waves in the contemporary music world.
That’s the premise behind pianist Michael Mizrahi’s new album of solo piano works, “Currents.” Recently released on the New Amsterdam record label, the album brings together six impeccably performed and expertly recorded new American piano works, almost all of which were written specifically for Mizrahi’s idiosyncratic sound, style, and musical approach.
The result is a unique addition to the 21st century solo piano repertoire that, as the title suggests, embodies movement forward, building on the great piano works of the past while also expanding and propelling the solo piano works of the future. The album features works by Sarah Kirkland Snider, Troy Herion, Mark Dancigers, Asha Srinivasan, Missy Mazzoli, and Patrick Burke.
The album begins with the title track: “The Currents” by Sarah Kirkland Snider. Perhaps best known for her song cycles (which feature the inimitable voices of Shara Worden and Padma Newsome), this solo piano piece carries the same flowing lyricism and sensitivity as Snider’s vocal music—but without any of the words. Mizrahi’s fingers swim gracefully through the ebb and flow of the piece, beautifully capturing the depth and breadth of colors that make the currents come to life.
The piece is followed by Troy Herion’s pseudo-Baroque solo piano work, cheekily titled “Harpsichords.” Heavily peppered with trills and musical ornaments, the piece evokes the pristine, transparent textures of the Baroque era while venturing into 21st century melodies and musical forms (or, you know, lack thereof). Mizrahi blends both eras seamlessly.
The slow-moving and sincere “Bright Motion Ascending” is nothing short of sparkling. The work was composed for Mizrahi by his NOW Ensemble bandmate, guitarist Mark Dancigers, as the third installment in his “Bright Motion” trilogy. Mizrahi’s fast fingers transform the piano into a harp, his fingertips gliding effortlessly across cascading arpeggios, from the glistening upper registers of the piano all the way down to its earthiest tones.
Asha Srinivasan’s introspective “Mercurial Reveries” draws upon her Indian-American heritage, weaving in elements from Indian classical scales and modes, along with the occasional (and ever so subtle) jazz piano lick. Over the course of five short movements, she explores a vast terrain of distinctive musical textures, at one point even instructing the pianist to physically reach inside the piano and stop the strings’ vibrations with one hand while playing on the keys with the other. Mizrahi, as it turns out, plays the inside of the piano with the same precision and grace as the outside.
The work is followed by Missy Mazzoli’s “Heartbreaker,” an intimate piece which showcases Mizrahi’s virtuosity without bleeding over into the showy (and at times superficial) pitfall of many virtuosic solo piano pieces. The piece starts out deceptively simple, but quickly spirals into freewheeling abandon, dancing just within the limits of the pianist’s control.
The album comes to a close with Patrick Burke’s poignant and pensive “Missing Piece.” Mizrahi’s fingers pace across slow-moving triadic harmonies and yearning dissonances, uncovering the work’s clear Romantic underpinnings.
Ultimately, each piece on the album reminds us that there is no clear line between the music of the past and the music of the present. We don’t always have to separate the music into arbitrary categories—sometimes we just need to sit back, relax, and get swept up in the “Currents.”