Tonight we welcome Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams (the Bugallo-Williams Duo) to London to perform a concert of virtuosic and exciting music for four-hands piano at MeWe360.
Amy Williams (left) and Helena Bugallo
In addition to being a fantastic pianist, Amy is a composer, and was one of my first composition teachers at Northwestern University. It’s a pleasure to welcome her and Helena tonight, and Amy was kind enough to answer a few questions in advance of their performance:
Aaron Holloway-Nahum: Hi Amy! We’re so excited to have you with us in London. You work internationally as a pianist and as a composer, how does your performance influence your own composition?
Amy Williams: Thanks for having me! We’re excited to be playing in London on the Riot Ensemble series. My performance influences my composition very directly—I think very much about the role of the performer, sometimes specifically (what would she or he want to play, what is his or her sound at the instrument), but also performative issues such as physicality and coordination. And I analyze pieces that I play very much from a composer/theorist’s perspective. So it works both ways.
A passage from one of the Nancarrow transcriptions
AHN: Amazingly, you and Helena will be performing four transcriptions of Conlon Nancarrow’s player piano studies. Could you tell us a little bit about how you transcribed these really complex studies? Have they gotten any easier to perform?
AW: We first discovered one arrangement that our teacher, pianist/composer Yvar Mikhashoff, had made in the late 80s for piano four-hands (which we will play on this concert). And so we wondered if there might be more that was humanly possible. We worked with composer Erik Ona, who looked through the scores (yes, there are scores!) of all 50 or so Studies for Player Piano. He determined that there were about 10 that could be arranged for piano duet, without sacrificing notes, rhythmic relationships or tempo. He arranged 3 of these for us and then we started arranging them ourselves.
We currently have 13 arrangements, including one for two pianos and one for two-pianos/eight-hands. Other musicians in the future might determine there to be more—but we are pretty ecstatic to have this much of Nancarrow’s incredible music to play live for audiences. They are always difficult to play, since they were written for a machine, but they have certainly become easier over time and many, many repetitions.
AHN: What advice do you have for composers looking to write for piano duo?
AW: Work with the pianists as closely as you can! Especially with four-hands, think very hard about the physicality of the medium. A chord in the middle of the piano feels very different to play when you are sitting way up at the top of the piano.
AHN: What’s coming up for you next?
AW: We are recording our second volume of Stravinsky’s arrangements for piano duo—this will include Petrushka and Concertino (which we will play on the concert), as well as Agon and Scherzo a la Russe. And our CD of the complete original works for piano duo of Gyorgy Kurtag (and some transcriptions) will come out in the next few months, also on Wergo.
AHN: We can’t wait to hear it Amy!