What are you looking for in pieces of new piano music? Christopher Oldfather



Christopher Oldfather
Photo by Maggie Oldfather

There a number of things that I like and don’t like in piano music, and music in general. My personal opinions actually have very little to do with what music I do or don’t end up playing. But first I can think of three big things that, for purely practical reasons, make the possibility of actually performing a given piece either greater or smaller.

First is length.

There is very little chance that I will play anything over 15′ long. I don’t do recitals, so a Phrygian Gates, or The People United, are pretty useless to me. Usually solo pieces are space fillers for longer chamber recitals.

Second is difficulty.

I mean, really. It’s not that I demand sight-readable music, but if I can get it under my fingers in a couple of weeks, as opposed to a couple of years, then I am much more likely to play it.

Third is paraphernalia.

I am very interested in not roaring around the countryside assaulting pianos with various implements. I politely and stubbornly suggest that if you want special sounds that are not necessarily piano sounds, then you might consider writing for something other than piano. But I don’t at all mind doing stuff to the strings that I can do seated, with my hands. The pain-in-the-ass factor is very large here. Also, the same goes for prerecorded tapes, sequencers, and the like. Electronics, with very rare exceptions, require a technician.

As to more musical matters, I really, really do like almost everything I play. It is professionally extremely useful for me to suspend judgment on every piece I meet. I have absolutely no objective standard about the quality of a piece of music. Now, you will see a contradiction between this paragraph and the first one, but both statements are absolutely true. Deal. For me, all in all, the issues are practical.