In 1994, I had the good fortune of hearing pianist Ian Hobson perform Andante Tranquillo, the second movement of Kevin Oldham's Concerto for Piano, Op. 14. Knowing the piece from Memento Bittersweet, a CD of music written by people living with AIDS or who had died from AIDS, I was pleased to learn that Andante Tranquillo, one of my favorite pieces on the CD, had been transcribed for solo piano. Eight years later, I obtained a copy of the transcription and set out to learn the piece, which had long since become for me both a source of inspiration and an aural companion in my own experiences of losing friends to AIDS and dealing with the grief that followed.
Knowing little, however, about Oldham or his music, I also set out to discover who Kevin Oldham was. I was introduced to the range of Mr. Oldham's music through three CDs of Oldham's recorded works. Learning about Kevin's courage and strength through Tim Page's various writings magnified my attachment to Andante Tranquillo. My admiration for both the artist and his art led me to think in terms of a project that would highlight Oldham's piano compositions. A Karen Kushner performance of Ballade, Op. 17 and Mr. Oldham's own performance of Variations on a French NoÃ«l, Op. 7 join here with a solo piano transcription of Andante Tranquillo, from Concerto for Piano, Op. 14. This sampling of Oldham's piano music could not have been assembled without the grace and cooperation of Stephen Rotondaro, Bill and Barbara Oldham, Karen Kushner, Tim Page, and many others.
Concerto for Piano, Op. 14, Oldham's largest and most impressive work consists of three movements: Grave, misterioso, con rubato; Andante Tranquillo; and Allegro giocoso. Andante Tranquillo, solely, has been transcribed for solo piano. More about Concerto for Piano appears in these CD notes.
Karen Kushner wrote about Ballade, Op. 17, in the music notes for the 1996 Albany Records recording: "In the spring of 1992, I asked Kevin Oldham to write a piano piece for me to premiere on my New York recital debut program. Pleased to comply, he tailor-made the Ballade for me, questioning me closely as to my needs, and taking into account everything from my musical tastes to the size of my hand-hardly small, but considerably smaller than his own. The result was an intensely personal work, from the hushed opening to the final triumphant layering musical leitmotifs. The Ballade combines the narrative quality of Chopin's works of the same name with echoes of Scriabin's mysticism and feverish chromaticism." Ms. Kushner's performance of Ballade is reproduced here.
Oldham's June 1986 performance of Variations on a French NoÃ«l, Op. 7, which was written from 1981-1985-at the time Kevin was 21 - 25 - provides an opportunity to hear the fire and clarity with which Mr. Oldham played and offers insight into his composing instincts. This live performance took place at the Chicago Public Library as part of a program in the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series. Karen Kushner wrote about the Variations on a French NoÃ«l and about Kevin's performance: "The theme is based on a seventeenth-century French Christmas carol entitled 'NoÃ«l nouvelet.' Modeled after the Brahms Variations on a Theme of Paganini, this work exudes rhythmic verve, and clearly illustrates the composer's evident delight in pianistic acrobatics."
Kevin Oldham lived only seven years after this performance of Variations. In those seven years, he completed a great deal of work and excelled as both a composer and a pianist. The Music Archive program of the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS recently completed a catalogue of works by composers who have died from AIDS and it now seeks to further promote these works for new performances and recordings. Among those works are Kevin Oldham's. In a December 27, 1992, New York Times article, Kevin Oldham told reporter Glenn Collins: "It seems to me that whether you stay alive or not seems to be the trivial part. It's your work itself that must have a life of its own. If I can make sure that my music will continue to have life, that seems to be the more important consideration."
September 19, 2004
Karen Kushner has appeared internationally in both solo (Carnegie Recital Hall; the Phillips Collection; the Deia Festival in Mallorca, Spain) and chamber music (Newport Music Festival; Strings in the Mountains; Music of Old KrakÃ²w, Poland). She has taught at the Mannes College of Music, and most recently on the piano faculty at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Her solo recordings can be found on the Connoisseur Society, VAI, and Epiphany labels. Two recent CD releases of music for piano, four-hands with the late Igor Kipnis are available on the Parnassus and Palatine labels. In the fall of 2004, another Kipnis-Kushner CD will be released on the Palatine label comprised of music for four hands of Schubert and Brahms. Ms. Kushner received degrees from Northwestern University (BM 1980) and the Juilliard School (MM 1981), and did post-graduate work at New York University. She is a Steinway artist.
Tom Murray works in health care policy and public health and lives in Chicago. He is interested in gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex health and in HIV prevention. He supports public school music and advocates for arts programs in the schools. Mr. Murray received a speech degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (BA 1983) and a counseling degree from the University of Missouri at Kansas City (MA 1985). He has studied piano with Bonita Paul, Madelene Zachary, Shirley Greer Smart, Robert G. Campbell, John Cowell, Carolyn Hickson, William Perryman, John McIntyre, James Lyke, and Michael Kocour. This is his first professional recording project.
1. Andante Tranquillo from Concerto for Piano, Op. 14
2. Ballade, Op. 17
3. Variations on a French Noel, Op. 7