Dan Tepfer – Goldberg Variations / Variations
Critically acclaimed jazz pianist, Dan Tepfer, brings a fresh musical exploration of Bach’s Goldberg Variations performing the 30 Variations, from memory, each followed by an improvisation that is different every time.
Tepfer has made a name for himself as a pianist-composer of wide-ranging ambition, individuality and drive — “a remarkable musician” in the words of the Washington Post and one “who refuses to set himself limits” in those of France’s Télérama. The New York City-based Tepfer, born in 1982 in Paris to American parents, has performed with some of the leading lights in jazz, including extensively with veteran saxophone luminary Lee Konitz. As a leader, Tepfer has crafted a discography already striking for its breadth and depth, ranging from probing solo improvisation and intimate duets to richly layered trio albums of original compositions. His 2011 Sunnyside/Naïve album Goldberg Variations / Variationssaw the prize-winning pianist performing J.S. Bach’s masterpiece as well as improvising upon it to “build a bridge across centuries and genres” (Wall Street Journal) in “an impressive feat that keeps coming back to a hearty and abiding respect” (New York Times). As a composer, he is a recipient of the Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for works including Concerto for Piano and Winds, premiered in the Prague Castle with himself on piano, and Solo Blues for Violin and Piano, premiered at Carnegie Hall. Bringing together his undergraduate studies in astrophysics with his passion for music, he is currently working on integrating computer-driven algorithms into his improvisational approach. Awards include first prize and audience prize at the Montreux Jazz Festival Solo Piano Competition, first prize at the East Coast Jazz Festival Competition, and the Cole Porter Fellowship from the American Pianists Association.
Adult: $35 | K-12 free, accompanying at least one paying adult | All fees included
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After each concert, we invite patrons and artists to join us for a post-concert reception, where you can meet up with other chamber-music lovers for delicious treats and delightful conversation.
We hope you enjoy this concert, featured as a selection in the John I. and Elizabeth E. Patches Chamber Music Series.
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From Dan’s Q & A with (Sunnyside Records) interviewer Bradley Bambarger on this iconic work:
“I grew up with the ‘Goldbergs.’ I even remember clearly the first time I ever heard them, when I was a young teen….I thought [the Aria] was some of the most beautiful music I’d ever heard. …I never thought I’d play [them] myself. Also, as a composer, I grew to experience very intimately just how perfect Bach’s music is, how complete.
And I’ve always felt emotionally [about] the almost sacred quality of the work.
That said, we should remember that the Goldberg Variations were originally published as keyboard studies. Each one is clearly trying to teach us something…with technical ideas …as well as musical ideas that he (Bach) is displaying. The Goldbergs aren’t just serious and dramatic; they are also funny and light. …Instead of recording [them] and writing lengthy liner notes about how I feel about them, I’m expressing how I feel about them in music, with my improvised variations on Bach’s variations.
…Bach uses the same chord progression throughout the entire Goldbergs. That’s really what we do in jazz…We take the chord progression of a tune…and we make variations on it. …What’s really important to me as an improviser is to have a voice. So I’m reacting to Bach with my own voice, my own tone, my own vocabulary. “
Regarding the variations of which Dan is most proud:
“I’m proudest of the slow ones. With the faster variations I had to really think about how I could convey the spirit of Bach’s virtuosity in my own way. With the slow ones, I just sat down, and after playing Bach’s variation, started improvising. I think some of them are the most honest musical statements I’ve ever made…One of the cool things about improvisation is its Zen aspect; the best-case scenario is the music just flowing out of you.”
About the challenge of switching gears from classical to improvising:
“When it came to the improvisations, the challenge was two-fold: first, be myself, and on the other hand, have it make sense with the Bach. I don’t want to shoehorn his music into some bag where it doesn’t fit. When it came to the Goldbergs themselves, just playing the Bach well is a great challenge. But, of course, the very best players of the Goldbergs manage to perform the written music while sounding completely individual, which is a real accomplishment.”
Bamberger’s final question: what do you hope a listener takes away from your Goldberg Variations/Variations?
One thing I hope listeners feel is a sense of surprise—surprise that something like this can work. Before they hear the album, a lot of people may think it’s just a crazy idea. But I hope that by the end of it, a listener thinks about Bach’s work in a deeper way; that is, you might not have noticed an element in one of his variations before that you now notice because I’m bringing it out in my improvisation. I also hope people come away with the realization of music being music and that two approaches to it can co-exist. And, of course, I hope people are just moved by the record, because I think Bach’s Goldberg Variations are one of the most profoundly affecting masterpieces ever. From this tiny piece of material, Bach was able to express this incredibly full range of feeling, from a visceral delight like the sense of skiing down a mountain at full speed to the most introspective, meditative sadness. And the fact that all the variations flow together so beautifully and they make this complete whole is a way for Bach to convey how all these different emotions are part of life and that they belong together. You can’t expect to have a life that’s all visceral delight, and you certainly wouldn’t want a life that’s all sadness. The contrast is what makes a complete life, and a complete work of art.”