R. Andrew Lee: Dennis Johnson's "November"
Until recently, one of the most substantial and significant pieces of the minimalist repertoire was virtually unknown. Written in 1959 by Dennis Johnson, November was purportedly six hours long as originally conceived. La Monte Young, who know Johnson while at UCLA in the late 50s, credited the piece for inspiring The Well-Tuned Piano. November anticipated many trends in minimalist music in addition to its prodigious duration: diatonic tonality, additive processes, and repetition of small motives. It is beautiful, slow-paced, and introspective, and was nearly lost entirely.
Johnson abandoned music (at least publicly) after 1962, no score was ever made released, and the only element of the work that remained was a 112-minute recording of a performance of the piece. Decades later, composer and musicologist Kyle Gann received a copy of the recording and later began the process of reconstructing the piece.
Gann was able to obtain a rough score from Johnson, though Gann described it as "slightly garbled and at places self-contradictory" and was advised to consider the recording as the definite guide for the piece. The score, such as it is, consists of several pages of short musical ideas, meant to be improvised upon as desired by the performer. Loose rules are also given for the order of the material to be performed. After a great deal of work, which he detailed in his blog and in the journal American Music, Gann was able to transcribe the original recording and construct a performance edition of the piece.
For this performance, R. Andrew Lee will begin with Gann's transcription of the original recording given its musical and historical significance. For the reminder of the performance, Lee will improvise based on suggestions by Gann for the piece's continuation. While November was said to have originally been six hours, the surviving material does not seem to lend itself to such duration. Lee anticipates a performance of approximately five hours.
Pianist R. Andrew Lee, DMA is emerging as one of the foremost interpreters of minimal music. In his tenure recording for Irritable Hedgehog, he produced the first perfectly-timed recording of Tom Johnson's An Hour for Piano, and his CD of William Duckworth's The Time Curve Preludes was chosen as a 2012 Critics' Choice by Gramophone. His most recent recording is of Dennis Johnson 5-hour minimalist epic, November, and more recordings are due later this year. Lee is currently embarking on a prodigious recital tour called Minimalism in Twelve Parts, which consists of over twenty hours of minimalist-inspired programs to be performed across the United States, UK, and Canada.
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