24 Preludes and Improvisations
Piotr Orzechowski – piano
7 p.m. / 24 Preludes and Improvisations / part 1
9:30 p.m. / 24 Preludes and Improvisations / part 2
From the moment it was composed, Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, a cycle of twenty-four preludes and fugues by Johann Sebastian Bach, became a canonical item in the pedagogy of playing keyboard instruments. Consecutive generations of musicians have engaged in mastering Bach's work, in which he explored the expressive potential of all the keys in the emerging major-minor system. Bach's cycle became a point of reference for other composers, who would use the twenty-four-piece collection to embrace the essence of their musical language. Among them we can find Dmitri Shostakovich with his preludes and fugues, and also Fryderyk Chopin and Sergei Rachmaninov and their twenty-four preludes, as well Claude Debussy who freed his preludes from the tonal order.
In his recording of twenty-four preludes and improvisations, Piotr Orzechowski is fully aware of these contexts. At times, the single-voice themes which open the improvisations suggest that a fugue is about to begin, whilst the prelude in F major, conducted in octaves, has something of Bach's toccata. However, in the preludes we can find more references to Chopin, especially in the harmonic layer. When an unexpected oscillation of two chords appears in the prelude in F sharp major, it is hard not to think of analogous chords opening and closing the Mazurka in C major Op. 24 No. 2. Mazurka-like is also the beginning of the prelude in A flat major, which reminds us of Orzechowski’s fascination with folklore, and that he preceded his previous album with studies of the oberek. Finally, the modal cadences from the prelude in F minor bring to mind Debussy's archaising works. But the essence of the connections to the tradition of the genre is the very concept of a prelude based on one simple idea, one motif and the exploration of its possibilities.
When Pianohooligan decided to create a series of works in all keys, he also had to face the concept of tonality. Whilst Bach presented the possibilities of an emerging system, and Chopin sought its limits, the key to Orzechowski is only a point of departure to, at times, a very unrestricted journey across consonance. The pianist ostentatiously opens his first prelude with the ascending C major scale. He ends other pieces with a tonic or cadence which are so textbook-like and so much in order that they seem to be completely out of order, but in the middle, he allows the harmonics to meander. In his explorations, Orzechowski draws on jazz, and also on minimal music, as in the repetitive prelude in E minor.
To Orzechowski, the cycle is, above all, an opportunity to explore his own musical language and the function that improvisation plays in his work. On the one hand, there are the preludes, created on the basis of improvisations registered in a studio, then transcribed and rebuilt, enclosed within a fixed structure – a creative moment immortalised in a score. On the other, there are the improvisations. These evade any assumed patterns and are different every time. And yet they do not retreat into empty virtuosity or simple showing-off, but constructively develop the theme in the given key. The attitude the improvisations display towards the preludes is quite varied: sometimes they form a natural extension and use the same motifs as the preludes, showing what else the pianist could do with this material. At other times, they originate from similar material, which they then process and deconstruct. The character of others is the complete opposite of the corresponding preludes. Regardless of the strategy adopted in a given pair, the preludes and improvisations show different albeit complementary approaches to the same problem. Like the obverse and the reverse.
Piotr Orzechowski, born in 1990, is a pianist, improviser and composer, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, hailed by critics as ‘the most creative and uncompromising young Polish jazz artist.’ Since his triumph at the Swiss Montreux Jazz Solo Piano Competition 2011, he has been touring all over the world. His work is a synthesis of classical genres and improvisation. He often works with the music of celebrated composers, such as Penderecki, Lutosławski or Bach, and rewrites it in his own experimental way. He is the leader of the High Definition Quartet and has collaborated with such musicians as Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Michał Urbaniak, Marcin Masecki, and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice.