ACO: Blues Symphony & Beyond Composer Spotlight – Uri Caine

Pianist and composer Uri Caine spans classical and jazz traditions with an impressive resume of recordings, performances, compositions, and a Grammy nomination in 2009 for Best Classical Crossover Album. Uri’s Double Trouble for piano and orchestra was commissioned by ACO and performed in February 2008 at Carnegie Hall. ACO, with Uri as piano soloist, will give the premiere of a revised and expanded version of the piece, April 9 at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Uri was kind enough to talk with SoundAdvice about the upcoming performance.

Pianist and composer Uri Caine. Photo credit: Simon Meele

American Composers Orchestra: You premiered Double Trouble in February 2008 with ACO at Zankel Hall. Now you are premiering a revised and expanded version. Can you talk about how the piece has changed since its original premiere 7 years ago?

Uri Caine: When I premiered the piece in 2008 it was written for piano and a chamber orchestra (single winds and horns and 1 percussionist). For the 2015 version, I got the opportunity to compose for a full orchestra with triple winds and a larger brass and percussion section. This allowed me to enrich certain harmonic areas, to strengthen the balance of certain sections and to simplify certain parts where I could divide the music between a greater variety of instruments. But inevitably as I started tinkering with the orchestration, I also started to rewrite parts of the music, to simplify certain sections and to clarify certain parts. Even though the structure of the piece basically remains the same as the 2008 version, I made  many small changes as I worked on the re-orchestration – in that sense Double Trouble in 2015 is a much different piece than the original 2008 version.
ACO: You say, “Double Trouble sets up a dialogue between composed music (mostly for the orchestra) and improvisation (mostly for the piano soloist).” You are performing as piano soloist on April 9 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, but if another pianist is to play the piece, what direction, if any, do you give for these improvised sections?
UC: I would ask the improviser to listen to what the orchestra is playing and then react and, at the same time, use the short cadenza solo sections as a sort of counterpoint and development of what the orchestra has or will play. There are also certain sections where the piano part is completely notated and other sections where a certain harmony is specified or a rhythm is suggested and the soloist can interpret this as they feel, but in the end I might not want to say too much. I would give the pianist the freedom to do their own thing!
ACO: What should the audience listen for during your piece?
In terms of a form, there are 7 short sections which usually begin or end with a solo piano cadenza. This cadenza either sets up the next entrance of the orchestra or “comments” on what the orchestra has just played. These sections are about 1 to 2 minutes each and are marked Misterioso, Grazioso, Energetic, Animated, Furioso, Espressivo, and Wild. The eighth and last section features an expanding and contracting rhythmic scheme – 5/8, 6/8, 7/8, 4/4, 7/8, 6/8, 5/8 – that repeats throughout the movement and establishes a certain groove for the soloist to play with. There is a dialogue between the piano and the orchestra: sometimes the soloist echoes what the orchestra is playing, sometimes it moves against it in rhythmic or melodic counterpoint, and sometimes it plays along as a member of the orchestra. The orchestra part is sometimes hyperactive, sometimes rhythmic, and sometimes lyric but the idea of the piece is to give the soloist the challenge of improvising against an orchestra that is throwing ideas right and left at the soloist in quick succession. The improvising soloist can decide in the moment how to react.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about your performance of Double Trouble with ACO at Jazz at Lincoln Center?
UC: I look forward to playing with George Manahan and the ACO. It is always fun after composing to go out and finally play what has been in your imagination. I am also looking forward to hearing the music of Courtney Bryan and Wynton Marsalis!

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