Skip links

Nancarrow and instruments
Conlon Nancarrow in his Mexico City studio.

Conlon Nancarrow was not big on celebrating birthdays. Nevertheless, a centennial was the occasion for paying tribute to his life and music, and a good reason to reunite and reminisce.

The ingenious complexity of Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano, giving composers a way to activate several melodies at simultaneously different speeds, has been one of the most pivotal achievements in music’s last century. But Nancarrow’s technical prowess would be clinical empty stuff in the hands of a lesser mind. Conlon took his mastery of counterpoint from two years of study under Roger Sessions, a deep influence from Bach and Stravinsky along with jazz artists Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith and Earl Fatha’ Hines, his experience as a jazz trumpeter, and his conclusions on the perception of time garnered from his study of music from India and Africa, and melded these into one of the most listenable and striking oeuvres in 20th Century music.

Perhaps most astonishing is that Nancarrow completed most of his Studies without the world knowing about them. They were composed in Mexico City during his long residency there (1940-1997) following his decision to leave the United States at the tender age of 26. But by the late 1970s the secret was out, and his genius began to be more and more widely celebrated. His hermetic existence was no longer possible, and gradually the very modest composer found pleasure in his new-begotten fame, including the MacArthur “Genius” grant.

Many people have provided support for his work and written eloquently about it, and we were privileged to have a select few of these in our midst as participants in this festival. We were deeply honored to welcome the one person who spent more time with Conlon Nancarrow than anyone else—his widow, Dr. Yoko Sugiura Yamamoto. Born in Japan in 1942, Sugiura emigrated to Mexico and has worked there as one of the country’s leading archaeologists. She married Nancarrow in 1971 and was his greatest support and inspiration. Accompanying her were the Nancarrows’ son Mako, a civil engineer, and granddaughter Isabella. Among Conlon’s confidants and partners in music we welcomed were composer Peter Garland (Maine), sound sculptor Trimpin (Seattle), and composer-critic Kyle Gann (Bard College, NY).

Mr. Garland was first to publish large numbers of Nancarrow’s elegant music scores in the periodical Soundings. Mr. Gann is the author of the authoritative book on the structure and substance of The Music of Conlon Nancarrow. Trimpin not only converted all of Nancarrow’s perforated piano rolls into MIDI information, making them available for performance around the world, but has reconstructed Nancarrow’s dream of a self-playing percussion orchestra which was introduced at the Berkeley Art Museum in conjunction with this centennial event.

Festival Program

Festival Opening Event
Friday, November 2, 2012, at 5:30 PM at the Berkeley Art Museum

Trimpin: Nancarrow Percussion Orchestra / MATRIX 244
For this MATRIX exhibition, Trimpin creates an interactive sound sculpture incorporating three reconstructed pianos. The installation, which features Nancarrow’s Study #30 (n.d.) for prepared player piano, pays tribute to the composer’s rhythmically complex and intensely layered studies, and includes percussive elements originally designed by Nancarrow.

Commissioned by Other Minds in collaboration with UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

In Conversation: Trimpin and Lucinda Barnes
On the opening evening of BAM/PFA’s presentation of Trimpin: Nancarrow Percussion Orchestra / MATRIX 244, Chief Curator and Director of Programs and Collections Lucinda Barnes talks with Trimpin about his new installation and Conlon Nancarrow’s legacy.

On view through December 23, 2012 (Wednesday‐Sunday, 11 AM–5 PM)

Film Screening No. 1
Friday, November 2, 2012 at 7:00 PM at Pacific Film Archive

Study No. 2 and No. 18 (2008, Netherlands, 7 mins) by Alban Wesly
Conlon Nancarrow: Virtuoso of the Player Piano (2012, U.S., 56 mins, West Coast Premiere) by James Greeson

Discover Nancarrow No. 1
Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 11:00 AM in Hertz Hall

The Expanding Universe of Conlon Nancarrow
Dr. Yoko Sugiura‐Nancarrow ‐ Archaeologist, widow of the composer
Felix Meyer ‐ Director of the Sacher Stiftung, preserving the Nancarrow archives
Kyle Gann ‐ Composer and author of The Music of Conlon Nancarrow
Peter Garland ‐ Composer and original publisher of Nancarrow’s Player Piano Studies
Trimpin ‐ Composer and sound sculptor
Charles Amirkhanian ‐ Moderator

This panel session will begin with a performance of Study No. 25 and conclude with Study No. 12.

Nancarrow Concert No. 1
Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 2:00 PM in Hertz Hall
Trimpin and Rex Lawson

Study No. 11 by Conlon Nancarrow (1912‐1997)
Study No. 5
Study No. 6
Study No. 26
Study No. 37
Study No. 41c for two pianos
Trimpin, Piano/Vorsetzer

Study No. 21 (Canon X) by Conlon Nancarrow
Molly on the Shore by Percy Grainger (1882‐1961)
Shepherd’s Hey by Percy Grainger
Prelude in E-flat, Op. 23 No. 6 by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873‐1943)
Silent Film Score to Un tour au large – Voyage on the Open Sea (1926, American Premiere) by Jean Grémillon (1901‐1951)
Rex Lawson, Pianola

Nancarrow Concert No. 2
Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 8:00 PM in Hertz Hall
Calder String Quartet

Movement I: “Nightfalls” from The Four Quarters (2010) by Thomas Adès (1971‐ )
String Quartet No. 1 (ca. 1945) by Conlon Nancarrow
I: Allegro molto
II: Andante moderato
III: Prestissimo
Movement II: “Serenade: Morning Dew” from The Four Quarters by Thomas Adès
String Quartet No. 3 (Canon 3/4/5/6) (1987) by Conlon Nancarrow
A measure = 72
B measure = 50
C measure = 92
Movement III: “Days” from The Four Quarters (2010) by Thomas Adès
Study No. 33 (arr. Paul Usher) (ca. 1968/2003) by Conlon Nancarrow
Movement IV: “The Twenty‐Fifth Hour” from The Four Quarters (2010) by Thomas Adès

String Quartet No. 5 (1934) by Béla Bartók (1881‐1945)
I: Allegro
II: Adagio molto
III: Scherzo: alla bulgarese
IV: Andante
V: Finale: Allegro vivace

Discover Nancarrow No. 2
Sunday, November 4, 2012 at noon in Hertz Hall

Eyeballs Out! How Performers Learned to “Play” Nancarrow
Dominic Murcott and percussionist Chris Froh – Discussion and performance of Nancarrow’s Piece for Tape
Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams ‐ Piano Duo
Kyle Gann ‐ Composer and author of The Music of Conlon Nancarrow
Trimpin ‐ Performance of Nancarrow’s Study No. 3a and other selected studies
Graeme Jennings – Violinist, formerly of the Arditti String Quartet
Charles Amirkhanian – Moderator

Film Screening No. 2
Sunday, November 4, 2012 at 4:00 PM at Pacific Film Archive

Nancarrow Study No. 3c (2008, Netherlands, 3 mins) by Alban Wesly
Musik für Tausand Finger  (Music for 1000 Fingers) (1993, Germany, 45 mins) by Uli Aumüller
Study No. 7 (2007, U.K., 7 mins) by Tal Rosner and Sophie Clements

Program Notes 11.04.12 at 4:00 PM
Study No. 3c – The melodic patterns in this study retain a somewhat blues flavor. Though not a strict canon, there are extended canonic passages, heard against a pizzicato‐like bass line, all in a moderately fast tempo.

Nancarrow Concert No. 3
Sunday, November 34, 2012 at 7:00 PM in Hertz Hall
Rex Lawson, Chris Froh, and Bugallo‐Williams Piano Duo

Piece for Tape by Conlon Nancarrow
Piece for Tape (arr. Dominic Murcott, American Premiere) by Conlon Nancarrow. Chris Froh, Percussion
Toccata for Piano and Violin (1935) by Conlon Nancarrow. Rex Lawson, Player Piano; Graeme Jennings, Violin

Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring/Весна священная) by Igor Stravinsky (first performance in America by a solo player)
Part I: L’ Adoration de la Terre
Introduction
Les Augures printaniers
Jeu du rapt
Rondes printanières
Jeux des cités rivales
Cortège du sage: Le Sage
Danse de la terre
Part II: La Sacrifice
Introduction Cercles mystérieux des adolescentes
Glorification de l’élue
Évocation des ancêtres
Action rituelle des ancêtres
Danse sacrale (l’Élue)
Rex Lawson, Pianola

Conlon Nancarrow:
Study No. 3b (arr. Amy Williams)
Study No. 4 (arr. Erik Oña)
Study No. 18 (arr. Erik Oña)
Study No. 9 (arr. Helena Bugallo)
Study No. 44 (Aleatory Canon, 1981) (arr. Bugallo)
Nine Early Pieces (early 1940s)
Sonatina for Piano (1941, arr. Yvar Mikhashoff)
Study No. 20 (arr. Bugallo)
Study No. 15 (arr. Mikhashoff)
Bugallo‐Williams Piano Duo: Helena Bugallo, Piano; Amy Williams, Piano.

Trimpin diagram

Click here to download a PDF copy of the program/schedule for Nancarrow At 100, with two bonus sketches from Trimpin.

Nancarrow At 100 Video

Conlon Nancarrow
Piece For Tape

Percussionist Chris Froh plays Conlon Nancarrow’s Piece For Tape, arranged by Dominic Murcott. This performance was recorded live on November 4, 2012, at Hertz Hall on the U.C. Berkeley campus, during the Other Minds-produced event, Nancarrow At 100: A Centennial Celebration.

Conlon Nancarrow
Study No. 37

This piece by Conlon Nancarrow was recorded live during the Other Minds Special Event, Nancarrow at 100: A Centennial Celebration, Saturday, November 3, 2012 at Hertz Hall, on the U.C. Berkeley campus. Trimpin on the piano/vorsetzer.

Conlon Nancarrow
Study No. 21 (Canon X)

This piece by Conlon Nancarrow was recorded live during the Other Minds Special Event, Nancarrow at 100: A Centennial Celebration, Saturday, November 3, 2012 at Hertz Hall, on the U.C. Berkeley campus. Rex Lawson on the pianola.

Nancarrow At 100: Live Audio

Conlon Nancarrow
Study No. 11

Conlon Nancarrow’s Study No. 11 , performed live in concert on Saturday, November 3, 2012 at Hertz Hall on the U.C. Berkeley campus, by Trimpin on the piano/vorsetzer. Part of the Other Minds-produced event, Nancarrow At 100: A Centennial Celebration.

Conlon Nancarrow
Study No. 26

Conlon Nancarrow’s Study No. 26 , performed live in concert on Saturday, November 3, 2012 at Hertz Hall on the U.C. Berkeley campus, by Trimpin on the piano/vorsetzer. Part of the Other Minds-produced event, Nancarrow At 100: A Centennial Celebration.

Conlon Nancarrow
Toccata for Violin and Player Piano (1935)

Conlon Nancarrow’sToccata for Violin and Player Piano (1935), performed live in concert on Saturday, November 3, 2012 at Hertz Hall on the U.C. Berkeley campus. Rex Lawson, player piano; Graeme Jennings, violin. Part of the Other Minds-produced event, Nancarrow At 100: A Centennial Celebration.

Conlon Nancarrow
String Quartet No. 1 (1945)

Conlon Nancarrow’s String Quartet No. 1 (1945), played live in concert on Saturday, November 3, 2012 at Hertz Hall on the U.C. Berkeley campus, by the Calder String Quartet. Part of the Other Minds-produced event, Nancarrow At 100: A Centennial Celebration.

Photos From the Event

Photos by Richard Friedman

Photos – Black and White

Start typing and press Enter to search