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Jeremy Siskind: Piano in Motion

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Jeremy Siskind: Piano in Motion
Jeremy Siskind Housewarming Project (l-r) Lucas
Pino, Jeremy Siskind and Nancy Harms

“Then I asked myself – why couldn’t I harmonize these melodies in a way totally differently than Bach would? So I started writing “jazz” harmonisations of some of these hymn melodies. The melodies are so singable and diatonic that it occurred to me that one could do almost whatever they wanted underneath and it would still sound like a coherent musical idea. One inspiration for these reharmonisation was Don Byron’s “Himn” (from the album Ivey-Divey, Blue Note, 2004).

“It wasn’t a far step from these exercises to writing my own hymn-like melody to harmonize. Once I wrote a simple 8-measure melody, and came up with a harmonization, I decided that this technique could result in an AABA tune, and so I made a bridge in A♭ (the original melody is in C) to complement the original.

“I originally recorded this piece on Simple Songs (for When the World Seems Strange) as a duet with Jo Lawry, and I must credit her with helping me come up with the form (as well as polishing some lyrics! Thanks, Jo!)…”

This music continues after the first short verse with an extraordinary solo by the inimitable Lucas Pino, with Mr Siskind comping behind him in a broad stride style as more wondrous music unfolds before Miss Harms returns with sacred-sounding lyric in that lustrous voice as the song soars heavenward once again.

Jeremy Siskind photographed by Barb Hauser

A week or so later I hear from a publicist, Sacha Mullin from the Peter McDowell Arts Consulting company proposing, to my surprise, a review of a new recording by none other than Jeremy Siskind himself. This recording turns out to be Perpetual Motion: Études for Piano (Outside In Music, 2020). Mr Mullin proffered an interview to which I – relatively fresh from the experience of Mr Siskind’s music albeit with the divine Miss Harms – not only agreed immediately, but also looked forward to with great expectation. This was on the 26th of March, 2020. Not long after a copy of the recording arrives and I dive into it. At first blush, I am reminded of the music of Nikolai Kapustin.

This music is certainly composed – perhaps even through-composed – but it is played with a freedom that tells me there is so much improvisation; so many changes in the modern sense that each piece sounds like a gigantic baroque cadenza. The music is, of course, a series of contemporary piano études. They are poetic miniatures – like Chopin’s études – but they are composed of diabolical twists and turns – inspired, I feel, by the kind of things that Liszt would write. And they are definitely not classical in the purely music-history/style sense of the term and decidedly not written in the style of Jazz music – which makes them reminiscent of Mr Kapustin.

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Raul da Gama is a poet and essayist. He has published three collections of poetry, He studied at Trinity College of Music, London specialising in theory and piano, and he has a Masters in The Classics. He is an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep technical and historical understanding of music and literature.

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