While Los Angeles is celebrating a two-week orgy of the avant-garde in a New Music Festival, local audiences can catch up on the last 50 years of American music in pianist Ramon Salvatore's recital tonight at Cal State Fullerton.
Salvatore's 8 p.m. program will include Hunter Johnson's Piano Sonata, Copland's "Piano Fantasy," Robert Palmer's Sonata No. 3 and the premiere of New York composer Phillip Ramey's Toccata. The latter two works were commissioned by the pianist.
"I feel very strongly about programming rarely heard American music or American music that basically reflects very little European influence," Salvatore said in a recent phone interview from his home in Chicago.
Since 1983, the pianist has been developing programs on "composers who were trying to develop an American language--an open, leaner kind of sound, a new harmonic language and to some extent a new rhythmic language."
But traditionalists need not worry:
The composers all work in a tonal idiom, and the 42-year-old pianist insists that the works are "very conservative and very accessible."
In his own performances, he said, "I just sit down and play with a concern for line, color and balance, just as I would with any music from the 19th-Century European tradition we all grew up on, including me."
The works do share an effort by the composer to incorporate popular music idioms into serious music, according to Salvatore.
Johnson's Sonata (composed in 1934 and revised in 1936 and 1948) has "jazz and blues overtones all the way through. It's rhapsodic, almost ecstatic. It is very difficult technically, but it's a real masterpiece."
Copland's "Fantasy" (completed in 1957) is the composer's most important work for piano, according to Salvatore.
"The piece sounds like it's carved right out of granite, but it has very introspective, lyrical and brooding parts as well."
Salvatore said that the work covers every kind of mood. "That's the whole point of a fantasy, isn't it? It's like covering a city, with new twists and turns around every corner."
Palmer's Sonata, which Salvatore premiered in 1979 in London, reflects the composer's concerns with classical "form, balance and contour," Salvatore said.
A professor of music at Cornell University, "Palmer never jumped onto the 12-tone bandwagon, so he never became fashionable. I think both Palmer and Johnson are sadly underrated composers."
Salvatore commissioned Ramey's Toccata, completed last December, because he wanted "a brilliant companion piece" to Ramey's "Canzona," which he frequently played.
He commissions new works because he enjoys working and coaching with composers. "And I like the idea of bringing new music that I can give first life to," Salvatore said.
Salvatore said that he devotes his efforts to be "absolutely faithful to the score" in order to re-create what was in the composer's mind. Twentieth-Century composers mark their scores very carefully to show what their wishes are, he said. "If (the music) is faithfully reproduced, the interpretation will be right."
Salvatore, who has been teaching at various colleges for the past 15 years in addition to concertizing, said that he pursues this repertory "simply mostly because nobody else seems to be doing a whole lot with it.
"I certainly believe in this music, and as a result I've had a lot of opportunities to play it. So it's been very helpful career-wise. If I said anything otherwise, I wouldn't be telling the whole truth."