Pianist Brianna Matzke answered our questions on playing new music and her upcoming projects.  She’s a force to be reckoned with on the Cincinnati music scene and we’re delighted to have her join Cincinnati Soundbox. Check out her performances of Ivan Alexander Moscotta‘s Sonata for flute and piano, Stephanie Ann Boyd‘s Imogen, and Jennifer Jolley‘s Flight 710 to Cabo San Lucas on our Nov. 13 season opener.


CSB: You’ve been a big champion of living composers. How did you get your start playing new music?

BM: During my time as an undergrad at the University of Kansas, I was encouraged by my teacher Richard Reber to play works from the 20th and 21st century. He was famous himself for unforgettable performances of George Crumb’s music, and I found myself drawn into the world of “new music.” Forrest Pierce, a composition professor at KU, convinced me to accompany a brand new operetta by a student composer (Daniel Musselman), and from there on I was hooked. It was so exciting to be part of something brand new, and I felt like my interactions with the composer breathed a kind of freshness and vitality into the musicianship that I hadn’t experienced elsewhere. When I came to Cincinnati, I worked with a number of student composers, and I made sure to seek out opportunities to play new music whenever I could.

CSB: How has the process of collaborating and working with composers informed your playing?

BM: This is going to sound obvious, but the most important thing I’ve learned is that composers don’t just want me to play the notes. Of course it’s important to perform the score accurately, but the best collaborations come about when the composer and I can communicate about the kind of sound they are going for, and when I understand what kind of artistic motivation or philosophy stands behind the composer writing the piece in the first place.

Additionally, working on brand new scores has really trained me to be a good problem solver. Sometimes a new piece will have tricky bits that take some creativity to learn and to fit into the greater scope of the work. I’ve developed many, many different ways of listening to music and communicating as a performer thanks to composer collaboration.

CSB: Could you talk a little about your recent work commissioning and performing pieces for The Stockhausen Response Project?

BM: I was so thrilled this past year to have the opportunity to commission five brand new works for solo piano (and some electronics) from five up-and-coming composers. [Molly Joyce, Paul Schuette, Ty Niemeyer, Danny Clay, and Dylan Sheridan] The commissions were centered around the idea of responding to a piece of music by Karlheinz Stockhausen called Mikrophonie I, which was a groundbreaking electro-acoustic work for tam-tam and bandpass filters premiered in 1964. I wanted to bring that innovative spirit and experimental sound world to the solo piano repertoire, and the five pieces the composers gave me were just incredible in how they took up that challenge. I did the fundraising for the project in 2014, premiered the pieces in May of 2015, and an album will be released in 2016, and it has been a blast to work on. [More info is available at http://www.theresponseproject.org ].

CSB: Who are some living composers and other new music interpreters who inspire and challenge you?

BM: There are so many! Maybe a better question for me would be, “Who are some people working in new music who don’t inspire and challenge you?” and the answer would be: none! I love working in new music because it’s such a supportive field, with an eagerness and an openness for music-making of all kinds. I will say I’ve been grateful for the examples set by pianists such as Shiau-eun Ding, Jani Parsons, and Vicky Chow, and I’ve also been grateful for the mentorship of many living composers such as Douglas Knehans, Michael Fiday, Emma Lou Diemer, and Rob Deemer.

CSB: What projects and concerts are on your horizon for this season and beyond?

BM: Right now I’m really focused on getting The Stockhausen Response Project album ready for release, and then I’ll be taking those pieces on tour sometime in 2016. I’ll also be performing a program of 20th and 21st century music for violin and piano at the Cincinnati Art Museum in December, and I’ll play some music by Stuart Saunders Smith in March for a CCM program.


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