Pianist Douglas Finch - Fantastical Borrowings

Canadian pianist, Douglas Finch sitting at his pianoCanadian pianist, Douglas Finch is known for his classical improvizations
Saturday, March 11, 2017 - 19:30
Saturday, March 11, 7:30 pm

Douglas Finch, piano    Fantastical Borrowings

Heritage Auditorium, Assumption Hall, 400 University Ave.

Tickets: Adults $20; Students (with ID) $5

Tickets available at the door. Cash purchases only at the door please.

Douglas Finch is a Canadian pianist and composer, known for his innovative and imaginative approach to performance, and for helping to revive the lost art of classical improvisation in concert.
He was born in Winnipeg, and had his initial musical training with his mother and later Winnifred Sim and Jean Broadfoot. He continued at the University of Western Ontario with William Aide and then at Juilliard, NY, with Beveridge Webster. After winning a Silver Medal at the Queen Elisabeth International Competition in Brussels in 1978, he began to perform extensively throughout Canada, as well as devoting much of his time to composition, with a number of his works being broadcast on CBC Radio. He settled in London, UK, in 1993 and soon afterwards co-founded The Continuum Ensemble with conductor Philip Headlam, premiering over 40 new works and recording for Avie and NMC. He has been artistic director of several acclaimed events in London, including 'In the MOMENT', a festival of dance and music at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in 2009, that featured over 350 performers.
Douglas Finch is known for helping to revive the lost art of classical improvisation in concert. He has given numerous improvisation workshops around the world, organized major improvisation festivals and collaborated with other artists as wide-ranging in style as Brecht singer Dagmar Krause, organist Naji Hakim, experimental drummer Eddie Prevost and jazz saxophonist Martin Speake, with whom he recently recorded a CD of improvisations: 'Sound Clouds' (available on the Pumpkin Records label).
As a composer, he has written works for piano, chamber ensemble, orchestra and theatre as well as the soundtracks for five feature-length films by British director Jon Sanders, one of which - Late September (2009) - features him as a pianist/character in the film.
Douglas Finch is Professor of Piano and Composition at Trinity Laban, and a regular guest teacher at Chetham’s School of Music, Chetham’s International Piano Summer School, and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
Richard Causton - Non mi comporto male (1993)
John Burge - from 24 Preludes (2015)  
                 no. 13 in F-Sharp Major [One-Note Ostinato]
                 no. 14 in E-flat Minor (arranged/improvised by D.Finch)
                 no. 15 in D-Flat Major [Polytonality]
Rodney Sharman - Opera Transcription - Tristan und Isolde (2013)
Douglas Finch - Improvised Prelude
Charles Ives - Hawthorne from the Concord Sonata (1911-12)
Douglas Finch - Preludes and Afterthoughts - Fantasy-Transcriptions on Chopin’s Preludes op. 28 (2009-11)
Chopin - 4th Ballade (1842)

Programme Note by Douglas Finch

I am interested in how composers, and artists in general, borrow from one another - how they create new fantasies out of old stories. There are endless examples -  such as Picasso’s ‘transcription’ of Manet’s Le Déjouner sur l’herbe, George Crumb’s and George Rochberg’s quotations of Bach, Chopin and other earlier composers and Michael Finnissey’s more ‘abstract’ deconstructions of Verdi in his Verdi Transcriptions. In this concert, I am weaving together a number of pieces which themselves borrow in some way, but also become objets d’art for this ‘new’ collection/composition  which is, in fact, the programme itself!
The hidden melody on which Richard Causton’s Non Mi Comporto Male (1993) is based is revealed only very gradually. The title is a clue.  Through five short sections, witty and dramatic combinations within dense textures and extreme registers of the keyboard playfully juxtapose fragments of the melody with invented material in contrasting tempos and moods. In the final section, the melody slowly gathers itself together like water droplets and becomes explicit for the first time……There is a kind of “pop groove” (as he puts it) to John Burge’s F-Sharp Major Prelude: “the very simple materials used give the music a sense of freshness and new beginnings”.  I borrow Burge’s E-Flat Minor Prelude to create a new piece which is quite the opposite to these fresh new beginnings, leading into (preluding into, to use 19th Century parlance) his polytonal D-Flat Major Prelude - the largest of his set of 24 Preludes. This is an expansive, emotionally expressive piece, providing a kind of catharsis after which Rodney Sharman’s Tristan und Isolde emerges as another opposite - not only of the previous Prelude by Burge, but of the original ‘Love-Death’ aria by Wagner. Sharman uses every note of the aria’s melodic line, but their re-ordering and the almost total absence of dynamic inflection makes the experience something like an illusory memory - like quietly singing to yourself - in this case, at the end, literally……..My postlude to Wagner and Sharman will turn into a prelude to Ives…….Ives writes about Hawthorne: “…trying to suggest some of his [Hawthorne’s] wilder, fantastical adventures into the half-childlike, half-fairylike phantasmal realms….something about the ghost of a man who never lived, or about something that will never happen, or something else that is not.”
Preludes and Afterthoughts began as music to accompany Konstantin Iliev’s play Nirvana at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith in 2005, and was developed further in a dance production at Laban Theatre, Greenwich, in 2010 which had Marcel Proust’s poem Chopin (1896) as one of its starting points. Two of Chopin’s Preludes are quoted in their entirety, but in a context that changes how they are perceived. The interlinked movements are as follows: Premonition, Memory 1 (the A-Major quote), Dream, Whirlwinds and Sighs, Memory 2 (the A-Flat Major quote), Dirge-Canon and Rounds.  Proust’s poem:
Chopin, mer de soupirs, de larmes, de sanglots
Q’un vol de papillons sans se poser traverse
Jouant sur la tristesse ou dansant sur les flots.
Reve, aime, souffre, crie, apaise, charme ou berce,
Toujours tu fais courir entre chaque douleur
L’oubli vertigineux et doux de ton caprice
Comme les papillons volent de fleur en fleur;
De ton chagrin alors ta joie est la complice:
L’ardeur du tourbillon accroit la soif des pleurs.
De la lune et des eaux pale et doux camarade,
Prince du desespoir ou grand seigneur trahi,
Tu t’exaltes encore, plus beau d’etre pali,
Du soleil inondant ta chambre de malade
Qui pleure a lui sourire et souffre de le voir…
Sourire du regret et larmes de l’Espoir!
(Chopin, sea of sighs, of tears, of sobs
That a flight of butterflies crosses without posing
Playing above sadness or dancing on the waves.
Dream, love, suffer, scream, charm or lull,
You are always jogging between every pain
The dizzy and soft oblivion of your whim
Like butterflies flying flower to flower;
From your grief then your joy is abettor:
The whirlwind’s ardor deluding the sobs’ thirst.
Sweet comrade of the pale moon and the rain,
Prince of despair or betrayed high lord,
You excite yourself still, most beautiful pale being,
The sun flooding your sickroom
That cries for your smile and suffers from the sight.
Smile of regret and tears of Hope!)
Chopin’s 4th Ballade needs no introduction…. I would only say that it seems to me the perfect example of the Romantic ideal where ‘form’ has become both organic and inexplicable  - totally at the service of feeling. And that feeling is infinitely variable and subtle, as wide ranging and comprehensive as life itself.
Improvising at the end of a programme is for me a kind of relaxation - a chance to thank the audience for being there throughout the journey. I will be asking for suggestions of musical themes - to borrow for some more ‘fresh musical beginnings’. 
Biographical notes
Richard Causton studied at the University of York, the Royal College of Music and the Scuola Civica in Milan. In 1997 he was awarded the Mendelssohn Scholarship, which enabled him to study in Milan with Franco Donatoni. Distinctions include First Prize in the Third International ‘Nuove Sincronie’ Composition Competition, a British Composer Award and a Royal Philharmonic Society Award. In 2003-5, Causton was Fellow in the Creative Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge. In addition to composition, Causton writes and lectures on Italian contemporary music and regularly broadcasts for Italian radio (RAI Radio 3).
Dr. John Burge was born in Dryden Ontario in 1961 and grew up in Calgary studying the piano with Dorothy Hare. He holds three degrees in Composition and Theory from the Universities of Toronto and British Columbia and since 1987, has been teaching at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, where he is a full professor. For his outstanding work as a composer over the years, in 2013 he was awarded a Queen's University Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship. He has composed a large body of instrumental and vocal music in all genres and his work, Flanders Fields Reflections, for string orchestra, received the 2009 Juno Award for the Best Canadian Classical Composition.
Rodney Sharman is a Canadian composer and flutist based in Vancouver. His music has been performed in over 30 countries worldwide. He has won several international and national awards, including First Prize in the 1984 CBC Competition for Young Composers. His chamber opera, Elsewhereless, a collaboration with Atom Egoyan, premiered in 1998 and has been staged 35 times internationally.


Reviews of Douglas Finch’s music:

"Finch’s vivid imagination, thoughtfulness, and adept pianism radiate from every page of the score." - Everett Hopfner on 'Preludes and Afterthoughts - Fantasy-transcriptions on Chopin's Preludes op. 28'
"If one is to generalise about the range of Finch’s music, one might observe a simultaneous attraction to the harsh, austere and irascible, and also the possibilities of finding forms of musical expression exhibiting empathy and compassion whilst maintaining a pared-down language so as to avoid lapsing into sentimental clichés." - Ian Pace


Dr. Brent Lee