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February 9, 2015
MONTAGE: Great film composers and the piano
Pianist Gloria Cheng presents new solo works by Williams, Broughton, Desplat, Newman, Davis and Giacchino by Jon Burlingame

Gloria Cheng with John Williams, Randy Newman and Don Davis

Gloria Cheng with John Williams, Randy Newman and Don Davis

LOS ANGELES—Montage, a new album of piano music, comes out this week, and it is certain to delight – as well as confound expectations among listeners.

That's because Montage (subtitled Great film composers and the piano) consists of new music written specifically for Grammy-winning pianist Gloria Cheng by composers better known for their movie music: John Williams, Bruce Broughton, Alexandre Desplat, Randy Newman, Don Davis and Michael Giacchino. Together these composers have garnered more than 70 Oscar nominations and won eight times.

Montage is released Tuesday, Feb. 10, by Harmonia Mundi. Then on Friday, Feb. 20, at Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena, Cheng will present excerpts as well as the premiere of a 35-minute film about the creation of the album. It features footage from the April 2014 recording sessions at the Colburn School's Zipper Hall along with interviews with Cheng and all six composers.

Broughton's "Five Pieces for Piano" was written and presented as a surprise to Cheng back in 2011. The following year, Williams offered her a single five-minute work that she debuted in Tanglewood, Mass., as part of its annual Festival of Contemporary Music. Williams expanded this into the four-movement "Conversations" over the following year. (The Williams work abstractly references several jazz icons, a reminder that the composer was once a top jazz pianist.)

With 35 minutes of music in hand from two of film's most honored composers (Williams with five Oscars and Broughton with 10 Emmys), Cheng decided to commission four more. Michael Giacchino (Up) supplied the six-minute "Composition 430," Don Davis (The Matrix) the very modernist "Surface Tension," and songwriter-composer Randy Newman (Toy Story) a five-movement "Family Album" that paid homage to three of his film-composer uncles: Alfred, Lionel and Emil Newman. French composer Alexandre Desplat (The King's Speech) offered "L'Etreinte," part of a larger work he had previously written for Chinese pianist Lang Lang.

She presented all of them in November at a Zipper Hall concert that earned standing ovations and rave reviews. Five of the composers attended that event, and at least four are expected to be present at the Feb. 20 event.

Gloria Cheng rehearsing with Bruce Broughton

Gloria Cheng rehearsing with Bruce Broughton

Explains Cheng: "This is a glimpse inside the minds, hearts and souls of six very public composers. What do they say when they don't have to fit that timing, or that event on screen, or that bit of dialogue... when they're just left to say what they want to say?"

Asked if she was surprised by what they delivered, Cheng said: "I'm always surprised. With contemporary music, you never know what the next note is going to be. That's why I wanted to uncover this side of them, expose it and bring it to light, freed of the constraints that film places on them."

Davis, in the film, says that Cheng "has a phenomenal technique. Even more impressive is the tone she gets out of the piano." Adds Williams: "It's exciting that a great artist would do this. Gloria, in a way, has broken the mold by inviting film composers to be exactly not that – to be just simply composers. So that makes this project special."

©2015 Jon Burlingame
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