American Piano Duets
by Ivory Crush (formally d.u.o.)

Kenn Willson pianist
There once was a Montana lad growing up in the town of Big Timber, near the Yellowstone Valley, who taught himself to read music when he was six. Kenn spent four years playing piano on his own before a teacher was finally corralled to begin his formal training. He took well to instruction and in due time moved to Oregon to pick up first his BA and then his Master of Music degree in Piano Performance. His thirst for education still unquenched, Willson ventured off to the University of Northern Colorado for a Doctor of Arts degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy. He employs the latter skill as Associate Professor of Music at George Fox University, the former as keyboardist for Southminster Presbyterian Church, and in concerts and recordings as the starting right tackle of the piano duo Ivory Crush. Willson has won acclaim for his digital command, his versatility, his teamwork, and his sense of humor.

Maria Choban pianist
Maria was born in Oregon to Greek parents. She began picking out tunes on a toy piano at age three, started formal lessons at age 6 and was winning competitions by her teens. She was a founding member of the iconoclastic trio St. Elvis. In 1996 she won fellowships for a research trip to Greece, the fruits of which have been the creation of The Greek Music Project for her Fireflight label which has just released her first solo recording, Greek Rapture, featuring music by Kalomiris, Papaioannou, and Hadjidakis.


About Ivory Crush
Ivory Crush is the team of pianists Kenn Willson and Maria Choban. whose goal is to rescue music for four hands, whether on one piano or two, from its status as a sadly neglected step-child. Ivory Crush aims to bring a wider audience to music that, can still, under the right twenty fingers, astonish, rouse, and delight.



Composer Information
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P.D.Q. Bach (1935-)
Who is this twenty-first son of Bach and what about the nut who cracked him? The music of P.D.Q. Bach was first discovered by Professor Peter Schickele in 1954 who, while "rummaging around a Bavarian castle in search of rare musical gems, happened instead upon the original manuscript of a Sanka Cantata by P.D.Q. Bach." It is Schickele's contention that the "conspiracy of silence" surrounding P.D.Q. Bach began with his parents who "ignored him completely. The more he wrote, the more unknown he became. He finally attained total obscurity at the time of his death."

Peter Schickele is to P.D.Q. Bach and his manuscripts what Mendelssohn was to the Senior Bach and his "St. John's Passion" - one who resurrects. P.D.Q. Bach's "musical output would probably have followed him into oblivion had it not been for the zealous efforts of Prof. Schickele."

Born on July 17, 1935 in Ames, Iowa, Schickele is an eminently gifted musicologist as is evidenced by the P.D.Q. Bach discovery. He is also a serious composer having written music for orchestra, chorus, chamber and jazz ensembles, and film. His early musical influences included "the music of Hindemith, Bartok, Stravinsky, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, and the Everly Brothers - especially Stravinsky and the Everly Brothers." The "Sonata Innamorata," according to Schickele, "is the only piece of music known to have been commissioned by Casanova, who presumably used it to help fulfill his motto, 'Seductio ad absurdum.'"

For further information about PDQ Bach and Peter Schickele visit presser.com/pdqbach and presser.com/schickele 

Tomas Svoboda (1939-)
Tomas Svoboda: "I am NOT a minimalist, as some critics and reviewers have indicated! Newspaper and media writers are not reliable, they twist what you say! This discussion about my composing characteristics and education reminds me of my early thinking about the Unison Symphony #5. My wife and I were driving to the coast and I kept seeing a white dot in the road. I approached it and discovered it was a butterfly, but I ran over it - one beautiful piece of nature killed by my ugly car! This image gave me the entire fifth symphony. I conceived the work in a few seconds, but it took me nine months to write it.The underlying concept is that there is one symbol, one voice growing inside each person."

Tomas Svoboda was born to Milda and Antonin Svoboda on December 6, 1939 in Paris, France. Svoboda was born at a time when his parents were fleeing German bombs. The family traveled south to Marseilles and stayed there for two months. It was here that Svoboda heard Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" for the first time -he would stop crying and begin to swing and bang his head on his crib in time to the beat. When Svoboda was a year old, his father left for a position in the United States. Svoboda and his mother stayed behind in Lisbon. The Svobodas returned to Prague in 1945 and stayed until 1965, living with Tomas' father's parents.

Svoboda entered the Prague Conservatory in 1954 as its youngest student being only 15 years old. At 16 he had written and had his first symphony op. 20 (Of Nature) performed by the Prague Symphony to rave reviews. Svoboda graduated from the Conservatory in 1962 with degrees in percussion, composition, and conducting. Svoboda entered the Academy of Music in Prague in 1962 to concentrate further on his composition studies. He had almost 40 works in his catalogue by that time. Svoboda and his family escaped from Czechoslovakia in 1964, settling in Phoenix, Arizona.

In 1966 Svoboda entered the University of Southern California as a graduate student in composition. Here he studied with Ingolf Dahl and Halsey Stevens. Stevens has written concerning Svoboda "It was almost embarrassing to have him come to lessons with work so completely and satisfactorily realized that it needed almost nothing in the way of criticism." Svoboda received a Master's degree in 1969 from the University of Southern California and accepted a position at Portland State University where he teaches composition, percussion and music theory.

Svoboda's contributions to music literature include symphonies, instrumental solos, concertos, chamber works, piano solos and duos, vocal solos and choral works. Svoboda has had works performed at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, as well as on National Public Radio's "Performance Today" and PBS Television.

(From Kenn Willson's dissertation on The Piano Duets of Tomas Svoboda, 1998).

Douglas Townsend (1921-)
Douglas Townsend's "Autobiographical Sketch" (Musical Heritage Review, v.2 no.8) reveals himself as an artist aware of his lack of formal education in music. Good humor and acceptance rather than self-deprecation emerge from this sketch (written in third person): "Although he left [SUNY] after two years and did not receive a degree, he did get a wife... and eventually three children - possibly the best of his compositions to date."

Townsend was born in New York City in 1921. The litany of odd jobs he held after highschool graduation should arouse even the sleepiest of would be musicians to awaken from their dreams to a future in music. After more than twenty years of experience that included part-time college teaching, Townsend served as editor for the Musical Heritage Review from 1977 - 1980. This allowed him to explore subjects in the field of music and gave him a forum for his findings. In one editorial he offers a succinct history of the piano duet, including such interesting tidbits as "...Schubert wrote more music for piano duet than he did for piano solo, omitting the dances." In another, "Some Thoughts About Contemporary Music", he supports obvious statements with quotes -- many of them humorous and strangely current sounding, as though they had appeared yesterday in The New York Times. For example, in 1793 an anonymous critic had written, "Mozart was a great genius, but he had no real taste, and little or perhaps no cultivated taste. He missed, of course, any effect in his original operas."

Townsend's refreshing charm, candor and substance is equally evident in his piano duet "Four Fantasies on American Folk Songs." Not to be missed is the simple tragedy of "Johnny has gone for a Soldier" - the third Fantasy - or the musical spat between the pianists in the fourth Fantasy. (Musical Heritage Review v.2 no.8; MHR v.2 no.9; MHR v.2 no.14)



Reviews
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Willamette Week

"Lightning Bolts and Alien Life: The Svoboda Project will breathe new familiarity into the work of the Portland artist." by David MacLaine

It's not quite fair to say that Tomas Svoboda has been neglected by Portland's music lovers. His music pops up all the time on local concert programs, and he's earned his share of newspaper stories that remind us that the Czech emigre, who has lived in our city for decades, is a composer of international stature. But there s always been something distant and theoretical about our grasp of Svoboda the artist. During this century, central Europe has produced a disproportionate number of figures who combine wide learning, keen intelligence, a cosmopolitan outlook and a quirky individual creativity. American culture, in contrast, has trouble with the whole idea of creative intellect. A figure like Svoboda is not just displaced geographically, he must also survive in an environment that's short on niches for his kind of talent.

We'll be getting several good opportunities this season to deepen our appreciation of Svoboda's style. In December, the Third Angle New Music Ensemble will devote a full program to his chamber music; in March, the Oregon Symphony will offer the world premiere of Svoboda's Marimba Concert. The best chance to grasp the sources of his creativity may come this weekend with the unveiling of the Svoboda Project, an ambitious attempt to combine four-hand piano music with the composer's own narration to create a multidimensional picture of the artist and the man.

It's appropriate that the title of the event sounds like something cooked up in a secret laboratory. There's a faint tinge of the mad scientist to the whole project. The elements of the program seem volatile and barely compatible, and the event evokes the same sort of dangerous excitement as the moment when an unsupervised lab team decides to see what will happen when those tricky chemicals are thrown in the beaker together. The ingredients include a composer whose talents reflect the guiding power of mind - Svoboda's been a high-ranked postal chess player - and pianist Maria Choban, whose forte is unrestrained drive and passion. The key catalyst is pianist Ken Willson, whose study of Svoboda began as part of his efforts toward a doctorate and led eventually to this concert's conception. He'll need to provide the solid bond that holds together the mix of imaginative concept and emotional execution and prevents a messy explosion.

Four-hand music is naturally suited for the private pleasure of its players. Svoboda's were created with the identity of each piano part, and the contrast between distinct voices, held clearly in mind. Antiphony and stereo effects are easier to imagine than to execute, but the Svoboda Project is making an all-out effort to display them. Instead of the traditional two-piano layout with the instruments back-to-back, the performers will be as far apart as musical communication will allow.

The best locale for appreciating this arrangement will be on the floor between, around and under the instruments where the prime seating has been laid out. The hall has a carpet on the floor, but it might be helpful for fans to bring their own extra padding. Those not limber or adventurous enough to plunge into the middle of the action can choose real seats along the rim. The program will survey Svoboda's life and work. He'll begin with a short talk describing his birth and early background before Choban and Willson play the first of his Three Fughettas, and will separate the next two with other brief remarks. The composer will also explain the events and images that give rise to his creations before the players launch into his Piano Suite Opus 124. Further narration will tell the story of the composer's exile and return to the Czech Republic, the challenge of life in an often alien land and the difficulties in securing any solid sense of where home lies; then comes the Sonata for Two Pianos Opus 55. Yet another narrative interlude will precede the program's closing work, Vision for Three Pianos, when the composer will join the other two players to offer the piece's world premiere performance.

No matter what happens, The Svoboda Project should at least pack the excitement of those key scenes from the Frankenstein movies. Here's the audacious concept, there's the brilliant mind, and zapping it all will be lightning bolts of creativity.

All that remains to be seen is whether, after the storm subsides, we'll be able to gaze with wonder on a rare being we've never before seen as fully human, and exclaim in sudden awe and wonder "It's Alive!"

The Oregonian
by David Stabler

The Music of Tomas Svoboda dances. Rhythm is at its heart - the thudding beat of peasants striking their heels on the ground; the syncopated accents of Gypsies twirling their bright skirts, and the repetitive whirring and clanking of urban machinery. Svoboda, who teaches composition at Portland State University, is one of Oregon's more prolific and widely performed composers.

On Saturday, an evening of his piano music filled Southminster Presbyterian Church in suburban Beaverton. Three pianos stood 25 feet apart from one another, forming a large triangle. Listeners sat informally around the edges of the sanctuary, on the floor, even underneath the pianos.

The pianists were the able Maria Choban and Ken Willson who played with a rare mixture of tonal color, rhythmic bite and considered thought. Svoboda joined them for the last piece.

The program offered a short course on Svoboda's piano music, beginning with his early Bach influenced Three Fughettas, for two players at one piano, and ending with his latest work, "Vision" for three pianos.

Svoboda spoke about each piece and what he was thinking at the time he wrote it. One of many anecdotes concerned a familiar characteristic of his music: the long, gradual crescendo.

As a student at the University of Southern California, he lived on an ambulance route. From three miles away he could hear sirens approaching as he lay in bed at night, wide-eyed, staring at the ceiling. "I had no choice," he recalled, "I was enjoying this everlasting crescendo."

In the Suite for Piano Four-Hands, Choban and Willson seemed to be plugged into a common current, playing as one person. Sparks flew as they executed the syncopation and barbaric chords of the final Gypsy dance with percussive flair.

Despite the distance separating the pianos for Svoboda's Sonata for Two Pianos, Choban and Willson were beautifully synchronized. A composer could not have found two more sympathetic muses.


C.D. Review 'd.u.o, American Piano Duets'
by Jim Choban

I am in a slightly different situation in writing this review for several reasons. In addition to having been loaned the original master recording of the compact disc to listen to, I was also present in the studio during the recording session as a page turner and have heard these pieces performed live, although in a somewhat disjointed manner. In addition, one of the pianists is my cousin. Now that the disclosure statement is out of the way, here is some information about the music itself.

There are four segments to the program; Sonata Innamorata by P. D. Q. Bach, Four Fantasies on American Folk Songs by Douglas Townsend, and Three Fughettas op. 12 and Suite op. 124, both by Tomas Svoboda. The performers describe the music in the following manner:

This is American Classical Music. It's not pretty. It's not soothing. It's not meant to be. This is American Classical Music. It's sarcastic. It's violent. It's poignant, picturesque, and sometimes tragically naive. It is accessible and it will move you.

Maria Choban & Kenn Willson, d.u.o

The program opens with the piece by PDQ Bach, approximately nine minutes in length, which is a relatively light composition. There are sections of this piece that conjure up images of hyperactive children playing "Chopsticks". The dynamics vary, going from barely audible to loud. It is a nice piece to open with since the program moves towards a darker and more mournful tone through the course of the disc.

The second selection by Townsend has its moments, both good and bad. Of the fifteen minutes devoted to this selection, it can be broken down into four minutes of enjoyable music, six minutes of nondescript music, and five minutes of hideously mournful (and in this case, I use the word lightly) music. The first of the four folksongs is titled "Follow the Drinking Gourd." Along with the second, which is titled "The New River Train" they make up an inoffensive, but unremarkable part of the program. The humor that comes through from the Bach piece is definitely lacking here. If nothing else, these pieces do make for an interesting segue into the next song titled "Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier." I do not have anything good to say about this particular piece. It is something that would be appropriate at a funeral and it makes "Taps" sound cheerful. Were it not for the fact that I know the source, I would ask, "How can you stand to even play this, much less rehearse and listen to it?" I can say that I found the piece moving, but not in a favorable manner. The last piece by is titled "Two in One: Old Joe Clarke and Sourwood Mountain." I found it necessary to listen to this one a couple of times by itself, partly to convince myself that I found it pleasing to listen to for reasons other than that the previous piece was finished and partly because it is the type of piece that merits a second or third listen before forming a concrete opinion. This was my second favorite selection on the program, rating slightly ahead of the piece by Bach.

Next up was the first piece by Tomas Svoboda, "Three Fughettas op. 12." This is another melancholy piece that I really did not care for. Among other things, I would describe it as quiet, slow and dull. It is almost something that is suitable as dinner music, as it is really unobtrusive, you might notice it by its absence. It is a stark contrast to the second piece, "Suite op. 124." This suite is the centerpiece of the program, and finishes it with some much needed life. Every bit as aggressive as the Fughettas are passive, it is easily the most memorable part of the entire program. Played hard and fast in the first and third movements, (particularly the third, although this may be more of a visual impression from having been present during the recording session) it provides some interesting contrasts, as the second movement is quite passive. The third movement of this suite made it worthwhile (barely) to sit through the one piece by Townsend. It also needs to played at a higher than normal volume to get the full effect.



Track Listing
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Sonata Innamorata S.1+1 (1987) by PDQ Bach (8:58)
musicplayer 1. Allegro Impetuoso
musicplayer 2. Andante con Cozyta
musicplayer 3. Presto Obsessto
 
Four Fantasies on American Folk Songs op. 4, nos 1-4 (1960) by Douglas Townsend
Publisher: Peters Edition, No. 6040 (15:34)
musicplayer 4. Follow the Drinking Gourd
musicplayer 5. The New River Train
musicplayer 6. Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier
musicplayer 7. Two in One: Old Joe Clark and Sourwood Mountain
 
Fughettas op. 12 (1955-56) by Tomas Svoboda
Publisher: Thomas C. Stangland Co., TCS-87 (8:44)
musicplayer 8. Moderato
musicplayer 9. Moderato
musicplayer 10. Allegro Moderato
 
Suite op. 124 (1985-86) by Tomas Svoboda (10:17)
Publisher: Thomas C. Stangland Co., TCS-20
musicplayer 11. Allegretto
musicplayer 12. Moderato
musicplayer 13. Presto
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