Q&A With Mabel Kwan

Q&A With Mabel Kwan

Q: Tell us about your new album, one poetic switch. When did you decide you wanted to record an album and how did you choose the repertoire?

In the last few years I've gotten a lot of new pieces for various keyboard instruments, and I was interested in making an album where you could hear these pieces and instruments side by side. For my first solo album, one poetic switch, I chose pieces that were for piano and clavichord. Iā€™m deeply grateful to Ray, Eliza, Ramteen, Santiago, Fred and Mauricio for their compositions, and for being such wonderful collaborators. The pieces on this album are highly contrasting, even though they were all composed within a few years of each other. I hope you'll give it a listen and I would love to know what you think of it.

Q: We'll be hearing the World Premiere of Fredrick Gifford's Graft Blossom on January 3 where you will perform on toy piano, clavichord, and prepared piano all within the same piece. How did you approach learning a piece that asks you to move from instrument to instrument?

I'm really looking forward to playing this piece on the concert! So actually, the prepared piano part is pre-recorded; it's eight separate layers of piano harmonics in the bass strings and the same pitches played ordinario in the middle range of the piano. You should've seen the intricate web of rubber mutes Fred and I devised to prepare all the harmonics! The clavichord part has two sections, one with lots of running notes, the other percussive and unpitched. The toy piano part works similarly to the running part that you'll hear in the clavichord. Like many of Fred's pieces, you can choose the order in which you put these sections together. It takes some getting used to switching between the different instruments; the width of the keys are different on each instrument so leaps take some practice, and also on the toy piano you have to remember that middle c isn't the one in the middle!

Q: What are some of the objects you will utilize in the performance of one poetic switch by Santiago Diez-Fischer? Was it a challenge to obtain any of the objects you've been asked to use?

I'm really glad to know Santiago's music through a previous work for Dal Niente, and I'm thrilled that he wrote this solo piece for piano. The objects are basically plastic tupperware containers, a plastic wine glass, and a bass bow. It took some time to find the right plastic material; also it needed to make a certain pitch around G/G# which you'll hear is a central note in the piece. There are actually quite a few pieces with objects on this concert. Alex Lunsqui's Glaes or "glass" uses marbles, sandpaper, wine bottles, glass jars. Mauricio Pauly's Patrulla reliquia has intricate playing techniques for metal slide, plectra and effects pedals. Of course I always enjoy playing pieces like Rebecca Saunder's shadow which is on the keys with the hands (and in this case, arms and elbows too).

Q: How long have you been a member of Ensemble Dal Niente? Can you tell us about one of your most memorable moments as part of the ensemble?

My first concert with Dal Niente was in December 2007 at the Green Mill. I don't remember what we played, but I remember the rehearsals, and the personnel, and how clear it was that everyone in the group was in it for artistic reasons, and that we would always seek to challenge ourselves artistically. So much has happened since then! There's the time we played in complete darkness for Haas's in vain, you couldn't see any of your colleagues, the music, your instrument, or the audience, and it was terrifying and profound. Then there are times like after they announced the Kranichstein award and Jesse photobombed our photo, or when Michael came out of the dressing room in pink pants for our New York concert with Deerhoof. I love that the group is always evolving, asking questions about how to do what we do even better, and I look forward to the things we will accomplish together in the coming years.

Dal Niente Presents: Mabel Kwan, piano
Sunday, January 3, 2016
Constellation Chicago
3111 N. Western Avenue
Buy tickets here!

Photo credit: Marc Perlish