Pianist Vicki Ray
Pianist Vicki Ray

If the piano is the composer’s instrument, then Piano Spheres is the composer’s dream: a yearly series of new-music concerts performed by Los Angeles’ most committed, most accomplished new-music-for-keyboard advocates. The lineup of concerts for spring 2022 is ambitious, as if a number of highly adventurous musicians had been cooped up for 20 months with nothing to do but polish interpretations of new repertoire. The season takes in a wide range of things and definitely needs to be approached in the spirit of discovery.

Piano Spheres is the brainchild of pianist and Arnold Schoenberg protégé Leonard Stein. In 1994, he handpicked four USC graduate students to become core artists in an ongoing concert series. If you know anything about new music in L.A., you’ll recognize the names: Gloria Cheng, Vicki Ray, Mark Robson, and Susan Svrček. These fiercely committed advocates have been going full tilt ever since, although the core artists have changed slightly over the past few years, and the group soon started adding guest artists to the roster in every season, to add interest and different perspectives. The 2021–2022 core artists are Ray, Robson, and the brilliant piano duo HOCKET (Sarah Gibson and Thomas Kotcheff). Cheng remains on the advisory board.

Ray’s concert (March 1, 2022) takes off from the observation by Igor Stravinsky that “all composition is frozen improvisation.” The program weaves together great jazz composers with a wide range of modernist composers: works by Béla Bartók, Cecil Taylor, Alfred Schnittke, Wadada Leo Smith, Mauricio Kagel, Harold Budd, György Ligeti, Nicholas Deyoe, and Francis Poulenc.

Robson shares his April 5 concert with longtime friend and accomplished ondes martenot player Takashi Harada and with Kojiro Umezaki, a founding member of the Silkroad Ensemble, on shakuhachi.

HOCKET (Sarah Gibson and Thomas Kotcheff) | Credit: Nadine Sherman​​​​

In their May 10 concert, HOCKET looks at the modern tradition of prepared piano in a program titled “Exploded Keyboards.” At the center is John Cage’s Three Dances, followed by newly written companion pieces by Gibson, Kotcheff, and Peter Shin. Percussion duo Icarus are guests.

Guest artist David Kaplan contributes a May 24 concert he’s calling “Ph(f)antasy(ies),” which begins with an unmeasured prelude by 17th-century great Louis Couperin, flows through Robert Schumann’s famous piano fantasy (Fantasiestücke), to Elliott Carter’s admired Night Fantasies, and emerges in the 21st century with Augusta Read Thomas’s Morse Code Fantasy and commissions by Anthony Cheung and Christopher Cerrone.

The whole series kicks off with a six-hour tribute to composer/pianist Frederic Rzewski, who died on June 26, 2021. There is a four-hour tribute concert on the plaza of the Colburn School, beginning at 4 p.m., and then Ursula Oppens and Lisa Moore, two of Rzewski’s closest musical collaborators, lead the 8 p.m. concert in Zipper Hall, which is scheduled to include the world premiere of Suite, commissioned by Piano Spheres; the West Coast premiere of Amoramaro, composed this year for Moore; the two-piano version of Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, performed by HOCKET; and other works to be announced.

All concerts begin at 8 p.m. at Zipper Hall in the Colburn School and are priced at $25.