What are you looking for in pieces of new piano music? Guy Livingston

What are you looking for in pieces of new piano music? Guy Livingston

Guy Livingston
Photo by Perrot/Samaltanos

First off, as soon as I open the envelope, I immediately judge a piece by the meticulousness of the presentation… not because I need a fancy cover (usually I rip the binding off as soon as I begin to learn a piece), but because I want proof that the composer thought about the nuances for every note, and the phrasing for every line, and that they took the time to notate those details.

It’s astonishing the number of scores I get with no dynamic markings, with no tempo indication, or with obvious typos. These go directly in the trash. I love working with composers, and I get to do so all the time because most of my repertoire is by living composers. But I am annoyed when I have to call Amsterdam or Alaska to find out if a note is flat or sharp, and I’m tired of seeing identically-written, insipid Finale scores, which probably sound good in playback, but aren’t adapted to the shape of the hands—almost as if using the software made some artists careless. Occasionally I get a beautiful, hand-written, thoughtful score… that’s a real treat.

Notation and technique are easy enough to judge, and are quickly evaluated, but now here’s the hard part: how do you determine the artistic value of new music? I tend to read through the work a couple of times, trying to spot the high points, see the patterns and trends in the work, figure out any complex or unusual notations, look for the spark, the spring that makes the music tick. A piece can sit on my piano for months before I make a decision, as I like to let some time pass between each reading. I’m afraid I throw out 95 percent of the scores I get. The remainder are keepers.

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