The Gilmore International Keyboard Festival took a tip from Wallace Stevens' "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" when they commissioned thirteen composers to write brief responses to the theme of Bach's "Goldberg Variations."
Many artists have been daunted by the "…Variations," but for pianist and UC Davis Artist in Residence Lara Downes they are a warm part of her childhood memories. "My father loved the pieces in the great recording by Glenn Gould. Listening to it was part of our bed time ritual."
There's a considerable variety in the way that the thirteen composers approached the pieces. Several take the familiar melody as a starting point; others seem, at least initially, to follow the harmonic structure; and others appear to partake of little more than its mood. In the audio version of this interview you can hear snapshots of several approaches.
A Bit of Jazz
Although there is no particularly jazzy piece among the thirteen, Downes mentions that "Fred Hersch, who is a fine jazz composer, wrote a minuet that does use some of that language."
As Downes played the pieces and thought about them she changed their original order. "I wanted to create an arc of pieces that were closest to the piece at the beginning and end and the farthest away in the middle and I think that it works quite well."
Her CD "13 Ways of Looking at the Goldberg" with the original aria, a several bonus tracks is on Tritone Records.