Omar Daniel likes to write piano pieces for himself. Often he works on them as a diversion while creating a bigger work. The Don Wright Faculty of Music composer says the shorter works give him a fresh perspective.
About a year ago, French pianist Olivier Chauzu e-mailed Daniel about Surfacing, a piano piece he’d written in the 1980s.
“I mentioned I was working on an ongoing set of preludes that took a variety of approaches to piano writing. They were inspired by Pablo Neruda’s poetry. He was interested, so I e-mailed a PDF file to him,” Daniel says.
Chauzu liked what he saw and decided to learn the five Neruda Preludes. He also decided to include them on the programs for his Canadian tour this fall. The performance held in von Kuster Hall Friday served as the world premiere. He will repeat the pieces in Toronto over the weekend, as well as Surfacing.
“This is great cross-nationally – a French pianist performing Canadian music,” Daniel says.
Daniel wrote the Neruda Preludes for himself. His inspiration came from poetry by Neruda, the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet. He based the writing on his own technical ability.
“You learn a lot playing your own music as a composer. You’re trying to bring it off the page, so you make modifications based on what you do as a performer. You make something shorter or longer, louder or softer, faster or slower – things you wouldn’t know until you hear it.”
Friday’s concert was the first time Daniel heard his composition played by someone else.
Two of the preludes were written about 15 years ago, and the most recent was composed two years ago. “The older two reflect myself as a composer and as a person at that time,” he says.
Both Daniel and the audience heard the work as Chauzu understands it.
“Each performance and each performer is different as they bring their artistry to it and uncover its secrets,” Daniel says. “They reveal surprises in the nuances and details. Even knowing it from the composer’s perspective, it is different to hear it bloom in the concert hall and take on additional meaning.”
Having the composer in the hall can add meaning for the performer, too.
Earlier this year, Daniel heard Jamie Sommerville conduct a piece he’d written. The Hamilton Philharmonic performed it in a church with Daniel was sitting close by.
Sommerville admitted it was a bit daunting to know Daniel, someone listening with intimate knowledge of the piece, was in the front row.
“My job is to make them feel comfortable with that,” Daniel says.
Once in the hall, Daniel tries to enjoy the performance.
Composers are often recognizable by the scores tucked under their arms. For Daniel, just sitting in the hall as a listener, hearing the notes off the page, is always exciting.
He hopes the audience discovered something they could relate to immediately.
“It should be more complex than you can digest in one listening. It should give the listener a sense of the piece and also provide a layer of depth they can understand with more hearing,” he says.
Chauzu is an award-winning pianist known for his wide-ranging repertoire. His program in London spans time periods as well as continents. As well as Daniel’s premiere, he performed Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit and Tombeau de Couperin.