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Guest Pianist Recital: Sarah Cahill

Wednesday, February 8, 2023 - 7:30pm
  • Sarah Cahill
    Sarah Cahill

Pianist Sarah Cahill performs recent works from her project The Future is Female, including Book 3 of Arlene Sierra's Birds and Insects, Annea Lockwood's Ear-Walking Woman, Kaija Saariaho’s Ballade, Regina Harris Baiocchi's Piano Poems, and others. 

Note: Sarah Cahill leads a free master class with UW piano students on Thursday, February 9, 3:30 p.m., in Brechemin Auditorium. Details here. 


Annea Lockwood (b. 1939): Ear-Walking Woman (1996)
Arlene Sierra (b. 1970): Birds and Insects Book 3 (2022)
Canyon Wren
Lovely Fairywren
Tawny Owls
Great Grig                

Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952):
Ballade (2005)                                        

Ann Southam (1937-2010): Glass Houses No. 7 (1981) 


Regina Harris Baiocchi (b. 1956): Piano Poems (2020)
common things surprise us
cocklebur in wooly hair/tiny pond
a candle burns time
Elena Kats-Chernin (b. 1957): Peggy’s Rag (1996)

Aida Shirazi (b. 1987) :
Albumblatt (2017)                                  

Theresa Wong (b. 1976): She Dances Naked Under Palm Trees (2019)       

Program Notes

Ear-Walking Woman
Annea Lockwood writes: “Ear-Walking Woman, for prepared piano and ‘exploring pianist,’ uses the classic piano preparations: coins, screws, wiring insulation sheathing, plus bubble wrap, a rubber ball and small wooden balls, two stones, a bowl gong, mallets, and a water glass… The work is set up as an open-ended exploration… I think of this experience as ‘ear-walking,’ like a hiker exploring a landscape.”

Birds and Insects
Birds and Insects
is an ongoing project of piano works by Arlene Sierra. She explains: “Each piece features distinct characteristics to fit its title: spelling the name in pitches, employing a transcription of an animal’s song from nature, recalling its physical movement in various ways, or developing ideas drawn from an animal’s cultural symbolism.” Sarah premiered two pieces from Book 3 at the Barbican in March 2022, and she is preparing to record all three books of Sierra’s Birds and Insects for the Bridge label later this year. 

Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Aida Shirazi studied classical piano at Tehran University of Art and music composition and theory at Bilkent University in Turkey. She also studied santoor (traditional Iranian dulcimer).  Her music for solo instruments, voice, ensemble, orchestra, and electronics is often influenced by literature, language, and Iranian classical music.  She is a founding member of the Iranian Female Composers Association, a platform to promote and celebrate Iranian women in music. Shirazi wrote Albumblatt, subtitled “A Winter Memory,” while she was a student at University of California at Davis. 

Glass Houses
Canadian composer Ann Southam wrote two books of Glass Houses between 1979 and 1981, in which the left hand plays a steady ostinato pattern while the right hand plays repeated patterns against it.  While “Glass” is probably a reference to Philip Glass, Southam’s work is unique and individual.  Canadian fiddle music was also an inspiration.  She said that minimalist, iterative compositions reminded her of “women’s work”—repetitive, monotonous tasks such as knitting and cleaning that nevertheless sustain life.

Piano Poems
Regina Harris Baiocchi is a composer, author, and poet who lives in Chicago and founded Haiku Festival to inspire children’s poetry and promote literacy. She writes:
For Piano Poems, Sarah requested music inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks’ and Richard Wright’s poetry. Piano
has four movements:
I. common things surprise us was inspired by Brooks’ “Artists’ and Models’ Ball” from her poetry collection Blacks. Her debut poetry volume was edited by Wright.
II. cocklebur in wooly hair was inspired by Wright’s haiku #455 and #559 (“tiny pond”) from his collection Haiku: III. This Other World. Wright penned over four thousand haiku, which he hung on clotheslines in his Paris attic. Writing haiku kept him company as he was dying.
III. beatitudes was inspired by one of Regina’s own pandemic poems. 
IV. Inspired by Wright’s haiku #647, a candle burns time meditates on a candle as a life/death metaphor: fire, dancing to dying flame, time, etc.

Peggy’s Rag
Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Elena Kats-Chernin migrated to Australia, where she studied at the New South Wales Conservatorium and was awarded an academic exchange grant to study with Helmut Lachenmann in Germany.  She wrote a book of piano rags between 1995 and 1999, “as an antidote to the pressure of serious large-scale composition…Deeply personal objects, they are often written as a release in some time of personal difficulty.”  Peggy’s Rag is dedicated to composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks.  Kats-Chernin writes: “This is one of four rags that I wrote while living in the Peggy Glanville-Hicks Composer’s House, in Paddington, Sydney.  My residency lasted six months, and by naming the rag after Peggy, I paid tribute to this very important Australian composer who left her house as a haven for young composers.  It starts in A minor and ends in F-sharp minor.”

Kaija Saariaho wrote her Ballade for Emanuel Ax in 2005. She explains: “In this short piece I wanted to write music with a melody that grows out of the texture before descending into it again; a work that constantly shifts from a complex, multi-layered texture to concentrated single lines and back again.  Why Ballade?  Manny asked specifically for a piece bearing this title.”

She Dances Naked Under Palm Trees
Theresa Wong writes: “She Dances Naked Under Palm Trees begins with an incantation of the song Images, by Nina Simone, with pitches of its melody embedded within an amalgam of glissandi and counter-melodies. Rendering the song austerely in a cappella, Simone sings the text of No Images(1926), a poem by the Harlem Renaissance poet William Waring Cuney. In this piece, the notes of the melody are sounded by way of silently pressed keys which are allowed to ring with the use of the sostenuto pedal. When a glissando sweep is played across the depressed keys, all pitches of the sweep are immediately dampened, but the tones of the melody continue to resonate. The melody of the last stanza of the poem, however, is not intoned. What follows instead is the interruption of Cuney's depiction of oppression with the music of a dance in 13/8 meter. I have been drawn to this meter because of its lilt and instability - an uneven alternating between 7 and 6 beats which propels forward motion. After I began to first compose with this meter, I learned how the now 'unlucky' number originated in many ancient cultures as a symbol of the divine feminine. For example, there are 13 cycles of the moon and menstrual cycles a year, and Friday (from the Norse goddess Freya or in Neo-latin languages, Venerdi from Venus) the 13th represented the day of the Goddess - a day to celebrate the cycles of creation, death and rebirth. The dance is an evocation of movement into self-knowledge and worth for those who have not felt themselves duly reflected in the world.”


Sarah Cahill

Sarah Cahill, hailed as “a sterling pianist and an intrepid illuminator of the classical avant-garde” by The New York Times, has commissioned and premiered over seventy compositions for solo piano. Composers who have dedicated works to Cahill include John Adams, Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros, Julia Wolfe, Roscoe Mitchell, Annea Lockwood, and Frederic Rzewski. 
Keyboard Magazine writes: “Through her inspired interpretation of works across the 20th and 21st centuries, Cahill has been instrumental in bringing to life the music of many of our greatest living composers.” She was named a 2018 Champion of New Music, awarded by the American Composers Forum (ACF). She enjoys working closely with composers, musicologists, and scholars to prepare scores for each performance. She researched and recorded music by prominent early 20th- century American modernists Henry Cowell and Ruth Crawford, and commissioned a number of new pieces in tribute to their enduring influence. 
Sarah's latest project is The Future is Female, an investigation and reframing of the piano literature featuring more than seventy compositions by women around the globe, from the Baroque to the present day. Recent and upcoming performances of The Future is Female include concerts presented by The Barbican, Carolina Performing Arts, Carlsbad Music Festival, Detroit Institute of Arts, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, University of Iowa, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, North Dakota Museum of Art, and the Newport Classical Festival.  She is on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory, and is a regular pre-concert speaker with the San Francisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
For her concert at University of Washington, Sarah performs music from the last 25 years by Annea Lockwood, Regina Harris Baiocchi, Arlene Sierra, and other composers.