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Pianist Inna Faliks to perform pieces that modernize Beethoven, Ravel classics

On June 22, Inna Faliks will perform modern responses to works by Beethoven and Ravel, including compositions by composers Tamir Hendelman and Billy Childs. (Left to right: Courtesy of Tamir Hendelman, Courtesy of Billy Child, Courtesy of Lisa Marie Mazzucco)

“Reimagine Beethoven and Ravel”

Inna Faliks

The Wallis

June 22

7:30 p.m.

By Kevin Lin

June 21, 2022 4:57 p.m.

Inna Faliks is changing the tune on familiar classics.

On June 22 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, the head of piano performance will play a concert featuring Ludwig Van Beethoven’s “Bagatelles, Op. 126” and Maurice Ravel’s “Gaspard De La Nuit.”

In addition to these works, Faliks will premiere nine individually commissioned pieces to comment on the musical elements Beethoven and Ravel originally presented in their respective compositions. Conceived during the pandemic, Faliks said the goal was to engage her fellow composers with the two pieces by reconstructing their narratives.

“I gave the composers complete freedom to do as they wish and to create something totally new,” Faliks said. “The pieces were a jumping-off point or a point of inspiration in a way, so some took the response elements quite literally, while others really went in a different direction. It was fascinating to see how that unfolded.”

Faliks said selecting the two compositions as the template for her commission was an accidental point of inspiration rather than a deliberate plan. She said she chose “Bagatelles, Op. 126” in celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday, and because it has six bagatelles, each composer could tackle a separate section. “Gaspard De La Nuit,” on the other hand, is a special piece because it responded to the work of the same name by French poet Aloysius Bertrand, and she said it would be an attractive endeavor for composers to answer a piece that is itself a response.

[Related: Multisensory piano concert makes West Coast premiere on UCLA grounds]

As one of the composers who responded to “Gaspard De La Nuit,” pianist and composer Billy Childs said he resonated with “Scarbo,” a movement within Ravel’s work that depicts a dangerous and unpredictable goblin. Therefore, for his composition titled “Pursuit,” Childs said he utilized elements from “Scarbo” to delve into the unpredictable, irrational nature of racial violence and the injustices minorities face.

“I was really connected to the sense of danger about it (‘Scarbo’), and I related it to a modern-day version of the sense of danger that … Black males and Black people in general can feel by a society that has systemic racism,” Childs said.

Structurally, Childs said he starts the piece off with a section of extremely rapid textures, such as a collection of different notes. The music then progresses into a slow period of suspense and concludes with a recapitulation of compositional features, he said. Although the idea was inspired by the experience of systemic racism, Childs said the composition and its structure of a menacing pursuit offers a multidimensional experience that welcomes all kinds of personal interpretations or narratives.

In the classically structured “Bagatelles, Op. 126,” composer and global jazz studies lecturer Tamir Hendelman said the opportunity to compose a piece responding to Beethoven’s work led him to appreciate the original composition more. Studying “Bagatelle No. 2 in G minor” – the second section in the six-piece collection – made him realize its spontaneous and dual nature, such as the alternating restless and peaceful energies he said are frequently found in Beethoven’s late works.

“This piece has a perpetual motion motif that, to me, was playfully surprising and restless,” Hendelman said. “Beethoven is known for the play of opposites in his music and for his insistent focus when developing motifs, and I found that I was inspired by him to continually return to the same motif in different ways through variation.”

[Related: UCLA student shows passion for piano through popular Instagram covers]

Through the juxtaposition of these well-known classical works with modern interpretations, Faliks said it enabled her and the composers to create a bridge that connects people today to the time periods of Beethoven and Ravel. By creating this project against the backdrop of the pandemic and racial strife, Faliks said she was able to understand how important and relevant Beethoven and Ravel’s pieces are in present times, which she wants to relay to audiences as they gain a deep musical appreciation for the composers.

I would like them (audience members) to say, ‘Wow, this was really cool. I heard Ravel and Beethoven in a completely new way, … and there’s nothing scary about it,’” Faliks said. “’I shouldn’t be afraid of listening to both (modern and classical). And listening to one doesn’t mean I can’t listen to the other.'”

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