the time of Sakura
The piano music of Mike Nock
By Phil Sandford
3 May 2007
New Zealands Lake Wanaka was the magnificent setting for the
premiere of composer and pianist Mike Nocks first collection
of written piano music.
second Festival of Colour featured Nock and Michael Houston, NZs
leading classical pianist, playing some of Nocks pieces before
a sell-out audience.
total of 27 Nock compositions have just been recorded in a memorable
version by Australian pianist Michael Kieran Harvey on Move Records
as In the time of Sakura: The piano music of Mike Nock.
Nock moved to Australia in 1959 at the age of 18 to form the famous
Three Out Trio. He recorded two albums before spending 25 years in
the United States playing with some of the top jazz players, including
the late Michael Brecker. His numerous jazz compositions include the
classic Hadrians wall.
increasingly involved himself in classical music, writing for ensembles
such as the New Zealand Piano Quartet, the Australian Chamber Orchestra
and Synergy. However, although he has recorded four albums of solo
piano music, this is the first time he has fully written out piano
compositions for concert performance.
unique collaboration between Nock and Houston at the Festival of Colour
was preceded by three related events: a discussion between the two
pianists about the relation between jazz and classical music and individual
concerts by each pianist. In the discussion one point they both agreed
on was the need for the listener to approach a musical performance
with an open mind and without any preconceptions, excellent advice
for the forthcoming concerts.
solo concert Houston gave a breathtaking performance of two of Beethovens
late sonatas, Opus 109 (1820) and Opus 110 (1821), and four Bagatelles.
The sonatas were written around the time Beethoven was working on
the Missa Solemnis and the 9th Symphony.
discussion Houston had noted that Beethoven, like Mozart, was a great
improviser, a point that is brought out in the six variations that
comprise the third movement of Opus 109. Houston has recorded the
32 Beethoven sonatas on Trust Records.
concert Nock played a set of standards, concluding with extended versions
of Dave Brubecks In your own sweet way and Nikosa
sikelela Afrika. As ever, Nocks solos were melodic, inventive,
thoughtful and full of rich harmonies.
stage was now set for the stunning premiere. Houston gave a majestic
performance, opening with Presence, an elegy to departed
musician friends, and closing with Serenity, a meditation
on stillness. In between he ranged across the emotions with driving,
technically demanding pieces like Cartwheels, impressionist
sketches and beautiful love songs.
moved by Houstons interpretations, Nock then played extended
versions of four of his pieces, including Sunrise and
the rousing Celebration from the CD, and concluding with
a new composition, the deeply moving For the children of Darfur.
and classical music have influenced each other in a variety of ways,
not always positively, and there have been a number of attempts to
fuse the two, many unsuccessful.
improvisation has had a long history in classical music, even if largely
lost for many years, there is nothing comparable in classical music
to the rhythmic pulse of swing in jazz, classical ensembles typically
sounding stiff and stilted if they are asked to emulate this. Perhaps
this is one reason why what was called Third Stream music was by and
large less than successful.
Sauter-Finegan collaboration with tenor player Stan Getz (Focus)
and the reworking of material by Spanish composers in the Gil Evans-Miles
Davis Sketches of Spain give glimpses of a more fruitful
interchange, but these are exceptions.
want to look for pianistic precedents for what Nock has done we could
perhaps find them in Chick Coreas Childrens pieces,
Bill Dobbins Preludes or, to a lesser extent Jean-Yves
Thibaudets recording of Bill Evans transcriptions. But Nocks
music stands in its own right as original, powerful and inventive.
it convenient to label and categorise works of art, to put them in
tidy boxes, but this can be very misleading and cuts us off from the
richness that comes from dealing with things simply as they are. In
an interview on NZ radio Nock avoided the label of jazz musician,
describing himself only as a musician.
writes: The pieces themselves are quite eclectic, the main unifying
elements being they are all written for the piano and are a sonic
diary of my life over the past several years.
are a range of musical influences on the compositions, among them
Bach, Chopin, Ravel, Debussy, Bill Evans and the jazz tradition, and
there are visual references in a number of pieces clouds, sunrise,
cherry blossoms in Japan, rain and birds. The cascading arpeggios
in several pieces bring to mind the influence of water and the sea
on some of Nocks work. His 1978 recording on ECM was called
Ondas (waves) and features a cover photo of waves breaking
on the beach.
this is why the gently rippling waters of Lake Wanaka and the falling
poplar leaves made the location so appropriate for the premiere of
discussion session Nock described himself as a composer driven by
emotion. But he added that the intellectual task of fully notating
his music had been a humbling experience which made him appreciate
even more the contribution made by the great classical composers.
the time of Sakura shows that Nock has seamlessly integrated
his many musical influences and has achieved a powerful integration
of emotion and intellect.
a fitting tribute to his contribution to music that these piano pieces
have been performed by two such wonderful pianists as Michael Houston
and Michael Kieran Harvey.
summed this up when he told a story about the Russian composer Prokofiev
who gave one of his pieces to Richter to play. After hearing it Prokofiev
commented: I didnt know I had written something that good.
Nock might well say the same of these glowing performances of his
carefully crafted gems.
Kieran Harvey Collection
In the time of Sakura: The piano music of Mike Nock
Trust Records: http://www.trustcds.com
Michael Houstoun: http://www.maximaltd.com/michaelhoustoun
Sandford 1 May 2007