Concert Piece in three sections

Concert Piece in three sections


The piano concerto Concert Piece in three sections is a veritable ‘dream concerto’ for any soloist willing to explore the possibilities and push the envelope concerning conventionally structured piano concerti. The piano concerto with its three different movements has ‘everything’; it is a wellspring of musical ideas with a solo voice allowing the soloist to spread their wings in all directions in purely pianistic terms. According to the review in Aftenposten (Kvalbein, 2015: 7, my translation), ‘The piano concerto was a cornucopia of funny ideas, shifting kaleidoscopically in the first movement, more dramatic lingering in the second, rich and oscillating in the last movement, fearless in all directions.’ Concert Piece in three sections speaks intimately to our traditions with its references to key pieces and composers of the classical repertoire. 1 My skills as a performer of ‘classical music’ in playing these reference-quotes can be used in combination with my knowledge of performing ‘new music,' for example in the more aleatoric passages; it’s exciting to interact with the old music meshed in with the new. Concert Piece in three sections interrogates our history and the piano concerto as a genre. It positions itself shrewdly and elegantly at the first hurdle, very much alive and unpredictable: ‘The work represents, on the one hand, a kaleidoscopic structure of historical, thematic and musical references, while, on the other, it is always highlighting how this structure unfolds in the here and now’ (Bernhardt, 2015, my translation).


In Concert Piece in three sections, I had a completely ‘normal’ soloist part to work from and could study the orchestral parts using a ‘normal’ score. The part arrived already printed in Hegdal’s characteristically beautiful and precise handwriting. I noticed that a skilled performer had tested the music with suggestions as to fingering and pedalling and how sections were divided between the right and left hands. Hegdal was a professional pianist himself once. However, since the purpose of my new role awareness is to approach each new work as a performer-specific work, I began practising the concerto by deleting all these suggestions before starting. I wanted to tailor the learning process to my physique and abilities, right from the onset of the process.


The co-creative role in Concert Piece in three sections did not involve suggestions regarding additions or improvements as it did in the piano concerti at the tips of my fingers / on the tip of my tongue and Wowen Fingerprints. Part of the co-creative role was to enable fruitful working methods in preparing the music before the orchestral rehearsals. Hegdal’s handwritten score had few complex rhythms or challenging techniques, and the score with its sparsity of instructions to the player looked comfortable enough to play. The risk is that Hegdal’s music can be played hesitantly, with flat dynamics and a lack of varied articulation. In short, it sounds lacklustre. To inject the music with life, it is in my opinion important to work thoroughly at the level of the finest detail, to understand the context in which each part unfolds such that the players can react with a hair's breadth precision to each other at the micro level of chamber music. It is exciting to experiment with the limits of what the score allows for to find a satisfactory balance in such a rich musical material. The larger lines are clear thanks to the composer’s grasp of structure, so to emphasise the structure further is in my opinion not necessary.


Six months before the premiere I arranged a session with the conductor, composer and myself to reach a shared understanding of the piano concerto’s aesthetics well before the first orchestral rehearsal. By preparing together we could save valuable time so that by the time we started rehearsing with the orchestra, we would already have achieved a high artistic level. I asked Hegdal if he could make a piano reduction of the orchestral score so that we two could rehearse the ‘whole’ work together and then collaborate with the conductor to prepare this entirely new piece, which at the time had no audible references. Hegdal took up the challenge and developed an orchestral version for piano. It was immensely exciting to practice the piano concerto in a version for two pianos. Afterwards we invited the conductor to join us in a session to create a useful foundation for good interpretative concepts and working methods well before the orchestral rehearsals.


The most valuable aspect of this approach was the chance to ‘be in’ the work as a whole while it was being played in real time so long before the premiere. I experienced physically how the orchestral parts moved, and I could experiment with my interpretation of soloist material to see how it worked in the overall context. It was also exciting to see how the composer played; it gave an extra dimension to my understanding of the composition. It was rewarding and fun to sit at our respective concert grands discussing and to play in this way.


By running through the work, aural fragments of the piano concerto remained as physical impressions, and when I was alone, I tried practising with the orchestral parts ‘in my head,' creating the ‘virtual approach’ I had wanted to achieve at an early stage of the project. I managed to imagine two or three instrumental parts while I was playing since these parts often constituted melodic lines. I also made shorter recordings of me playing some of the orchestral parts; then when I played them back, I played my part on top while singing another instruments part. It also helped to add a vision of the physical sound quality of the instruments, to think in terms of density and sense the instruments’ different timbres and where the different instruments would be located spatially. I practised raising my eyes in the direction where the sounds would be coming from at the premiere.

Premiere of Concert Piece in three sections broadcasted on NRK2. KORK, Conductor Bjarte Engeset, Piano Ellen Ugelvik. Production: NRK

The piano concerto contained a cadenza in the third movement, first in written form, then as a gorgeous freehand drawing

Premiere of Concert Piece in three sections broadcasted on NRK2. KORK, Conductor Bjarte Engeset, Piano Ellen Ugelvik. Production: NRK


a) Explore different work methods for each composition. Search for alternative ways to approach the piece together with the composer, the conductor, and co-musicians at an early stage experimenting with the means to perceive the aesthetics. By breaking up the traditional work methods, unexpected results can appear.  Try to develop ‘work specific dialogue’ with everyone involved so that the choice of words to describe the necessary result starts growing alongside the study of the actual score.

b) Engage yourself in the programming of the new work. Especially when a work consists of musical references to canonical works, it can be interesting to program the new work together with old works to clear the entire context that the new work exists within. 

c) A new work encountering the world for the very first time is a unique event. It is of great importance that we think through how we introduce the work, and we need to be aware of not spoiling the thrilling experience for the audience by governing their experience too much. Very often it is tempting to start to ‘explain’ the composition in technical or analytical terms, spoiling the pure sensation of a premiere. 

d) Look out for double bind situations where you can get squeezed between the involved and start to question your artistic choices and positions. As a musician, you are a central constituent of the work, but at the same time, the others involved might expect that parts of your role are to steer as clear as possible of being ‘too much’ yourself. Practice ways of communicating your natural position as an untranslatable medium.

© Ellen Kristine Ugelvik | go to top

Given such an open cadenza I could put my personal imprint on the piano concerto by adding to it or commenting on it, making music within the music based on my sense of the composition’s trajectory as a whole. It was exciting to work on the cadenza. By providing one, Hegdal opened the work up, thereby conveying a sense of being trusted. I talked a lot with the composer about the cadenza and explained to him different approaches I would like to try out. I presented an idea of playing inside the instrument and using my voice, creating nature sounds contrasting the overall ‘pianistic’ character of the solo part. The composer was open to my ideas, but he also communicated very clearly what he did not want me to do. In the end, I decided that I needed to work on the cadenza alone. Because the composer was so strong in his communication, I felt that my artistic freedom in the cadenza was being disturbed.

In the cadenza I chose to comment on the classic role of the virtuoso and formed a material consisting of long upward movements repeated several times faster and faster, eventually crossing the limit of the possible before the material became completely unrecognisable. The movements recalled the extreme contours of the composition Plastic Waves, a work for piano and ensemble by Øyvind Torvund which was premiered and recorded on CD by the asamisimasa ensemble in 2014. In Plastic Waves, I played an assortment of rapid wave-like movements encompassing the entire keyboard. The sound issuing from the piano is mixed with white noise creating a sense of expanded virtuosity.

Ellen Ugelvik | Pianist