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Music, Checking It Out

Jenny Lin: Tiny Desk Concert

No Comments 18 October 2011

Jenny Lin: Tiny Desk Concert

September 26, 2011

Jenny Lin is a pianist who doesn’t mind downsizing. She typically plays eight-foot Steinways in concert halls

that seat hundreds. But for this performance, we squeezed her into a corner, behind Bob Boilen’s desk, and

gave her a Korg electronic keyboard that weighs about 20 pounds. That’s a good sport.

It’s rare to see a world-renowned pianist willing to make such a sacrifice, but that’s how strongly Lin feels

about getting the music out there, knowing that (with even more downsizing) folks could watch her perform

this Tiny Desk Concert on their iPhones.

She starts with music by Shostakovich, inspired by Bach. In 1950, with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier firmly in

mind, Shostakovich wrote his own set of Preludes and Fugues in all 24 keys. Some are mystical and poetic,

while others are violent in their virtuosity. The Prelude of No. 2 in A minor ripples with fistfuls of notes,

while the opening of No. 7 floats in like a light spring breeze.

The Barcelona-born Federico Mompou was a contemporary of Shostakovich’s, but that’s where the comparisons

end. In the 1960s, he completed four volumes of piano music he called Musica Callada, or “Silent Music.”

Mompou’s sound, with its austere beauty and emphasis on the spaces between notes, seemingly anticipates the

ambient recordings by Brian Eno and Harold Budd that appeared in the 1980s, as well as the Third Stream style

of music practiced by jazz pianists such as Ran Blake.

Lin ends with a firecracker: a red-hot version of George Gershwin’s “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” souped up by the

late American virtuoso pianist Earl Wild. His arrangement turns the Gershwin song into a kind of stride-jazz

extravaganza. Watch her left hand bounce, keeping the rhythm pounding while the right hand whips up a

rainstorm of notes. It all comes to a humorous end on a sudden fat, warm chord.

Sure, it would have all been better on an Steinway grand. But until we figure out how to shoehorn one behind

Bob’s desk, Jenny Lin’s prowess on the Korg M3 will do just fine.

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