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Secret & Glass Gardens (2000)—Jennifer Higdon (b.1962)


A journey of wonder and discovery, this secret garden reflects the paths of our hearts. It is a place of magical colors and brightly hued glass, where all is in view. The plants that grow there are like no other, in color and share, and every turn of a corner brings new discoveries. The garden sweeps the viewer along amidst small, delicate details and full, grand shapes, carrying magic through all corners and at every step.


—Jennifer Higdon (


Jennifer Higdon's piano solo work, Secret & Glass Gardens, winner of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition American Composers Invitational. Roughly 8-9 minutes in performance.

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Reference Image/Resource:

( stained glass panels by Illumination Art & Design artist and owner Sean Michael Felix)

Gustave Le Gray for solo piano (2012)—Caroline Shaw (b.1982)

Composer Caroline Shaw describes Gustav Le Gray as “a multi-layered portrait of Chopin’s Op.17 #4 using some of Chopin’s ingredients overlaid. Currently, this is the only piece she’s written for solo piano. It seems that she leaves the present, return to the elegant world of Chopin, and then come back to the present, only to find that it is now weighted by our encounter with the past.


Chopin’s opus 17 A minor Mazurka is exquisite. The opening alone contains a potent poetic balance between the viscosity and density of the descending harmonic progression and the floating onion skin of the loose, chromatic melody above. Or, in fewer words – it’s very prosciutto and mint. When someone asks me, “So what is your music like?” – I’ll sometimes answer (depending on who’s asking), “Kind of like sashimi?” That is, it’s often made of chords and sequences presented in their raw, naked, preciously unadorned state – vividly fresh and new, yet utterly familiar. Chopin is a different type of chef. He covers much more harmonic real estate than I do, and his sequences are more varied and inventive. He weaves a textured narrative through his harmony that takes you through different characters and landscapes, whereas I’d sometimes be happy listening to a single well-framed, perfectly voiced triad. But the frame is the hard part – designing the perfectly attuned and legible internal system of logic and memory that is strong but subtle enough to support an authentic emotional experience of return. (Not to get all Proustian or anything.) In some way that I can’t really understand or articulate yet, photographs can do this with a remarkable economy of means. Translating that elusive syntax into music is an interesting challenge. Then again, sometimes music is just music. Gustave Le Gray is a multi-layered portrait of Op. 17 #4 using some of Chopin’s ingredients overlaid and hinged together with my own. It was written expressly for pianist Amy Yang, who is one of the truest artists I’ve ever met.


 —Caroline Shaw (

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Small Noise (2018) & Great Noise for piano solo (2019)–Hyo-shin Na (b.1959)


Then came the great revelation of the festival: two coruscating works by Hyo-shin Na. …an  elegant yet unnerving meditation for piano”...The Wire. Hyo-shin Na (b.1959 is a Korean-American female living composer, based in San Francisco, California. She has written for western instruments, and for traditional Korean and Japanese instruments and has written music that combines western and Asian instruments and ways of playing. Her music for traditional Korean instruments is recognized by both composers and performers in Korea (particularly by the younger generation) as being uniquely innovative. Her writing for combinations of western and eastern instruments is unusual in its refusal to compromise the integrity of differing sounds and ideas; she prefers to let them interact, coexist and conflict in the music. Small Noise is written in 2018. Small Noise includes materials from an earlier work (Koto, Piano II, 2016) and reflect Na's interest in the paintings of Agnes Martin. As in Martin's paintings, Na here uses relatively "ordinary" materials (scales, unaccompanied melodies) and, particularly in Small Noise, avoids chords and "harmonies". This avoidance of harmonies can be found in many sections of her earlier works for piano such as Variations (1990) and in the first half of Rain Study (1999). In addition, in Small Noise, there is an almost complete lack of grace notes. This causes the rhythms to be simpler and more straight-forward. Later she developed Small Noise into a much longer and elaborate piece called Great Noise (2019). Na says: “While I was composing “Small Noise”, I happened to read Kafka’s short story called ‘Great Noise’ in which many different sounds – some unusual, some ordinary, some humorous – were heard. I began to imagine a piano piece that didn’t directly follow Kafka’s story, but evoked the variety, suddenness, and unpredictability of Kafka’s writing.” —Hyo-shin Na (

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Agnes Martin, This Rain, 1958
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Agnes Martin, With My Back to the World, 1997
Agnes Martin, The Peach, 1964

Jungjungmorie Jangdan (one of Korean traditional rhythmic pattern) is used for both pieces. This rhythmic pattern is usually used in part which is very fun and exciting but sometimes used in part which expresses struggling and wailing. Most famous part which uses Jungjungmorie is <Chunhyangga>’s gisanyeongsu. *

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*Resource from Wikipedia

Piano Sonata No.5 (1986) – Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006)


Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) is a female Soviet composer. Her six sonatas include many technical and musical difficulties encompassing extended notation. Her piano sonata No. 5 was composed in 1986 and published in 1989. Baroque polyphony, literacy, Russian traditional folk music, religion, and chant are important influences for her. Expressionism and minimalism are also significant factors to understand her music and style. In order to present polyphonic clarity, she utilizes accent markings to emphasize which notes to voice especially when they are cluster chords. One of the extended notations is to play a cluster chord with the left-hand knuckles. This requires extended techniques to evoke a clear and powerful sound. 

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