New Classical Tracks

Pianist Steven Beck celebrates composer George Walker

Steven Beck performs all five of Walker's piano sonatas.Beowulf Sheehan/Talea Ensemble

New Classical Tracks - Steven Beck (Extended)


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February 23, 2022

Steven Beck — George Walker: Five Piano Sonatas (Bridge) Jump to giveaway form


New Classical Tracks - Steven Beck

No one had recorded all of the sonatas on a single disc before,” pianist Steven Beck said about his new album, George Walker: Five Piano Sonatas. “Although Walker recorded the first two himself.”

That’s one reason Beck decided to record the piano sonatas. He lives and performs in New York City with the new music group Da Capo Chamber Players. Contemporary music has been a passion of his, but the music of American composer George Walker has been stirring in his bones.

“My mother is a pianist. She went to Peabody in the ‘70s, when Walker was teaching there. I knew about his music from her,” Beck said. “Then one of my teachers at Juilliard, Seymour Lipkin, had been a classmate of Walker’s at Curtis. Walker was the first black graduate of that school.”

Why do you think it has taken so long for someone to record all of these sonatas on an album?

It could be that some of them are quite difficult and have not been played, except by the people for whom they were written. Walker studied with the same teacher as Samuel Barber. It was Italian composer Rosario Scalero. There's a family resemblance between Barber and Walker's early music. I especially hear it in the first two sonatas. I hear something that reminds me of the Barber piano sonata sometimes.”

Can you talk about the evolution of Walker's sonatas?

The first two sonatas were written while he was still a student. He did his doctorate at Eastman. It was a more conscious project in a way. Whereas the latter three, they get more personal. They're different formal solutions to things.

“I really enjoy the Third Sonata. Its second movement, ‘Bell,’ is just one very complicated chord repeated 17 times. The last movement is ‘Chorale & Fughetta.’ It has a very specific texture. The chorale plays long notes with very short chords underneath. The fughetta is a very personal modern take that doesn't sound academic at all. It's very free and organic.”

What makes the shortest sonata, No. 5, so significant?

“I like the Fifth because it's short and has variety. It begins very emphatically. It's actually a very good opening for a concert. When I do them all in one show I like to start with the Fifth.

“These are very worthy pieces, and I hope that this recording will inspire people to learn them. I think they're great.”

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Steven Beck — George Walker: Five Piano Sonatas (Bridge Store)

Steven Beck — George Walker: Five Piano Sonatas (Amazon)

Steven Beck (Steinway & Sons)