Celebrated pianist to perform as part of Bienen’s music festival


Source: Marilyn Nonken

Pianist Marilyn Nonken sits with a piano. Nonken will perform at NU on Friday as part of Bienen School of Music’s New Music Conference and Festival.

Rachel Yang, Copy Chief


Bienen Prof. Hans Thomalla has called musician Marilyn Nonken one of the best piano performers of contemporary music of the century.

Nonken will play Morton Feldman’s 90-minute piece, “Triadic Memories,” at Northwestern’s Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall on Friday. Nonken, who has performed at venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, has been called “one of the greatest interpreters of new music” by American Record Guide.

Nonken’s performance is part of NU New Music Conference 2, a three-day conference and festival hosted by Bienen School of Music’s Institute for New Music. In its second year, NUNC! 2 brings together composers, performers, musicologists, theorists and enthusiasts interested in contemporary music.

Nonken, the director of piano studies at New York University’s Steinhardt School, said she chose this piece because of its slow and contemplative sound.

However, she said that due to its length, the composition can be challenging to play at times and when performing it, she needs to use techniques and pedals strategically, she said.

“Feldman’s music requires a lot of concentration to play,” she added. “It’s a challenge to just stay in the character and the mood and always be listening to the show to make sure it’s always quiet and beautiful, and that every effect that happens is the right proportion to the other effect.”

The piece’s length and complexity are part of its beauty, Nonken said. Feldman himself once called the composition, “the biggest butterfly in captivity.”

“When I think of patterns I think (of) butterflies’ wings flying through the air. You can see the colors and patterns of their wings,” Nonken said “A butterfly is usually something which flies away from you so quickly, it’s a momentary pleasure, so I want to explore and extend that pleasure for almost two hours.”

Although Nonken has played at large locations, she said it is also rewarding to perform in more intimate venues where she can interact with the audience.

“My mission is bringing newer music to audiences,” she said. “I can do that really well playing for a large audience like at Lincoln Center, but it’s something extremely rewarding about playing in an intimate, alternative venue where you really get to meet people and find out what they really think about the music .”

For Nonken, the appeal of contemporary music is that it is more relatable for current audiences than classical compositions.

“Today’s composers speak to us in a very personal way,” she said. “They understand how to connect with (audiences) emotionally and expressively and dramatically … much like people go to the movies, or listen to music on the radio … it speaks directly to us.”

Nonken hopes audience members on Friday come away with better appreciation of the complexities in Feldman’s music, she said.

“(To) live and exist within it for 90 minutes, (audiences) come away with an understanding of what Feldman was doing,” Nonken said. “It’s very complex, it’s very beautiful, it’s very emotional and it’s very challenging … over the course of two hours of your life, you can have a really profound experience that you aren’t going to get any other way.”

Fellow Bienen Prof. Ryan Dohoney, a curator for the conference and festival, said people should attend to see the “double whammy” combination of Nonken’s advanced skill and the piece’s own style.

“The music itself is quite transfixing and puts you in an altered state,” Dohoney said. “It’s just an incredibly virtuoso performance on Nonken’s part, because of what is required of her, both mentally and physically, to put the piece across.”

The quiet and meditative quality of Nonken’s piece will perfectly accompany the concert hall’s views, Thomalla said.

“The idea was to have the concert at the new concert hall, to look out at the Chicago skyline,” he said. “It will be an introspective night, looking out into Lake Michigan. It will be quite lovely.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @_rachelyang