Paul Usher's Nancarrow Concerto - November 2004 in Cologne
Rex Lawson and Conlon Nancarrow in London in the late 1980s.
On Saturday 13 November 2004, the world premiere of Paul Usher's Nancarrow Concerto for
Pianola and Ensemble was given in the concert hall of West German Radio in Cologne. The
work was performed by Ensemble Modern, conducted by Kasper de Roo, with Rex Lawson as the pianola
Conlon Nancarrow, the revolutionary American player-piano composer, met Rex in London in
the 1980s and, as a result of the ensuing friendship, decided to write a concerto for player-piano
and orchestra. In preparation he composed a series of three new studies for player-piano, numbers
49a, 49b and 49c, and made many sketches for the instrumental accompaniment.
But Nancarrow's health was not the best, and he never finished the project. However, West German
Radio (WDR) and Ensemble Modern jointly commissioned the young English composer, Paul Usher, who,
with the blessing of Nancarrow's widow, Yoko Nancarrow, completed the work. Usher examined and
copied all Nancarrow's surviving sketches at the Paul Sacher-Stiftung in Basel, and, with a
judicious sprinkling of his own imagination, created a stunning four movement work entitled
Nancarrow Concerto, which goes far beyond any previous keyboard concerto in the complexity of
sound and rhythm produced by the piano.
The solo part of the Concerto is contained on five music rolls, prepared by Rex Lawson in
London, and perforated by Wolfgang Heisig in Saxony, having travelled the many hundreds of miles
in between as email attachments. After the first performance, Nancarrow Concerto was also given at
the Alte Oper in Frankfurt.
Rex Lawson, Paul Usher and Kasper de Roo drink a toast to the memory of Conlon Nancarrow, after the successful first performance of Nancarrow
As the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported, musiclovers surrounded the Pianola at the end of the concert in
Frankfurt. Somewhere in here is the pianola player...