Everyone who has tried to learn an instrument has played an étude.
“They’re always meant to improve your technique,” says pianist Jenny Lin, “through some specific means. It’s a concentrated structure, which works on a certain idea or gesture. But then composers like Chopin turned them into virtuosic works, and they made it into the concert hall.”
Lin knows a thing or two about études. She’s recorded the Philip Glass piano études — all 20 of them — for the Steinway label. She’s also toured with Glass, playing his études for audiences around the country. And now she’s collaborating with a group of 10 New York–based composers — ICEBERG New Music — to create a new set of concert-ready études.
Lin comes to Salem’s Tabernacle Church this Saturday to perform the Glass set of piano studies, part of the Salem Classical series that is hosting a number of high-profile musical events this season.
She also plays the same program the night before at the St. Botolph Club in Boston, and on Sunday, Oct. 7 at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum (an afternoon recital) and in the evening at the Lilypad in Cambridge.
The performances are part of a busy tour that has the New York–based pianist going up and down the east coast.
Glass took particular interest in the études form. His set are not in any sequence, or written in any set of keys.
“But I think there’s a beautiful arc to them,” Lin says. “They make sense, but you don’t need to play them in order, and I do a different variation depending on the venue. Sometimes I start with no. 1, and end with no. 20, but I don’t play them all. If I did it would take about three hours.
“It’s definitely a journey,” she says.
During the four New England program, Lin also performs another work by Glass — his new passacaglia, called “Distant Figure.”
“It’s a beautiful piece, very different from his past piano works,” she says. “I’m still learning it. It’s very virtuosic, a lot of language, and coming out of the études it feels like he’s playing at the keyboard.”
Lin is also extending her pairings of Glass’s music to other composers. During this busy fall tour, she’s matching up the études with works by Shostakovich, Liszt and Ligeti. And then there’s the collaboration with ICEBERG New Music, an ambitious composer collective based in Brooklyn.
“I wanted to take the études even further,” she says, “and make a combination of old and new together. The ICEBERG composers have different inspirations, from works by Scriabin or Chopin or Crawford Seeger. I’m trying to hear the new pieces, and find good pairings.”
It’s an ambitious project, with a recording of the first volume on the Sono Luminus label scheduled for this year, and many more planned.
“Every year there will be a volume,” she says, “and every year a theme. I want to get deeper into the project. I feel it’s one of the most important genres of piano music, and I keep trying to find new pieces to pair up with them.”
Pianist Jenny Lin plays études of Philip Glass at the Tabernacle Church in Salem on Oct. 6, part of Salem Classical. She also performs the same program on Oct. 5 in the St. Botolph Club in Boston, and on Oct. 7 at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum in Providence (matinee) and at the Lilypad in Cambridge (evening). For tickets and information for the Salem Classical performance visit www.salemclassical.com or call 781-696-0532.