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Awadagin Pratt’s BSO Debut, and Holst’s “The Planets”

Rob Davidson
Awadagin Pratt

Saturday, December 30, 2023
8:00 PM

In an encore broadcast, Andris Nelsons leads the Boston Symphony and the Lorelei Ensemble in Gustav Holst’s sweeping "The Planets," and pianist Awadagin Pratt makes his BSO debut with a concerto by J.S. Bach and Jessie Montgomery’s "Rounds."

Andris Nelsons, conductor
Awadagin Pratt, piano
Lorelei Ensemble

Johann Sebastian BACH Keyboard Concerto in A, BWV 1055
Jessie MONTGOMERY Rounds
Gustav HOLST The Planets

This concert was originally recorded on September 24, 2022, and is no longer available on demand.

To hear a preview of Jessie Montgomery's Rounds with pianist Awadagin Pratt, use the audio player above.


Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall, where I talked with pianist Awadagin Pratt today about Jessie Montgomery's Rounds, which he's performing with the Boston Symphony this week.

And to begin our conversation, I asked him how he and Jessie first got to know each other. He said it was probably about six or seven years ago when he was working on a project with Jessie, when she was playing as a violinist in the Catalyst Quartet.

Awadagin Pratt And we had, you know, quite a bit of time there, a week or so, and everybody got to know each other. And Jessie was at that point contemplating, I guess, or more seriously contemplating a pivot to full-time composing. And during the course of that week, I just thought she was really, you know, a brilliant person and a great musician. And if I ever had the chance to have a write for me, that I would. So, so that's happened.

Brian McCreath And that a chance arrived, exactly. Now, when she was writing Rounds, was this a process that you were very involved in, or was this more the kind of case where you only really saw the piece once it was all completed?

Awadagin Pratt Yeah, it was more the latter. We met before she started writing to kind of talk about the poetry a little bit and maybe piano playing in general or something, I don't know. But yeah, we really started to work together after she'd written the piece, and you know, I had questions, she had questions.

It was the first kind of major piece she'd written for piano. So we kind of went through and, you know, talked through some things that I was like, What are you what are you going after here? And she might say this, and I said this might, that might be better, you know, in another register. So we did, you know, more work after it was written just in terms of, nothing in terms of the material, but just maybe register things were, maybe certain kinds of figuration. And then I wrote the cadenzas, you know, mostly mine. So...

Brian McCreath And you mentioned the poetry, that she was inspired by T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. And she also writes that she's inspired by the concept of fractals in nature, these repeating patterns. And I wonder how much that was important to you in understanding the piece as a performer.

Awadagin Pratt Yeah, neither thing. I mean, the piece is part of the commissioning project of seven pieces around these lines of T.S. Eliot, "At the still point of the turning world, there the dance is," in a nutshell. But, you know, none of the pieces are kind of literal about it in any way. And so it was interesting reading, you know, about fractals and the patterns recurring in the piece, about, you know, symmetry and I mean, just thinking about it. But the piece has all of those elements of "dance" and "still point." And so it's been fascinating to see how each composer kind of addressed that subject differently.

Brian McCreath And you say you did work on the cadenza, but there's also an improvised quality to the cadenza, as I understand it. So how has that evolved over the course of the... You've done it now, I think, eight different times with different orchestras. Tell me how the evolution of that has taken place.

Awadagin Pratt Yeah, it's changed. You know, it changes from night to night. At a certain point I figured out the beginning and the end were sort of codified as just, this is what's going to happen. And then in the last several weeks, I've had some different ideas about the opening of the cadenza. I'm not sure how I'm going to address that tomorrow night.

And then some changes, not materially change, but just just preceding the lead-in to the orchestra return, I made another little change that nobody, you know, probably no one would notice from night to night, but it feels like something to me, so... But the interior parts change. Like I keep thinking about things and hearing relationships in the piece that inspire new things in the cadenza.

Brian McCreath And of those several times that you've done it now, is there any particular reaction that you've heard from anyone in the audience or other musicians that has stood out to you as a reaction to this piece?

Awadagin Pratt Well, what's been cool is seeing, you know, when I got the score and looking at it and seeing things that I thought would be really beautiful, "that looks really beautiful, that's really affecting." And then the premiere was in Hilton Head, and after the first night I saw some orchestra members, there were two of them.

One in particular said that, you know, her mother listens to everything that she does and was, like, the first time she cried in a concert was, you know, in that piece. And then another one saying, you know, the parents, you know, just thought it was like the most beautiful thing they'd ever heard.

And so that's been consistent. Like, you know, it's when you get into the piece, you don't think because of the current, and the energy that's there and this kind of sparkly quality, you don't think there's going to be this moment of deep affection or, you know, of deep affect, rather. And there is this moment. It just, it's just there. So that's that's been gratifying.

Brian McCreath That's very lovely. That's really, really terrific. Yeah. Well, thank you, Awadagin Pratt, it's great to meet you and good to have you here at Symphony Hall.

Awadagin Pratt Thanks. Thanks. Really happy to be here. Thanks. Appreciate it.