The term étude first started to turn up in musical literature in the late 1700s, and came into common usage in the first half of the 19th century. The notion of a piece of music exactingly engineered to promote some specific aspect of technique was nothing new; in her public presentations of “The Étude Project,” pianist Jenny Lin traces the concept back to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Clavier-Übung, four volumes of keyboard exercises published between 1726 and 1741 — the final volume known more widely as the “Goldberg” Variations.
Countless composers have risen to the challenge of the étude. This album, the first documentation of a sweeping project conceived by Lin, includes some of the most famous examples – Debussy, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Messiaen, Ligeti, and Glass – alongside equally noteworthy contributions to the format by such mavericks as Ruth Crawford Seeger, Toshio Hosokawa, and Unsuk Chin. Lin further pairs each of her canonical selections with an entirely new work by a member of ICEBERG New Music, a determinedly heterodox collaborative of 10 gifted young composers who represent a broad range of stylistic inclinations, but who are united by their enduring faith in substance and craft.
Bucking a current fad, the new études were not proposed as sequels or responses to existing works. Lin simply asked the ICEBERG composers to challenge her, and then used her own keen ear and sure instincts to find sympathetic pairings. Driving rhythms and rich harmonies link pieces by Alex Burtzos and Chopin. Rangy scatterings of notes present a frolicsome affinity between Victor Baez and Unsuk Chin. Stephanie Ann Boyd and Debussy both deploy dreamy arpeggios in rippling waves; and so on. In each case, hearing the new piece enhances your understanding of the older one—and vice versa. Identifying affinities among old and new music, and among familiar and unknown pieces, is a knack Lin has demonstrated again and again throughout her career—and it’s part of what makes her not only a persuasive interpreter, but also an invaluable guide and companion. Stated simply: you are in extraordinarily sure hands, here.
Aligning with composers of ICEBERG New Music, pianist Jenny Lin gave its ten members absolute freedom of style and pianistic approach when crafting new etudes for her. In addition to her Herculean playing, the fearless pianist brings curatorial prowess to bear in pairing each new etude with an existing work from the canon. Have a listen to this disc and then have another. The Etudes Project will repay you manifestly.
– The Whole Note (CA)