The Illustrated Pianist
Curated by Nicole Brancato
Compositions & performances by pianists Nicole Brancato, Nicholas Pavkovic, Jed Distler, Monica Chew, Dee Spencer, Tin Yi Chelsea Wong, and Keisuke Nakagoshi
Visual Installation by Cory Todd
performance co-presented with the Ross McKee Foundation
Hailed as “ingenious,” “mysterious,” and “inspiring,” The Illustrated Pianist combines science-fiction and adaptive visual installation in an imaginative concert of piano music, inspired by the timeless book The Illustrated Man.
This unique multimedia event, assembled by the pianist and composer Nicole Brancato for the Old First Concerts in San Francisco, honors the centenary, in 2020, of the iconic American science-fiction author Ray Bradbury and the seventieth anniversary, this year, of his celebrated story collection. The program comprises distinct new works by seven accomplished composing pianists, including Nicholas Pavkovic, Jed Distler, Monica Chew, Dee Spencer, Tin Yi Chelsea Wong, Keisuke Nakagoshi, and Brancato herself, paired with visual elements designed by Cory Todd.
The acclaimed New York City premiere of The Illustrated Pianist was featured in The New Yorker and boasted the commission of eighteen new works for piano. In this new edition coming up at the historic Old First Church, five new piano commissions and new visual design are made possible by the Ross McKee Foundation. We invite you to reflect on the tales that inspired these new works of art, or to envision your own stories!
Through these unique sonic and visual collaborations, the project connects diverse perspectives to ponder our past, speak to us about our present, and wonder about the future. The themes presented transcend age and time — and perhaps, in some ways, speak to us even more loudly now than in previous decades…
The Ross McKee Foundation has supported the Bay Area piano community since 1992 through grants, education and a piano competition for young artists. Learn more about our work at rossmckeefoundation.org.
Guided by her distinct artistic vision, “piano virtuoso” (The Daily Gazette) Nicole Brancato has crafted an imaginative career, merging curation, composition, performance, improvisation, education, and collaboration across the arts. The award-winning young artist has performed throughout America and Europe, with engagements at Lincoln Center, the Guggenheim, and the 92Y, as well as the exciting “underground” venues in New York City and on New York Public Radio. She is a champion of creative and conceptual performance and has been featured in The New York Times, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, Time Out New York, and on the international network Rai Italia. In all of her endeavors, she creates a connective, intellectual, and provocative experience for her audiences. To learn more about Nicole Brancato, visit www.nicolebrancato.com
Monica Chew (https://monicachew.com) is an Oakland pianist and composer. In 2017 she released her first solo album, Tender and Strange, featuring works by Bartók, Janáček, Messiaen, Takemitsu, and Scriabin. A “gifted player with an affinity for deeply sensitive expression” (Whole Note), her playing is “wonderfully delicate, like tissue” (International Pianist). She has been a featured artist on radio stations worldwide. She started composing in 2017 and couldn’t be happier about it. Her work has been featured by Gabriela Lena Frank’s Creative Academy for Music, Hot Air Music Festival, and Left Coast Chamber Ensemble’s Intersection. Her first string quartet, Delayed Send, was premiered by Friction Quartet and reviewed as “monumental” and “stunning” by San Francisco Classical Voice. Prior to 2015, she neglected piano for nearly a decade to work as a principal software engineer on security and privacy at Mozilla and Google after receiving her Master of Music from SF Conservatory of Music and a PhD in computer science from UC Berkeley. She lives in Oakland with her husband, an 1899 Steinway B, a clavichord, and a disused violin. In spring and summer of 2020 she gave free twice-weekly live concerts on her Facebook and YouTube channels.
Composer/pianist and Steinway Artist Jed Distler taught for more than 20 years at Sarah Lawrence College. Early in his career Distler gained acclaim for his transcriptions of jazz piano solos by Art Tatum and Bill Evans, while his new music piano recitals have offered premiers of works by Virgil Thomson, Richard Rodney Bennett, Frederic Rzewski, Alvin Curran, Lois V Vierk, William Schimmel and many more. Distler’s presenting organization ComposersCollaborative, Inc earned a Guinness Record for world’s largest keyboard ensemble, featuring an original work for 175 electronic keyboards. Distler records prolifically for the high resolution Spirio player piano, while TNC Music released Distler’s most recent solo piano CD Fearless Monk. (available from Bandcamp).
As Artist-in-Residence for WWFM.Org The Classical Network, Distler is the creator, host and producer of the 2017 ASCAP Deems Taylor Virgil Thomson Award radio program Between the Keys. Distler contributes reviews and articles to Gramophone and Classicstoday.com, and has written numerous CD booklet notes for Sony/BMG and Universal Classics. Most importantly, Distler turned down the position of Music Department Chair at Trump University.
Keisuke Nakagoshi has received training from Emanuel Ax, Gilbert Kalish, Menahem Pressler and Paul Hersh and he has performed concert stages across the United States including the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and Hollywood Bowl. In 2014, he made a solo debut with San Francisco Symphony on Ingvar Lidholm’s Poesis with Herbert Blomstedt conducting. Keisuke and Swiss pianist Eva-Maria Zimmermann formed a piano duet, ZOFO and their first CD was nominated for Grammy award for best chamber music/small ensemble in 2013. Aside from ZOFO, Mr. Nakagoshi is a pianist in residence at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and also he serves as pianist in the production team for Opera Parallèle.
Nicholas Pavkovic (www.pavkovic.com) is a composer, a pianist, and the Executive Director of the Ross McKee Foundation. His film scores have received accolades and he is a Sundance Composers Lab fellow. He studied and taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he was also honored with the Highsmith Award for orchestral composition.
Dee Spencer is a Professor of Jazz and Musical Theatre in the School of Theatre & Dance at San Francisco State University (SFSU). Dee founded the Jazz Studies degree program in the School of Music at SFSU and served as Director for five years. As an active contributor to the music community, she founded the SFJAZZ education program, and she served as East Bay Center for the Performing Arts program director.
Her performance credits encompass a star-studded roster including Jazz at Lincoln Center, Ledisi, Lenny Williams John Handy, Jimmy Scott, Louis Bellson, Clark Terry, Regina Carter, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Bernard Purdie and X-Factor star Jason Brock. Her latest recording Tranquility was released in 2018.
Cory Todd is a multimedia artist and engineer living in Berkeley, CA. His work combines programming, audio and video production, real-time data, and other experimental practices to explore themes of emotionality, abstraction, and memory. Projects have included national and international tours with renown artists of various disciplines, collaboration in a multitude of settings, and extensive studio work.
Pianist Tin Yi Chelsea Wong has taken a wide variety of concert stages. From Wienersaal in Salzburg and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, to unconventional yet intimate GroupMuses, Airbnb concert series, to the Palace of Fine Arts, her programming blends classical and contemporary repertoire. Her solo piano concert features include Ross McKee Foundation’s Piano Break, San Francisco Botanical Garden’s Flower Piano, and Ensemble for These Times. She is also the founder of the outdoor piano concert series, Piano at The Palace.
An advocate of contemporary music, Tin Yi Chelsea Wong is a founding member of contemporary vocal ensemble Mouthscape Choir. She premiered Ilya Demutsky Skomoroshina (commissioned through the SFCM Hoefer Prize), Ryan Brown’s Mortal Lessons, and Lukáš Janata’s Echi (piano solo) and Youth (piano trio).
Focusing on extended techniques, Tin Yi Chelsea Wong invented the Harmonic Capo to expand the potential of the instrument. Her current project is to build a more advanced prototype while commissioning composers to create new possibilities for the piano repertoire. Her mentors include Ya-Fei Chuang (Boston Conservatory), Paul Hersh and Yoshikazu Nagai (SFCM), and Alan Feinberg (NYU).