Poster Awadagin Pratt Reupload
Pianist Awadagin Pratt presents 'Stillpoint,' an album featuring six newly commissioned works inspired by five lines from a poem by T.S. Eliot.
Rob Davidson
New Classical Tracks®

Pianist Awadagin Pratt, A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth collaborate in 'Stillpoint'

New Classical Tracks (Extended Interview) - Awadagin Pratt
New Classical Tracks - Awadagin Pratt

Awadagin Pratt/A Far Cry/Roomful of Teeth – Stillpoint (Art of the Piano)

“When I'm talking to a non-musician, they often say, ‘Oh, you’ve played in Carnegie Hall, sure, that’s great.’ But the only time they say, ‘Oh, well, you must be something!’ is when they find out I’ve been on Sesame Street,” says pianist Awadagin Pratt. “It was fun. I did a skit with Big Bird about sharing the piano. He was pecking away at the instrument, and then I entered the room and he said, ‘Do you play the piano?’ And I said, ‘Sure, I do.’ And he said, ‘Well, why don't you play a little something?’ The lesson was about sharing and turn-giving, so we took turns playing.”

In the world of classical music, Awadagin Pratt has shared the stage as a pianist, a conductor and, on occasion, as a violinist. He grew up in Pittsburgh, lives in Cincinnati, and now commutes to San Francisco in his new role as a professor at the San Francisco Conservatory.

Recently, he also shared the studio with two incredible ensembles, including the string orchestra A Far Cry and the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth. Together, they bring to life six newly commissioned works which appear on his latest release, Stillpoint.

I was thinking two things. One, we have to have African-American composers. The second thing, in terms of the unifying element was the poem The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot, which I love. So I decided to fight. I decided we would look at The Four Quartets and see if the composers could take inspiration from some of the lines as a unifying element.

“The five lines that I chose are the lines that I love, and they seem to be the right ones:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

— T.S. Eliot

Time Past Time Future is the piece that Alvin Singleton wrote for you. He's an American composer who always hoped that one day he would hear you play his music. What was that experience like for both of you when you were playing his music?

“It was great. I had met Alvin decades before and he has such a lovely personality, but he was also so generous. He liked what we were doing. The sound, it was demanding because of the dynamic range of four or five keys to the extreme of four or five fortes. It's challenging because of the stillness, but he loved it, which was really nice. It's always great when a composer is smiling when you finish playing, like, okay, that's pretty good!”

The piece that Pēteris Vasks wrote for you is a solo piano work titled Castillo Interior, and it focuses on the past and future gathered. Can you explain what that means and how we hear that in the music?

He wrote a piece for violin and cello called Castillo Interior, as well. And that's the piece that he transcribed for me with changes, and the title of the piece references Saint Teresa of Avila who has these seven castles built on the pathway to understanding God.

You have, within religion, those opposites of ascetic and ecstatic, and maybe they're not exactly opposites, but there's sort of two opposing energies kind of working together as one. And so the piece is really compelling, people absolutely love it.”

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.


Awadagin Pratt/A Far Cry/Roomful of Teeth – Stillpoint (Amazon)

Awadagin Pratt/A Far Cry/Roomful of Teeth – Stillpoint (Art of the Piano)

Awadagin Pratt (official site)

A Far Cry (official site)

Roomful of Teeth (official site)

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