Composer Terry Riley and pianist Gloria Cheng will be performing a recital of his works at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts tomorrow night, in a program presented by Other Minds. She’ll play the notes as written down, and he’ll be doing a bit of improvising, even when they’re playing together, in the Bay Area premiere of a piece he wrote for them called Cheng Tiger Growl Roar.
Riley, one of the fathers of minimalism and a Bay Area icon, says even in the works that he does notate, there’s always a feeling of freedom. “A lot of my written music originates in improvs that I have done. So I’ve already worked out a lot of ideas myself in these pieces, so when I write them down, I have a chance to further elaborate what is going on, but it’s kind of based on improvisations. I like to have the feeling in notated music that it has that kind of freedom that can move in different unexpected ways.” He’ll play a few of his works, including Simply M… and Requiem for Wally, and Cheng will play among others, a piece she commissioned with three other pianists in the mid 1990s, The Heaven Ladder, Book 7. They’ll play side by side for Cheng Tiger Growl Roar, which got its title from their jumbled initials. He wrote it fairly recently, when they were both going to be playing at a concert series in Los Angeles, and he decided to come up with something they could play together. “She plays primarily written music, in fact almost exclusively written music, and I’m basically playing improvised music, so I thought I’d write some four handed music that allows me a little bit of improvisation, and that she has an interesting written part to play. I mean, it isn’t like I’m doing extensive improvisation, but I’m definitely not… I’m leaving the score sometimes. And it works well because we have an understanding and we rehearse a bit so she knows where it’s going to happen, certain things are going to happen that are not in the score.”