Photo illustrating page  Crazy Nigger Julius Eastman

Julius Eastman • Crazy Nigger


Czech Philharmonic

Composer, musician and performer Julius Eastman is sometimes described as the enfant terrible of American avant-garde of the 1970s and 1980s. Indeed, his destiny is most reminiscent of a poète maudit. Eastman often provided his compositions with provocative titles, and this is also the case of his famous minimalist piece Crazy Nigger.

Duration of the programme 1 hod

Programme

Julius Eastman
Crazy Nigger

Performers

Ivo Kahánek piano

Eliška Tkadlčíková piano

Anna Gaálová piano

Pavol Praženica piano

Photo illustrating the event Julius Eastman Crazy Nigger

Rudolfinum — Dvořák Hall

20 Nov 2021  Saturday 7.30pm
Can't order online
15 Jan 2022  Saturday 7.30pm
Can't order online
12 Feb 2022  Saturday 7.30pm
Can't order online
Price 350 Kč, Students 100 Kč

Customer Service of Czech Philharmonic

Tel.:  +420 227 059 227

E-mail: info@czechphilharmonic.cz

Customer service is available on weekdays from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm.

Customer Service of Czech Philharmonic

Tel.:  +420 227 059 227

E-mail: info@czechphilharmonic.cz

Customer service is available on weekdays from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm.

Concerts are organized by the Czech Philharmonic and Galerie Rudolfinum within the exhibition Not Without Joy. Before the concerts, a guided tour with the curator of the exhibition and the director of Galerie Rudolfinum, Petr Nedoma, will take place at 6 pm.

Performers

Ivo Kahánek  piano
Ivo Kahánek

A musician of tremendous emotional power, depth and expressiveness, Ivo Kahánek has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting artists of his generation and is the Czech Republic's most acclaimed pianist.  He is universally recognised as one of the foremost interpreters of Romantic piano music and is a particular specialist in Czech repertoire. He possesses a rare gift of creating an immediate and compelling emotional connection with his audiences.

Kahánek came to public attention after winning the Prague Spring International Music Competition in 2004. He was subsequently a prize winner at many other competitions (Maria Canals Piano Competition in Barcelona, Vendome Prize in Vienna, Stiftung Tomassoni Wettbewerb in Cologne, Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition in Marienbad etc.).

After his successful debuts at the Beethoven Festival in Bonn and the Prague Spring Festival in Prague Kahánek was invited to perform Martinů's Fourth Piano Concerto ("Incantations") at the 2007 Proms Festival with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiří Bělohlávek. In 2014, Kahánek was selected by Sir Simon Rattle to perform two critically acclaimed concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic, becoming only the second Czech pianist after Rudolf Firkušný to perform with this legendary orchestra. Ivo Kahánek performs regularly with the Czech Philharmonic and has also appeared on stage in front of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Wiener Symphoniker, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Glasgow etc.

Ivo Kahánek has already released thirteen CDs on the Supraphon Music label (with which he has an exclusive contract since 2007) of works by Chopin, Dvořák, Janáček, Martinů, Klein, Kabeláč, Francaix, Ibert and more. His most recent recording of the piano concertos by Dvořák and Martinů, where he is accompanied by the Bamberger Philharmoniker under the baton of Jakub Hrůša, was selected as the recording of the month in the BBC Music Magazine, gaining several other awards.

Ivo Kahánek is a graduate of the Janáček Conservatoire in Ostrava, the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

Eliška Tkadlčíková  piano
Eliška Tkadlčíková

Eliška Tkadlčíková studies piano at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague in the studio of Ivo Kahánek, and at the same time she is a student at the P. J. Vejvanovský Conservatoire in Kroměříž under the guidance of Karel Košárek. She is a regular participant at piano competitions and piano masterclasses, and she gives concerts and accompanies soloists and choirs.

Her greatest successes in recent years include 1st prize in the main round of the 2017 Competition for Elementary Schools of the Arts, 1st prize and the title of overall winner at Prague Junior Note 2017, Youth Piano Laureate of the Prague Conservatoire for 2017, and 1st prize at the 2018 Broumov Key International Competition. She has won the title of laureate at competitions including the Smetana International Piano Competition in Pilsen in 2018, the Concertino Praga Radio Competition in 2019, the Peter Toperczer International Piano Competition in Košice in 2019, and the Bohuslav Martinů Foundation Competition in 2019. For her musical success, she won an award from the Zlín Region, and she has been awarded the Talent of the Olomouc Region Prize several times. In 2020 she was chosen for the international television competition Virtuosos V4+ in Budapest as one of four representatives of the Czech Republic, and in 2021 she won 1st prize at the International Moscow Music Competition.

She has appeared as a soloist with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Moravian Philharmonic in Olomouc, the Olomouc Military Band, and the Hungarian orchestra Budafok Dohnanyi, and her festival appearances include performances at Treasures of the Broumov Region, the South Bohemian Festival, Concertino Praga, Musica Holešov, and the Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf Festival.

She has participated at international masterclasses under T. Ungar, A. Jasiński, L. Vondráček, M. Kasík, and P. Banasik. In May 2021 she was selected for Garrick Ohlsson’s masterclass at the Prague Spring Festival, and in September 2021 she played at Boris Gilburg’s masterclass at the Dvořák Prague Festival.

Anna Gaálová  piano
Anna Gaálová

Anna Gaálová (age 22) began playing piano at the age of five, studying for the first several years under Jana Horáková at the Děčín Elementary School of the Arts. Already at that time she won a number of awards at national and international competitions, including Prague Junior Note, Amadeus Brno, and the Broumov Key. She completed her studies at the Děčín Elementary School of the Arts with a 3rd-place finish at the Smetana International Piano Competition in Pilsen.

Between 2014 and 2020 she studied at the Prague Conservatoire under Milan Langer. Already in her first year she won first prize a the competitions Broumov Key and Pro Bohemia Ostrava. At the same time, she repeatedly became a laureate of the Youth Piano Competition. In 2017 she won 1st prize in the category for up to age 22 at the Brno Piano Competition. In December 2019 she appeared as a soloist with the Prague Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra at a concert honouring the 100th anniversary of Gideon Klein’s birth, where she played Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto.
She is a regular participant at international piano masterclasses at the Prague Conservatoire (Avedis Kouyoumdjian, Ivo Kahánek) and in Bergen, Norway (Leif Ove Andsnes, Christian Ihle Hadland, Havard Gimse).

At present she is in her second year of study at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague in the studio of Ivo Kahánek. In April 2021 she was one of the soloists in the Janáček Philharmonic Young Soloists Series, where she played Sergei Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto.

One of her greatest successes was 3rd prize and the award for the best performance of a composition by Pancho Vladigerov at the Pancho Vladigerov Piano Competition in Bulgaria.

Pavol Praženica  piano
Pavol Praženica

Pavol Praženica has played piano since the age of five. From 2017 to 2021 he studied at the Grammar School and Music School of the City of Prague under Libuše Tichá, where since 2015 he also studied solo singing as a secondary field in the studio of Jaroslav Mrázek. He is now studying at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague in the studio of Ivo Kahánek. In addition, at the same school he attends a course for talented children and students under the guidance of Alena Vlasáková, and he consults regularly with Ivan Gajan as a private student.

His important successes include the title of overall winner of the competition Prague Junior Note in 2015, 1st prize and a special award for the performance of Mozart’s Sonata in F major at the Virtuosi per Musica di Pianoforte International Competition in Ústí nad Labem in 2016, 2nd prize at the prestigious Young Pianist of the North International Competition in Newcastle, UK, the prize for the most successful participant at the Prague Conservatoire Youth Piano Competition in 2017, 1st prize and the award for the most successful Slovak participant at the Piano Talents for Europe International Competition in Dolný Kubín, Slovakia in 2018, 3rd prize at the prestigious 2018 International Piano Competition in Enschede, Netherlands, 2nd prize at the Broumov Key International Competition in 2019, and the title of overall winner at a nationwide competition of conservatoire and secondary school students in November 2019. He has also taken part in masterclasses under teachers including Shai Wosner, Benedetto Lupo, Tim Hurton, Michel Béroff, and Ivo Kahánek.

He has made solo appearance with orchestras including the Czechoslovak Chamber Orchestra of Prague, the State Chamber Orchestra in Žilina, the Prague Symphony Orchestra, the Janáček Philharmonic in Ostrava, and the Orchestra of the National Theatre in Prague with the conductors Simon Chalk, Thomas Le Duc-Moreau, Jan Kučera, Václav Blahunek, and Mikhail Gerts.

Pavol Praženica, Natálie Toperczerová, and David Pěruška play together in the Vyšehrad Piano Trio, which won 3rd prize in September 2021 at the prestigious Concertino Praga International Radio Competition. In 2018 Praženica won the prize for piano accompanying at the Rudolf Petrák International Singing Competition in Žilina.

Compositions

Julius Eastman
Crazy Nigger

A forgotten genius, enfant terrible, activist, or firebrand. That is just a selection from among the many characteristics that could be attributed to the American composer Julius Eastman. And besides that, he was also black and gay. Those two words, said out of context, come close to crossing the fine line of political correctness. At the same time, however, spoken simply and unflinchingly, they are the words that best capture the essence of Eastman’s being. Incidentally, he himself used those words proudly, even including them in the titles of his compositions.

However, thinking of Eastman as a frustrated and repressed black artist would not be entirely correct, in spite of the fact that his life’s story was in many ways more like that of a rock star than of a classical composer. He was born in 1940 into the same generation as the famous representatives of the American “minimalist school” of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Terry Riley. From his childhood, he sang in a boy’s church choir, and he received training in classical music at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Later he received a stipend at the University of Buffalo. He was also one of the first members of the S.E.M. Ensemble, which was founded by the Czech composer Petr Kotík and specialised in performing new music. The door was open to Julius Eastman as a performer, and in the 1970s he made a career as a successful pianist, vocalist, and dancer; among other things, he collaborated on projects led by Pierre Boulez and Zubin Mehta. In 1975, when the S.E.M. Ensemble performed John Cage’s aleatoric composition Songbooks, Eastman’s performance, which included nudity and hints of homoeroticism, caused a scandal and particularly outraged John Cage himself. In part as a consequence of these events, Eastman left Buffalo and settled in New York, where he continued to perform, playing in a jazz ensemble, among other things. He also performed his own compositions on various occasions, but that music tended to remain known only to his narrow circle of friends and supporters, and it did not succeed in attracting the lasting attention of a wider public. None of his works were ever published. Eastman began to manifest a sense of being misunderstood and unappreciated. This seems to have been caused in part by the conflicted feelings of a person who, while identifying with the repressed black community, was in reality living a life more like that of the privileged white majority. In the course of the 1980s, all of this led to dependence on alcohol and drugs, and as a consequence he lost all of his jobs and stable sources of income. Ultimately, he lost the roof over his head. When Eastman was evicted from his flat, several of his manuscripts were lost, and this made tracking down his estate much harder after his death. His attempts to return to normal life failed, and in May 1990 Eastman, homeless, died of cardiac arrest; his friends and colleagues did not learn about it until eight months later.

In an interview at the end of the 1970s, Eastman said he was trying “to be what I am to the fullest: Black to the fullest, a musician to the fullest, and a homosexual to the fullest”. It was during this period and in the spirit of his life’s philosophy that he composed his most controversial but also probably also greatest compositions, which came from the very depths of his soul. Eastman did not choose the shocking titles—Crazy Nigger, Dirty Nigger, Evil Nigger, Nigger Faggot, Gay Guerrilla—without due consideration. His goal was to highlight the themes of racism and homophobia. And is there any more reliable means to provoke discussion than controversy? Eastman succeeded. In January 1980, three of these works were performed at Northwestern University in Chicago. In the context of protests against racism taking place on the university campus, it was decided that the titles of the compositions would not be printed in the programme. At the beginning of the concert, Eastman gave an explanation for the titles. The recording of the concert was published in 2005. He viewed the word nigger as a kind of return to his roots. He made reference to the first blacks on American soil and pointed out their importance in building America’s economy. The word Nigger takes many forms, and above all it is in brief the embodiment of the black identity: “there are of course 99 names of Allah and there are 52 niggers. And so therefore we are playing two of these ‘Niggers.’” For America’s liberalising society at the end of the 1970s, all of that was still a bit much.

In recent years, the struggle for equal rights has been recast as a struggle for political correctness. In the late 1990s, Mary Jane Leach, an American composer who had worked with Eastman, began to look for the scores of his music. In 2005 her efforts culminated with the very first commercially published recording of Eastman’s music and with the making of his manuscripts available for the first time. Today, however, Julius Eastman is perhaps even more controversial than he was in his day. Mary Jane Leach discovered this for herself in 2019. During a lecture about Eastman’s works at the OBEY festival in Halifax, Canada, she used the entire titles of the compositions mentioned above. This resulted in complaints from representatives of the platform “We Are Missing”, which supports the LGBT community, blacks, and disadvantaged citizens. The whole incident led the presenter to cancel the concert, at which Leach was supposed to have performed her own compositions. All of this took place within just a few hours. It should be surprising to few people that these days many scholars, journalists, and social network administrators go the route of self-censorship and give these titles in the form of Crazy N****r or N****r F****t.

But is there really anything special about Julius Eastman other than the titles of his compositions, which still upset the public 30 years after his death? One of Eastman’s iconic groups of works is his Nigger Series from 1979 and 1980. Lasting nearly an hour, Crazy Nigger is the longest work in this series. As is the case this evening, it is usually played on four pianos, in part for practical reasons and because of the piano’s wealth of sonic possibilities. However, Eastman himself also allowed for the use of other forces. If the work is to be played on melodic instruments, he recommended using 10 to 18 instruments from the same family. Eastman’s musical language was based on minimalism, and his works were seen in their day as a sort of exotic, more emotionally charged offshoot of that style, which dominated American music in the 1970s. Now, however, the rediscovery of Eastman’s music and the distance of several decades have shed a very different light on his works. According to some musicologists, Eastman was ahead of his time and was writing post-minimalist music long before minimalism had reached its apex. The expression the composer himself used most often to characterise his style was “organic music”. The music’s fundamental compositional principle is a method whereby each new section of a composition contains material from the preceding section, while adding something and deleting something else. In this way, the composition gradually transforms, mainly vertically by the adding of more layers and elements of rhythm or colour instead of horizontally, as is the case for example with Reich’s famous phase shifting method. Eastman’s music is also often influenced by pop music, and improvisation is exceptionally important, as something for which he had an affinity as a jazz player. His scores are not explicit, so they just serve as guidelines for performers on how to play the piece in question. That is also why every performance of one of Eastman’s compositions is a unique original.

What are you looking for?
Close

Play your part

Donate now
Close
What are you looking for?