Midwest Piano Sonatas

Joanne Baker composer
Mike McFerron composer
Bryan Stanley composer

Kristín Jónína Taylor piano

Release Date: August 2, 2024
Catalog #: NV6653
Format: Digital

Pianist Kristín Jónína Taylor dives deep into the lyrical, evocative, and hauntingly beautiful works of three leading composers and educators from the Midwest United States on MIDWEST PIANO SONATAS. A blend of neo-classical and neo-romantic styles are presented in this Navona Records release, exploring compositional concepts ranging from bitonality to mixed meters, and life’s inscrutable emotions, particularly, anguish and bereavement. These profound spectrums of musicality and feeling are conveyed with stunning clarity by Taylor, an award-winning pianist lauded for her mesmerizing performances of nuance and depth.

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Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Piano Sonata: I. Allegro moderato Joanne Baker Kristín Jónína Taylor, piano 3:11
02 Piano Sonata: II. ANDANTE: tranquil, like a recitative Joanne Baker Kristín Jónína Taylor, piano 2:29
03 Piano Sonata: III. Allegro Joanne Baker Kristín Jónína Taylor, piano 2:37
04 Sonata no. 2: I. On the Playground Mike McFerron Kristín Jónína Taylor, piano 7:03
05 Sonata no. 2: II. Backroom of the Firehouse Mike McFerron Kristín Jónína Taylor, piano 6:57
06 Sonata no. 2: III. Communion Mike McFerron Kristín Jónína Taylor, piano 5:56
07 Sonata no. 2: I. Allegro con spirito Bryan Stanley Kristín Jónína Taylor, piano 4:23
08 Sonata no. 2: II. Andante tranquillo Bryan Stanley Kristín Jónína Taylor, piano 5:59
09 Sonata no. 2: III. THEME AND VARIATIONS: Allegro Bryan Stanley Kristín Jónína Taylor, piano 7:04

Recorded in August 7-9, 2023 at Strauss Performing Arts Center Recital Hall, University of Nebraska at Omaha in Omaha NE
Recording Session Producer & Engineer Wyndhem Ennaemba
Editing, Mixing & Mastering Wyndhem Ennaemba

Executive Producer Bob Lord

VP of A&R Brandon MacNeil
A&R Ivana Hauser

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming
Publicity Kacie Brown
Digital Marketing Manager Brett Iannucci

Artist Information

Kristín Jónína Taylor

Pianist

Dr. Kristín Jónína Taylor is an Icelandic-American pianist who has been enthusiastically received for her multitude of performances of Nordic piano works, including the North American premiere of Jón Nordal’s Piano Concerto in 2003 and programs by invitation in Washington DC for the Ambassador of Iceland and President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. She has performed widely in the United States as well as in Iceland, France, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Sweden, Austria, Serbia, Canada, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Notes

One of the most beloved and sought-after piano teachers in America, Joanne Baker (1923–2004) knew from the start that she would become a musician. One stormy night in 1944, lightning and thunder tore through Phoebus VA, where Joanne was giving a recital. Somewhere in the middle of Chopin’s C# Minor Scherzo, the lights blew out. In total darkness, unable to see her hands or the keyboard, she forged ahead to the piece’s conclusion. She couldn’t see the standing ovation the audience gave her, just as they couldn’t see her bow.
After the war, she continued her education at the University of Michigan, where she earned her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees. Among her teachers were Quincy Porter, Joseph Brinkman, and Carl Friedberg, a student of Clara Schumann and Brahms.

But it was her love of teaching that would emerge as the primary focus of her career, and her students became a second family to her. In 1948, Dr. Wiktor Labunski invited Baker to join the faculty of what is now the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC). She became its longest-serving faculty member, teaching at the school for 49 years and chairing the Keyboard Division for the last 25 of those years. She was designated a Curators’ Professor, the University’s highest honor. Baker chaired the prestigious Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition for two decades in Salt Lake City and was the first American artist invited to teach in China after the Cultural Revolution. In these and other capacities, she was an ambassador for the UMKC Conservatory, attracting the finest talent from around the world to build a first-class Keyboard Division.

Her many awards include the Burlington-Northern Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching, the Conservatory Trustees’ Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Standard Oil Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, and the Award of Merit from Mu Phi Epsilon. She was on the board of directors of the annual World Piano Pedagogy Conference, and a longtime member of Mu Phi Epsilon, the Music Teachers National Association, the Missouri Music Teachers Association, and the Kansas City Musical Club.

Baker’s Piano Sonata was completed in 1948 during her studies at the University of Michigan. After the sonata won the Mu Phi Epsilon International Composition Competition in 1950, Baker was invited to perform the work numerous times, including for the Composers Guild of Kansas City. Ruth Seufert, an impresario in Kansas City, sent a copy of the sonata to William Kapell. He learned the sonata to perform it during his 1953 concert series, which did not occur because Kapell died in a plane crash during the summer that year. One of the most notable performances of the piece was Baker’s own in February of 1954 at the “American Composers’ Week Concert,” sponsored by ASCAP in New York City. The concert was broadcast on national radio. An earlier performance of her sonata at Carnegie Hall in 1952 by Norma Holmes Auchter received a positive review in the New York Times. Baker continued to teach her sonata to several of her students at UMKC over the subsequent decades.

This compact three-movement sonata captures the flavors of the mid-20th century neo-classical style. Indeed, one might hear hints of contemporary composers such as Paul Hindemith, Paul Creston, or Walter Piston. Compositional elements throughout this work consist of quartal and quintal harmonies, bitonality, mixed meters, hemiola, and a juxtaposition of homophonic vs. polyphonic writing. Lyricism and immaculate clarity pervade the entire work, as well as a sense of motivic unity between movements.

– Kristín Jónína Taylor

Mike McFerron is a professor of music and composer-in-residence at Lewis University in the Chicago area. He has been on the faculty of Hong Kong Baptist University, the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music, and the Kansas City Kansas Community College, and he has served as resident composer at the Chamber Music Conference of the East/Composers’ Forum in Bennington VT. McFerron is founder and co-director of Electronic Music Midwest and serves on the board of the directors for the Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra and is a past Chair of the Executive Committee for the Society of Composers, Inc.

McFerron’s music has received critical acclaim and recognition. His music has been performed by the Remarkable Theater Brigade (Carnegie Hall), the Louisville Orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and Cantus among many others. His music has been featured on numerous SCI National Conferences, SEAMUS National Conferences, the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC), Brooklyn College Conservatory’s Electroacoustic Music Festival, the MANTIS (UK) festival, ÉuCue “Plugged Festival” (Montreal), University of Richmond’s 3rd Practice Festival, New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, Denison University TUTTI Festival, Ball State University New Music Festival, Florida State University New Music Festival, Spark Conference, Annual Florida International Electroacoustic Music Festival, Spring in Havana, the MAVerick Festival, several SCI regional conferences, and concerts and radio broadcasts across the United States and throughout Europe. He has written music specifically for Cantus, SUNY-Oswego, GéNIA, Andrew Spencer, Julia Bentley, the Chamber Music Conference of the East/Composers’ Forum, Nelson- Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Lewis University, Sumner Academy of Arts and Science, and the Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra.

McFerron’s music can be heard on numerous commercial recordings as well as on his website at bigcomposer.com.

McFerron’s Sonata no. 2 was written in 2022 in recognition of the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. He gave the following program notes in the music score:

“20 young children lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. The senseless mass shooting impacted most of us at some level. For me, my son was the same age as the children who were taken from their families that day. Since then, I have marked his milestones with those children who were lost in 2012; school programs, first dance, driving. At times, even rather common experiences like hearing sounds of playing and laughter when I would pick up my son at his elementary school transported me back to that moment when I first learned of the horrific event.

Immediately after the shooting, parents of students who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School were directed to gather at the local firehouse, located just around the corner. With what was surely incredible relief for some, children trickled into the building and were reunited with their families. Little by little, those families, still whole, left the brick firehouse until only a small group of parents remained. This remaining group was ushered to the back of the firehouse, where hours later the governor of Connecticut entered the room to confirm their worst fears, that their children were not coming home.

The atmosphere enveloping the anguish of waiting for the families throughout that day is almost unimaginable to me. A spectrum of emotions that is indescribable, first watching the tearful reunification of other families all the while desperately clinging to hope for their own joyous reunion as they were ushered to the back of the firehouse.

Humanity lost that day, but through remembrance and communion, we seek peace and healing together.”

The haunting middle movement, “Backroom of the Firehouse,” is the centerpiece of the sonata. McFerron uses the melody “Drømde mik en drøm i nat,” the oldest known secular song in the Nordic countries, written around 1300, to depict the senseless loss the parents experience. A rough translation of the song is, “I dreamed a dream last night of fine silks and fur.” The song is a dream of all the beautiful things you can have in life, but in this poignant movement, the beautiful things were stolen from their parents.

– Kristín Jónína Taylor

Accomplished pianist-composer and collaborator, Bryan Stanley, is published by Hal Leonard, Boosey & Hawkes, and G. Schirmer. The Music Teachers National Association granted Stanley 2nd Place in the 2019 Distinguished Composer of the Year Competition with his Three Concert Etudes for Piano, which were commissioned by the Nebraska Music Teachers Association. He was named the Grand Prize winner of the 2020 Robert Avalon International Competition for Composers for his Three Songs on Poems of Carl Sandburg, premiered by tenor Kyle Stegall at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. His 2nd piano concerto won the Riverton Metropolitan Orchestra concerto competition in 2009. His publications include concert arrangements of American folksongs and adaptations of Aaron Copland’s music. In 1997, the Des Moines Metro Opera premiered his one-act chamber opera, Cask of Amontillado, the result of winning a national chamber opera competition. The premiere, which he conducted, was enthusiastically reviewed in Opera News magazine.

Stanley’s original compositions for piano, concerto, vocal, and chamber groups were featured at Siaulei Piano Duo Festival in Lithuania, Harpa Symphony Hall in Iceland, Nebraska University, St. Louis Community College Orchestra, Indiana University-Southeast, Simpson College, Park City Beethoven Festival, Utah Opera, Park City Community Church, Lewis University, University of Virginia at Wise, University of Northern Colorado, Trinity University, Southeast Missouri State University, Bowling Green University, University of Northern Iowa, Dordt University, Wartburg College, UMKC, Lamar University, Iowa Western Community College, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Steinway Recital Hall, Wayne State University, New Music Consortium of Salt Lake City, and KBYU radio. In 2000, Stanley performed his first piano concerto with the University of Oklahoma Chamber Orchestra, and his second piano concerto, the Cardinal Concerto, was performed with Caritas Symphonia in San Francisco in 2016. In 2007, he was a featured pianist at the Gina Bachauer International Summer Piano Festival. His commissioned four-harp concerto was premiered at the Salt Lake City Mormon Tabernacle in 2011. In 2017, his Four Songs, musical settings of poetry by Kansas Poet Laureate Wyatt Townley, were featured at Waldorf University. His Three String Pieces were premiered by the National Composers Orchestra in 2021.

Stanley studied piano with Robert Larsen (Simpson College, B.M.); Joanne Baker (University of Missouri-Kansas City, M.M.); composition with Carolyn Bremer and piano with Ed Gates (University of Oklahoma, D.M.A.), and Robert Spillman (Aspen Summer Music Festival). He served on the faculty at the University of Missouri – Kansas City Conservatory of Music, Simpson College, Waldorf University, Wartburg University, and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He currently teaches piano in West Omaha and frequently collaborates with Opera Omaha. Stanley also regularly performs with his wife, Kristín Jónína Taylor, as the Atlantic Piano Duo.

Stanley’s Piano Sonata no. 2 was composed in 2018. There are clear cyclical elements between the movements. The listener experiences neo-classical or neo-romantic impulses in the work, whether it is the concise sonata-allegro form of the first movement, the theme and variations of the third movement, or the atmospheric lyricism of the extensive middle movement.

– Kristín Jónína Taylor