The People United

Frederic Rzewski composer

Kevin Lee Sun piano

Release Date: September 20, 2024
Catalog #: NV6654
Format: Digital

Kevin Lee Sun delivers an electrifying call to action in THE PEOPLE UNITED, a monumental set of 36 variations by the late American composer Frederic Rzewski. Derived from a global lineage of inspiration, the theme originated in Chile when the composer Sergio Ortega heard the soul-stirring chant of a street singer in Santiago, months before the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat. Inspired in turn by Ortega’s music and Chile’s upheavals, Rzewski combined the chant with revolutionary songs from various cultures to deliver a clear message of solidarity in his 1975 hour-long masterpiece, eponymously named The People United Will Never Be Defeated!

Recorded in 2023, fifty years after Chile’s coup d’etat, Sun’s interpretation reckons with the historical weight of Rzewski’s variations. His strikingly dynamic and empathetic playing seeks to re-center the suffering and heroism of the Chilean people at the core of the musical narrative. Rather than pooling the lived experiences of the Chilean people into a blanket revolutionary statement, Sun invokes the voices of the chanting street singers, the people at the very start of it all.

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Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Theme. With determination Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:30
02 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 1. Weaving: delicate but firm Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 0:59
03 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 2. With firmness Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 0:58
04 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 3. Slightly slower, with expressive nuances Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:24
05 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 4. Marcato Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:18
06 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 5. Dreamlike, frozen Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:31
07 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 6. Same tempo as beginning Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:22
08 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 7. Lightly, impatiently Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:02
09 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 8. With agility; not too much pedal; crisp Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:34
10 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 9. Evenly Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:21
11 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 10. Comodo, recklessly Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:32
12 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 11. Like fragments of an absent melody - in strict time Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 0:57
13 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 12 Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:30
14 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 13 Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 2:12
15 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 14. A bit faster, optimistically Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:31
16 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 15. Flexible, like an improvisation Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:54
17 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 16. Same tempo as preceding, with fluctuations; much pedal Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 2:16
18 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 17. Left hand strictly; Right hand freely, roughly as in space Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:42
19 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 18 Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 2:11
20 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 19. With energy Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 0:49
21 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 20. Crisp, precise Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 0:43
22 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 21. Relentless, uncompromising Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:11
23 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 22 Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 0:53
24 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 23. As fast as possible, with some rubato Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 0:33
25 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 24 Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 3:03
26 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 25. With fluctuations Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 2:10
27 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 26. In a militant manner Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:20
28 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 27. Tenderly, and with a hopeful expression Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 6:19
29 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 28 Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:41
30 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 29 Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 0:40
31 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 30 Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 3:05
32 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 31 Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:08
33 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 32 Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:06
34 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 33 Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:40
35 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 34 Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:23
36 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 35 Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 1:19
37 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Variation 36 Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 2:09
38 The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: Theme – Tempo primo Frederic Rzewski Kevin Lee Sun, piano 3:36

Recorded July 11–22, 2023 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in San Francisco CA
Session Producer & Engineer Blaine Rister
Editing, Mixing & Mastering Logan Barrett
Additional Mastering Melanie Montgomery

Photos Angela Liu

Executive Producer Bob Lord

VP of A&R Brandon MacNeil
A&R Jeff LeRoy

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Morgan Hauber
Publicity Aidan Curran
Digital Marketing Manager Brett Iannucci

Artist Information

Kevin Lee Sun

Pianist

With “probing seriousness” (Performing Arts Monterey Bay) and “a stunningly beautiful palette of colors” (Peninsula Reviews), pianist Kevin Lee Sun interprets music old and new. In 2011, Sun won the Silver Medal at the Virginia Waring International Piano Competition in California for his performances of the classical canon. In 2021, for his visionary programming of 20th-century music, he was the sole pianist to be named Finalist of the Berlin Prize for Young Artists in Germany. These honors have led Sun to perform a diverse repertoire around the world, including at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna, the Villa Elisabeth in Berlin, and the Banff Centre in Canada.

Notes

“¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!” (“The people united will never be defeated!”) is a Chilean chant of protest and solidarity.

In 1973, three months before the democratically elected President Salvador Allende was deposed by a military coup aided by the United States’ CIA, the composer Sergio Ortega heard the chant shouted by a street singer in the plaza. “I sat down at my piano… When I reproduced the chant of the people in my head, the chant that could not be restrained, the entire melody exploded from me: I saw it complete and played it in its entirety at once. The text unfurled itself quickly and fell like falling rocks upon the melody.”

The text begins: “On your feet! Sing that we will triumph. Advancing already are flags of unity. And you will come marching beside me, and by doing so, you will witness your song and your flag blossom.”

As the chant inspired Ortega, so Ortega’s song inspired Frederic Rzewski: “I first heard Sergio Ortega’s song at a concert given by the Chilean group Inti-Illimani at Hunter College in the fall of 1974, which Ursula [Oppens] and I both attended. We walked out onto the street singing the melody, and it never left us from that time on.” Commissioned by Ursula Oppens to write a companion piece to Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, Rzewski used Ortega’s song as the theme for 36 variations. Completed in 1975, Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated! carried a clear political message when Ursula Oppens premiered it at the Kennedy Center in 1976, commemorating 200 years of American independence.

The message is contained in a readily apparent structure. There are six sets of six variations, and each set’s sixth variation is a summation of the motives and characters of the preceding five. There is also a plan of key relationships: beginning with D minor for the theme and variation 1, the keys of the variations follow the circle of fifths (A minor, E minor, etc.) until returning to D minor for variation 13. Another circle of fifths is employed for the last two sets of variations.

Since 1970, the chant has been adopted around the world as a call to unite and demand change. Reflecting on the chant’s universality, through the course of his hour-long set of variations, Rzewski quotes the Italian revolutionary song Bandiera Rossa and Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler’s anti-fascist song Solidaritätslied — as he states, “in reference to the Italian people who in the ’70s opened their doors to so many refugees from Chilean fascism” and as “a reminder that parallels to present threats existed in the past and that it is important to learn from them.” As a whole, the work represents Rzewski’s expressed interest in “the active relationship between music and the rest of the world.”

All this notwithstanding, the present recording concerns itself chiefly with the lived experiences of the Chilean people in the early 1970s. Recorded in 2023, 50 years after the 1973 coup d’état, this interpretation seeks to capture the suffering and the uncertainty of a time when Chileans felt the effects of Richard Nixon’s directions to “make the economy scream;” when Chileans knew a coup was in the works and then watched the bombings of the presidential palace happen; when Chileans “disappeared” and were tortured under the resulting Pinochet regime. To enter those states of being, this interpretation probes and highlights the rhetorical and dynamic qualities of Rzewski’s writing.

Guiding this album’s spirit are the unforgettable images of Patricio Guzmán’s The Battle of Chile and words of Isabel Allende’s novel The House of the Spirits. When Allende wrote her novel after fleeing to Venezuela, the result was “an attempt to recreate the country [she] had lost, the family [she] had lost.” Though Rzewski’s composition predates Allende’s novel, they refer to the same events, so this recording seeks to balance Rzewski’s global parallels and Allende’s recreation of Chile’s struggle.

Twice in The House of the Spirits does the chant appear. The second instance, occurring at the funeral of Pablo Neruda following the death of Allende, inspired much of this interpretation: “Suddenly, someone hoarsely called out the Poet’s name and in a single voice everyone replied, ‘Here! Now and forever!’ It was as if they had opened a valve and all the pain, fear, and anger of those days had issued from their chests and rolled onto the street, rising in a terrible shout to the thick black clouds above… Voices mingled in a single chant and the air filled with forbidden slogans as, face to face with the guns that were shaking in the soldiers’ hands, they shouted that the people united would never be defeated.”

Equally inspiring was this other passage from the same novel: “She felt that everything was made of glass, as fragile as a sigh, and that the machine-gun fire and bombs of that unforgettable Tuesday had destroyed most of what she knew, and that all the rest had been smashed to pieces and spattered with blood.”

— Kevin Lee Sun

Kevin Lee Sun thanks the following people for making this album possible:

Thomas Schultz, Hyo-shin Na, Jeff LeRoy and Susan Bush, Chris Ramos and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Blaine Rister, Logan Barrett, I-Hsiang Chao, Erika Ji and her parents, Ophir Horovitz and his parents, Kendrick Shen, Nicholas Reis, Angela Liu, Susan and Marsh McCall, Maud Gleason and her family, Jean and Gary Bronstein, Shayda Zarafshar and Yolanda, Theresa Hollenbeck, Cobi Ashkenazi, Eric Tran, David Lee, Leslie Jin, Justin Wahby, Roger Xia, Lawrence Chiou, Clavecin Society, Christine Chang and Max Ly, Candice Kim, Joshua Mendoza, Jaih Hunter-Hill, Fantee Jones, Chris Han, Federico Ercoli, William Shi, Nikita Desai, Elena Frey, Ruth Rosenthal, Jeremy Siu and his parents, Taide Ding, Kevin Su, Matt Wolka and Old First Concerts, Michael Milenski and 405 Shrader, Duquesne University and the Mary Pappert School of Music, Stephen Benham, David Allen Wehr, the family of Frederic Rzewski, GuGu and the cousins, Jared, Mom, and Dad.

Videos

Kevin Lee Sun performs The People United Will Never Be Defeated! [Vars. 19-30]