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New Music, Nancarrow at 100, A Centennial Celebration, November 2-4, 2012,  in collaboration with Other Minds, Produced by Cal Performances, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA)


A three-day centennial celebration honoring of the life and work of experimentalist composer Conlon Nancarrow! In performances, panel discussions, special exhibitions, film and more, Cal Performances, Other Minds, and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) explore Nancarrow's incredible, unexpected, and visionary musical voice.

Conlon Nancarrow
Although little known in the Americas, Conlon Nancarrow is considered 'one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. Born on October 27, 1912, in Texarkana, Arkansas, he left to fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, and after being the subject of harassment from the American government he emigrated to Mexico where he lived the rest of his life focusing on his highly sophisticated, but viscerally exciting musical creations. He is best known for his series of Studies for the Player Piano, an exploration of musical instrument as mechanical machine. The player piano, or pianola—a mechanical piano maneuvered by a roll of punched paper—with its limitless ability to perform notes with infinite speed and complexity, allowed Nancarrow to experiment by composing music beyond the human ability to perform, forming the basis of new structures and sounds of the 20th century.

"This music is the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives... something great and important for all music history! His music is so utterly original, enjoyable, perfectly constructed but at the same time emotional...for me it's the best of any composer living today."—György Ligeti

"The stuff is fantastic... You've got to hear it—Frank Zappa

"Conlon's music has such an outrageous, original character"—John Cage


Friday, Nov 2
Exhibition Opening
5:30 pm, Berkeley Art Museum (2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley)
Free and open to the public

BAM/PFA introduces a new sculptural sound installation by Trimpin, on view from November 2 through December 23, 2012. Commissioned by Other Minds in collaboration with BAM/PFA, Trimpin: Nancarrow Percussion Orchestra / MATRIX 244 pays tribute to the composer's rhythmically complex and intensely layered studies. Trimpin has re-imagined and rebuilt the orchestra of pitched and unpitched percussion using three reconstructed pianos as well as Nancarrow's actual drums, unveiled for this first time in this exhibition. On the occasion of the exhibition's opening, BAM/PFA Chief Curator and Director of Programs and Collections Lucinda Barnes talks with Trimpin about this new installation and Conlon Nancarrow's legacy.

7 pm, Pacific Film Archive (2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley)
Film Screening
Ticket Prices: $5.50–9:50
(Special $7.50 price to Nancarrow at 100 performance ticket holders)
To purchase tickets, visit:

Director James R. Greeson present the West Coast premiere of his 2012 documentary film, Conlon Nancarrow: Virtuoso of the Player Piano, featuring performances of Nancarrow's cutting-edge music, a premiere presentation of a recently discovered piece, and interviews with his friends and supporters. The program also includes two short experimental films by Alban Wesly based on Nancarrow's Studies for Player Piano.

James Greeson, Yoko Sugiura Nancarrow, Mako Nancarrow, Trimpin, and Charles Amirkhanian in person!

Saturday, Nov 3
11 am, Hertz Hall
Panel Discussion: The Expanding Universe of Conlon Nancarrow
Free and open to the public

A panel discussion moderated by Other Minds Executive & Artistic Director Charles Amirkhanian, and including Yoko Sugiura-Nancarrow, widow of the composer; Felix Meyer, Director of the Sacher Stiftung; Kyle Gann, author of The Music of Conlon Nancarrow; Peter Garland, original publisher of Nancarrow's Player Piano Studies; and Trimpin, composer and sound sculptor. This panel session also includes a performance of Nancarrow's Study No. 12 and 25.

2 pm, Hertz Hall
Trimpin & Rex Lawson
Tickets: $20

Sculptor, sound artist, musician and composer Trimpin and the vorsetzer, a mechanical piano playing device, perform Nancarrow's Study No. 5, 6, 11, 21, 26, 37, and Study 41c for two pianos, and English pianola virtuoso Rex Lawson performs Percy Grainger's Molly on the Shore and Shepherd's Hey, and Sergei Rachmaninoff's Prelude in E-flat, Op. 23 No. 6. Also on this program is French director Jean Grémillon's player piano musical accompaniment to his documentary Un tour au large — Voyage on the Open Sea (1926, American Premiere) about about the voyage of a fishing boat. The wide variety of pianistic techniques representing what today would be called an action film soundtrack seem to presage some of Nancarrow's more breathtaking innovations. Though the film is assumed lost forever, these newly-discovered piano rolls meant to accompany it, comprise possibly the best music ever composed by a film director.


8 pm, Hertz Hall
Calder Quartet
Tickets: $30

The "superb" (New York Times) Calder Quartet defies boundaries through performing a broad range of repertoire at an exceptional level, always striving to channel the true intention of the work's creator. Here, they perform Thomas Adès' The Four Quarters, a work suggestive of the traditional uses of the term to indicate divisions of time, Conlon Nancarrow's String Quartet No. 1 and 3 for conventional instruments and a Paul Usher string quartet arrangement of Study No. 33. Although Nancarrow's popularity arose from the recordings of the player piano studies, many chamber ensemble arrangements are now firmly established as classics in their own right. The program concludes with String Quartet No. 5 of Béla Bartók, a composer Nancarrow has pointed to as one of the biggest influences on his own music.


Sunday, Nov 4
Noon, Hertz Hall
Panel Discussion: Eyeballs Out! How Performers Learned to "Play" Nancarrow
Free and open to the public

A panel discussion moderated by Charles Amirkhanian with Southbank Centre Nancarrow Festival curator Dominic Murcott, percussionist Chris Froh, Piano duo Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams, Nancarrow biographer Kyle Gann, violinist Graeme Jennings, and artist Trimpin will also include a performance of Nancarrow's Piece for Tape as well as Nancarrow's Study No. 3a and other selected studies.

4 pm, Pacific Film Archive (2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley)
Film Screening
Ticket Prices: $5.50–$9.50
(Special $7.50 price to Nancarrow at 100 performance ticket holders)
To purchase tickets, visit:

This film program features a screening of Hanne Kaisik and Uli Aumüller's film Music for 1,000 Fingers: Conlon Nancarrow, which includes footage of Nancarrow explaining his compositional methods and procedures, captured for the first time on film. The program also includes rare screenings of Alban Wesly's Studies on Nancarrow #3C and Tal Rosner and Sophie Clement's Nancarrow Player-Piano Study No. 7.

Yoko Sugiura Nancarrow, Mako Nancarrow, Trimpin, and Charles Amirkhanian in person!

7 pm, Hertz Hall
Rex Lawson, player piano; Chris Froh, percussion; Graeme Jennings, violin; & piano duo Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams
Tickets: $20

When magnetic tape recorders became commercially available after the Second World War, a small but influential group of composers seized the opportunity not just to capture sound but to manipulate it into a whole new sonic experience. Nancarrow's Piece for Tape, possibly one of the oldest pieces of tape, is an unfinished idea that the composer dismissed. Nevertheless, he sent a copy to Elliott Carter in 1970, recognizing something unique in its musical ambition. Here Chris Froh also performs a version arranged by Dominic Murcott for solo percussion. Graeme Jennings and Rex Lawson perform the brilliant Toccata for Violin and Piano. And Nancarrow's favorite composer, Stravinsky, is represented by Rex Lawson's playing of the composer's own rolls of Le Sacre du Printemps, performed for the first time in American by a single pianolist, rather than by two or three alternating individuals.

Discouraged by the lack of acceptable performances of his music, Conlon Nancarrow turned to the player piano in the late 1940s, and for decades, his creative activity was confined to the privacy of his studio: he wrote the music, punched it manually in player piano rolls, and listened to it played by his mechanical instruments. His exhaustive exploration of the medium's possibilities resulted in a series of fifty studies, both highly idiomatic and utterly original. On the second half of this program, Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo perform works from their project transcribing and performing Nancarrow's mechanical music.



Studies on Nancarrow, part 1 (Played by Calefax)

Nancarrow, Study no.21

Conlon Nancarrow, study no.11 for player piano

Program Notes

Program notes are available online. [PDF]

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Sat, Nov 3, 2 pm
Sat, Nov 3, 8 pm
Sun, Nov 4, 7 pm
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