Queen Talks Crumb

A conversation with Fiona Queen, Director of
Performance Activites at Nichols Concert Hall


How did the idea of the George Crumb Festival come about?

The July 2019 Chicago Duo Piano Festival featured two works in celebration of George Crumb’s 90th birthday: “Music for a Summer Evening” (Makrokosmos III, for two amplified pianos and percussion), which I performed with pianist Louise Chan and percussionists John Corkill and Josh Graham--and “Celestial Mechanics” (Makrokosmos IV, for piano four-hands), which Louise played with Susan Tang. MIC faculty artists Barbara Ann Martin, Marie Alatalo and Katherine Petersen were at that concert. It didn’t take long for our post-concert discussion to develop into a proposal for a Crumb Festival. We were fortunate to receive a grant from the American Music Project in October, allowing us to proceed.

For people who are unfamiliar with “prepared” piano, what does that mean and what do you think use of these techniques bring to the music?

Marie Alatalo uses extended piano techniques

Crumb uses extended piano techniques (not the same as ‘prepared piano’) to produce an incredible array of colors and sounds (ex. reaching inside and strumming or scraping the strings, knocking the frame, and touching a node on a string to produce harmonics). In Makrokosmos III, he asks that sheets of paper be placed on top of the strings to produce an eerie metallic vibration while an excerpt of Bach’s D-sharp minor Fugue (WTC, Book II) is played on the keys. One of the performers also has to play an African Thumb Piano while pressing it against the metal inner frame of the piano. With the damper pedal down (all strings ‘open’), the vibration of the thumb piano notes causes the piano strings of the same pitch to vibrate. The effect—referred to as ‘sympathetic resonance’— is otherworldly.

What is a graphic score…and can you tell us what you’re particularly excited to present in the exhibition part of the festival.

George Crumb's Spiral Galaxy


It’s a different form of musical notation. Many of George Crumb's scores are literally works of art, designed to resemble an image or a symbol. Copies of some of Crumb’s more popular examples will be on display at the exhibit, including Spiral Galaxy.

What aspects of this special festival are particularly exciting?  What should people especially watch and listen for?

Barbara Martin and George Crumb at Nichols Concert Hall - 2003


Crumb’s music is not only evocative and beautiful to listen to, it’s also theatrical and stunning to look at. The January 31 program includes Makrokosmos III’s impressive two piano and percussion setup, while February 1 features Vox Balaenae (“Voice of the Whale”) performed under blue light by members of Fifth House Ensemble in face masks. We are also incredibly fortunate to present performances by mezzo-soprano Barbara Ann Martin and pianist Jeffrey Jacob. Both artists have worked extensively with the composer and have produced critically acclaimed recordings of his works.


The George Crumb Festival concerts take place Friday, January 31 and Saturday, February 1 at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston.
Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door; a Festival pass for both concerts is $40.

Tickets & Complete Information >>


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