Between the Cracks continues celebration of women composers

All the themes that have animated this year’s Between the Cracks music series seemingly converge in this Saturday’s concert, featuring Oregon State University pianists Angela Carlson and Becky Jeffers.

The season’s emphasis on female composers continues: All the pieces on the program were written by women, including a new piece by Dana Reason of OSU.

Saturday’s concert extends the season-long tribute to electronic-music pioneer Pauline Oliveros, a mentor and teacher of Reason’s: The concert begins with the original recording of Oliveros’ groundbreaking 1965 “Bye Bye Butterfly,” and also includes a performance of a new work by Reason, “Pauline’s Polka,” which was written as an homage to Oliveros.

And the idea of “deep listening,” a concept that Oliveros developed, should get a workout on Saturday night in many different ways: For example, the audience will get a chance to hear two different performances of “Pauline’s Polka,” with comments from Reason, Carlson and Jeffers and questions from the audience between the two performances.

Deep listening certainly describes the bond between Carlson and Jeffers, two Corvallis pianists who have been playing together in four-hand piano — that’s where the two performers sit and play at the same time on the same piano — for 36 years.

In that sort of intimate setting, you learn to listen to not just what you’re playing, but what your partner is playing as well. (It’s a skill that has served both Carlson and Jeffers well in their work as accompanists.)

“You do have to listen to a lot,” said Jeffers in an interview this week.

And to communicate: “You’re sitting together at the same piano bench,” Carlson said. “So it’s really easy to talk. … Becky actually can play and talk at the same time.”

There’s obvious chemistry at work as well, considering that the duo has been playing together for nearly four decades.

“We have opposite strengths,” Jeffers said, “but we respect each other. … And we both genuinely love four-handed piano.”

The duo also has commissioned original pieces from composers. In fact, Reason wrote “Pauline’s Polka” on commission from Carlson and Jeffers. (Another piece on the program, “Gavel Patter” by Libby Larsen, was written on commission.)

Reason said her piece – which at times requires the pianists to reach inside the piano – is meant to pay tribute to at least some of the ways her teacher and collaborator made her rethink her music and her instrument. (The title is a bit of an inside joke; Oliveros plays the accordion, an instrument that is often associated with the polka.)

“I don’t think I can touch on everything that Pauline has to teach” in one composition, said Reason, a pianist. “But I don’t even touch the instrument the same way, based on everything she’s taught me.”

As for Carlson and Jeffers, Saturday’s concert gives them another opportunity to perform together.

And to listen to each other.

“After playing together so long, you really do sense what’s coming up,” Jeffers said of her work with Carlson.

And the intimacy suits both pianists.

“We have no desire to play two pianos,” Jeffers said, “because we’d be so far apart.”

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