For her tenth Deutsche Grammophon release, pianist Alice Sara Ott returns to the music of Frédéric Chopin. She approaches Chopin’s 24 Préludes op. 28 from a fresh perspective, finding a personal thread that parallels the music’s dramatic arc and wide-ranging moods. The pianist frames the Préludes within a contemporary context by interspersing them with seven works by 20th- and 21st-century composers.
“Echoes Of Life is a personal reflection on the thoughts and moments that influence and change our lives. It also portrays the journey and transformation I took to become the person and artist I see myself as today. In interpreting music from composers who, in their own time, challenged the system and redefined music, I see it as my role as a classical musician to carry this spirit forward by not insisting on reproducing bygone traditions and limitations.” – Alice Sara Ott
The album is released digitally today, 30 July 2021. The CD will be released next week, 6 August 2021 and will be followed by the LP set to be released 3 September 2021.
Ott feels that the Préludes add up to more than the sum of their parts. “They are very different from each other and yet together they form a complex oeuvre. To me they reflect life: a collection of moments, all connected in some way. One step leads to the next – at times we walk faster, sometimes slower, other times in a circle and there are times we face a dead end and have to turn around.”
Chopin’s music lends itself to a myriad of interpretative possibilities, and Ott’s original voice emerges time and again throughout the Préludes. What is more, Chopin’s intrinsic modernity is enhanced by the juxtaposition of the Préludes with the newer pieces chosen by Ott. All the works on the album embody personal experiences and thoughts that have guided and shaped her life.
For example, Francesco Tristano’s In The Beginning Was, written for this album, channels the C major Prélude from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book I. “It’s a soundtrack that holds the past, represents the present, and carries us to the future,” explains Ott. The petulance of the single repeated note in Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata I signifies childhood rebellion to Ott, suggesting the word “No”… as she says, “a limited word with limitless expressions”. Rota’s Valse mirrors the first flush of youthful freedom – “a time when I still saw the world through the rose-tinted spectacles of naivety and fearlessness and just romanticised everything” – while Gonzales’s Prelude In C Sharp Major reminds her of the uncertain path to adulthood. It not only echoes the music at the beginning of this album, but also provides an end to a chapter. “Something with the same origin is now taking on a different shape.”
By contrast, Chopin’s tumultuous F minor Prélude dovetails into Takemitsu’s desolate Litany I, introducing unsettled dissonance into the programme. Takemitsu once stated: “Choosing to be in music clarified my identity.” Ott relates to that. Being categorised and “othered” her whole life based on how she looks, made her doubt and question where and how she belongs. She says: “I know how to identify myself outside of music, too. But this is more complex and it took me almost three decades to claim that for myself.”
Pärt’s Für Alina, with its vulnerable, introspective nature, reflects on her path adjusting to a new reality after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago. Finally, out of the Chopin D minor Prélude’s tormented final notes emerges Ott’s own Lullaby To Eternity, echoing fragments from the unfinished Lacrimosa of Mozart’s Requiem, leaving room for “questions unanswered”.
“When I first explored the concept of the album, I didn’t anticipate what this would come to mean to me emotionally, and reveal to me musically,” says Ott. “I recall the moment when I heard the entire compilation for the first time and realised that the contemporary works confirm how Chopin’s Préludes are modern, provocative and timeless.”