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Harpsichord Maneuvers In Disguise

The harpsichord was eclipsed first by the fortepiano in the 18th century and eventually by the modern grand, but that doesn't mean the instrument is out of sight or out of mind.

In his new work, Harpsichords, Troy Herion combines aspects of both the Baroque instrument and today's concert grand piano. "I wanted strong contrasts in color and texture so I wrote a piece that asks the pianist to treat the piano sometimes as a modern piano and other times like a harpsichord," the 33-year-old composer and filmmaker explained in an email. The music was written for pianist Michael Mizrahi who includes it on his upcoming album, Currents, to be released March 25.

In this two-minute video, directed by Alex Tyson, excerpts of Harpsichords are animated in a rotoscoping style by the Belgian-based artist Eno Swinnen. The technique includes tracing over filmed footage, one frame at a time then re-drawing the images. Swinnen has made music videos with Owen Pallett and Meishi Smile.

The spirit of the harpsichord, Herion says, can be found in the clean style of playing in the piece and in cadences typical of the Baroque, an era in music that has captured his imagination. "It seems to be a style of accumulation," he says, "where one element is combined with another to make something very powerful and sometimes grand, yet the individual building blocks are always detectible, never truly hidden." Mizrahi's playing is rhythmically alert and lyrical in music that shifts from the concision of a Baroque toccata to the sensuosity of a Chopin nocturne.

Mizrahi is comfortable playing Bach or Bartok, but concentrates on contemporary music when he's in the recording studio. Currents, his second album, features new works by Missy Mazzoli, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Patrick Burke, Asha Srinivasen and Mark Dancigers.

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