Any contemporary classical composer who can be compared to John Adams – much less by the age of 27 – deserves to be listened to. And so it was that I came across Timo Andres (“Timo” is short for Timothy), an American-born prodigy who’s also a gifted pianist, and whose latest album, Home Stretch, was recently released on Nonesuch Records.
Writing in The New Yorker, critic Alex Ross said of Andres’ 2010 debut recording, Shy and Mighty, that its “unhurried grandeur has rarely been felt in American music since [Adams] came on the scene.” And indeed, echoes of Adams resonate on Home Stretch, which consists of two original pieces by Andres, interspersed with a “recomposition” of Mozart’s “Coronation” Concerto, written in 1788.
It’s impossible not to draw parallels between Andres and even younger colleague and fellow sensation Conrad Tao, another fresh face who’s shaken up classical music circles. (Andres himself was already improvising compositions at the age of six). Whereas Tao’s album from earlier this year was called Voyages, the cover art for Home Stretch is a tip-off that Andres is on a journey of his own as well.
The eponymous title track begins the trip with Americana-like tinges of composer Charles Ives, followed by shades of Steve Reich’s Different Trains that reverberate towards the end of the piece. Backed by New York City’s Metropolis Ensemble, Andres creates a pointillist effect which quietly announces something’s coming, its underlying sense of anticipation recalling Adams.
The reinvention of the “Coronation” Concerto is made possible by its uniqueness, as Mozart omitted notes for the left hand for many sections of the score when he composed it. Andres lets his imagination fill in the gaps, and in the second movement of the three that comprise the work, creates a lovely amalgam of Mozartian classicism and modern pianistic sensibility. The finale of the third movement is a wonderful showcase of his virtuosic skills.
The album closes with “Paraphrase on Themes of Brian Eno,” an ode to the experimental genius and renaissance man of rock. A defining influence for Andres (who says of Eno in the liner notes: “I could immediately sense a sort of kindred spirit: These are the right notes, sounding at the right time”), Eno’s “soundscapes” clearly left a deep impression. Though I was expecting something a bit edgier (I found the piece a tad on the dainty side), “Paraphrase” nevertheless starts with an intriguing tone of ambiguity, leaving one to wonder whether Home Stretch signifies an end or whether it’s actually just a beginning.
Either way, it’s not every day that Mozart meets Eno, and Andres is another refreshing addition to the crop of young musicians who are helping to shape the future of classical music.