Chad Lawson's interpretation of Chopin's nocturnes, preludes, and waltzes involves a surprising reconfiguration of the piano, and offers a sense of intimacy with the music that is likely new to most listeners. A couple of years ago, WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston learned about the power of simplicity in her conversation with pianist Chad Lawson.
Lawson's CD The Chopin Variations, reached No. 1 on the classical charts for Billboard, iTunes, and Amazon following its release several years ago. After that, the Steinway pianist pursued another classical great, reinterpreting the early vocal chorales of J.S. Bach in his album Bach Interpreted. (2016).
Meridee Duddleston: It’s well after midnight. Two young children are in dreamland. Pianist and composer Chad Lawson uses the time to practice Chopin nocturnes, preludes, waltzes, and a mazurka, but doesn’t want his children to wake up.
Chad Lawson: So I had to figure out a system - so basically I’ve taken felt and I’ve placed it between the strings and hammers of the piano. And that really mutes the sound.
MD: And that’s the way his Chopin Variations album is recorded. In the contemplative dark of night, Lawson - who lives in North Carolina - uses the open space of a quiet room to conjure and imagine.
CL: And so the imagery of Chopin late at night – maybe 2:00 in the morning – just a single candle on the piano. He’s beginning to sketch out just the melody.
Steinway artist and composer Chad Lawson performs Nocturne in F minor, Op. 55, from The Chopin Variations with Judy Kang, violin; and Rubin Kodheli, cello:
MD: The Polish composer known as "The Poet of the Piano” much preferred performing at an intimate gathering over a public concert. And Lawson imagines that Chopin’s mindset was such, that his interpretations of work by a most inventive solo piano composer wouldn’t be an affront.
CL: You know, we’re kind of introducing Chopin to a new audience. The emails that I get – a lot of them are people that have never listened to Chopin. And now they’re like, "Wow. This is interesting. I actually wanna go back and listen to the original."
MD: And so the romantic composer, who created a whole new approach to the piano and its repertoire, and whose life was cut short by illness at age 39, has a new voice interpreting his sensitive pieces over 165 years later...and a new audience is hearing them.
A live performance at le Poisson Rouge in NYC, Nov. 2014, The Chopin Variations. Chad Lawson, piano; Judy Kang, violin; and Rubin Kodheli, cello: