Corey Hamm’s not the only genius on latest effort

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The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (DMA)

The rigours of the academic life mean that UBC professor Corey Hamm doesn’t perform as often as he should. Still, a few people know when to give this pianist a call: recent engagements have included work with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Turning Point Ensemble, and musica intima, on top of which he was one of the first musicians to give a concert at the recently renovated Fox Theatre.

The Fox show did double duty as the launch party for this CD, which should turn a few more people on to Hamm’s keyboard wizardry—if, that is, they have the patience to sit through a nearly hourlong solo that spans 36 different variations on a single, songlike theme.

It shouldn’t be that hard. Hamm’s not the only genius featured here: The People United Will Never Be Defeated! was written by another piano virtuoso, Frederic Rzewski, and one suspects that his intent was to prove that “difficult” music can be as enticing as it is challenging. To that end, he took a tuneful Chilean socialist anthem, “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!”, and applied a variety of compositional strategies to its bones. We hear it as baroque fugue, as serialist study, as jazzy pseudo-improvisation, sometimes with the theme plainly stated and sometimes with it almost entirely buried. Following the tune’s thread is like reading a whodunit, and in this rendition Hamm shows himself to be the Sherlock Holmes of concert pianists: unconventional, insightful, and fun to meet.

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