by Tony Spano, Jr.
Pianist Joanne Pearce Martin has been busy lately. Very busy. In her 11th season as Principal Keyboardist with the LA Philharmonic, Joanne has been deep in the Phil's Mahler Project. As she prepared to leave on tour with the Phil to Caracas, Venezuela, she took some time to chat about her upcoming performances with Pacific Serenades.
Joanne will be appearing on her 18th concert with us on our March concerts. Beginning in 1993, Joanne has become an integral member of the Pacific Serenades family. Soon after Founder and Artistic Director Mark Carson first asked Joanne to play in 1993, she attended a Pac Ser concert at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. "I was very impressed, and was more than happy to say 'yes' to Mark," Joanne shared with me.
With 17 previous performances with Pacific Serenades, there are certainly many memorable moments, and I asked Joanne to pick one out to share. "I remember the premiere of Paul Chihara's Siren Songs , with Kathleen Roland, soprano, Gary Gray, clarinet, and Roland Kato, viola," Joanne said. "We had so much fun preparing that piece, and the audience just went nuts for it. I don't think I've laughed so much in rehearsal, and I mean in a good way!"
"What I enjoy most about Pacific Serenades are two things," Joanne continued. "First, it's always enjoyable to play fresh new pieces and working with the composer. I love the creative process, working things out with the composer, and trying to convey through performance what he or she had in mind. That direct connection with the composer is wonderful. The other part I love is working with my colleagues. Many of us have worked together so much over the years, and we always look forward to playing together."
For the March concerts, Joanne has worked with all the musicians before. "But I've only worked with Doug Masek [alto sax] in larger settings, never with chamber music, so I'm really looking forward to that," Joanne said.
The new work by Mark Carlson on the March program, Cave Paintings, will be the sixth piece Mark has composed with Joanne performing the premiere. "Of course I love playing Mark's music! His melodies always stay with me. Mark speaks so eloquently that he's able to convey what he's looking for. I understand him very well. I think we have a great musical relationship, and of course he's become a dear friend over the years," Joanne said.
I asked Mark to share some of his impressions of working with Joanne over the years. "Joanne is such an amazing pianist and musician," Mark began. "I've written several pieces for her that I thought were rather difficult for the pianist, and she played them as if they were easy as pie. In 2009, I wrote one movement of my View from a Hilltop with no holds barred, a nonstop series of eerie and pretty chromatic arpeggios, knowing that I could make it as difficult as I wanted, and she'd still be able to do it with poise and ease."
I asked Mark about composing for individual musicians, not just the instrumentation, but for the personality as well. "I always write with the players in mind," Mark said. "Some of the connections I have with them are intuitive, based on all of the situations I have had with them—hearing them play, writing for them, performing with them, socializing with them, and some is based on specific abilities or personality traits. Joanne has such a great sense of playfulness in everything she does, so I enjoy taking advantage of that, and she also has a very serious, soulful side to her playing."
Though Mark and Joanne have a long-term musical relationship, their friendship has also included the act of jumping out of a plane; flying small planes and skydiving are two passions she shares with her husband Gavin Martin. "I began flying in small planes with my dad, who, at 89, is still flying!" Joanne told me. "And then I got Gavin into skydiving. Skydiving is a lot like performance. You just leap out there and do it. Some things can go differently than in rehearsal. They both are quite a rush," Joanne said.
"Joanne is the one who talked me into going skydiving," Mark explained to me. "I went out to the desert and watched her and Gavin jump once and drove halfway there another time before learning that it was too windy. The next time, I did it, and Joanne was in the plane with me and jumped out before I did. It was an adventure! But I am content to do it just once in my life," Mark admitted.
Joanne and Gavin also perform as a piano duo. "We generally prefer to perform the two-piano repertoire, as opposed to music written for four-hands on one piano. We joke that we fight too much over the pedals and room on the bench!" In fact, they recently performed a 2-piano recital just a day after the Mahler 8 concert at the Shrine Auditorium on February 4. "Gavin is also joining the Philharmonic as keyboardist on our tour in Caracas," Joanne was excited to share with me.
In preparing for our March concerts, Joanne told me how happy she was to be playing the Schumann piano quartet and the Suk Four Pieces for violin and piano. "The Schumann quartet is actually my favorite chamber piece by him. And I've never played the Suk pieces before, but I know them and love them. I was looking for a chance to play them, and I'm very happy to finally get that chance!" Joanne said. "Another reason I'm happy to be playing the Suk is the fact that it's with Roger Wilkie, another dear friend and colleague that I once persuaded to jump out of an airplane!"
Tony Spano, Jr.