Vijay Iyer. (Photo: Courtesy of Cornell Concert Series)

Who has been voted DownBeat Magazine‘s Artist of the Year four times, was named Artist of the Year in Jazz Times‘ Critics’ and Readers’ Polls and a United States Artists Fellow in 2017, holds a lifetime appointment as the Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts at Harvard University, with a joint affiliation with the Department of Music and the Department of African and African American Studies; released 23 studio albums, was called a “social conscience, multimedia collaborator, system builder, rhapsodist, historical thinker and multicultural gateway,” by The New York Times and is the focus of the Cornell Concert Series’ latest virtual episode? 

If you guessed Vijay Iyer, then you’re correct and in luck.

In the second episode of Cornell Concert Series’ virtual season, Iyer performs several compositions and answers student questions piano-side on the concert series website. The episode premiered Oct. 14, and will be available until Oct. 28 for free. 

During his episode Iyer’s draws from a variety of sources– including African American improvisational traditions, his own Indian heritage, and the Western classical canon— to perform “Proximity” and  “Children of Flint”, “Where I Am”, “Taking Flight” and “Wrens and One For Blount”  and “Crown Thy Good”. 

The first two pieces, composed by Iyer, were bridged together for the performance, he said. The first, “Proximity”, was written following the fall of the World Trade Center in 2001. Iyer said some of the feelings about that time have begun to resurface. The second piece, “Children of Flint”, is a secondary composition written after he composed another piece for a conference at Columbia University on the subject: Year of Water. Iyer said the secondary piece haunted him until he finished it. 

“As soon as I received the invitation, I just thought of Flint[, Michigan] and the manmade crisis that the population of that town had been subjected to. And particularly the fact that that’s a largely Black and Latino and immigrant population; and that the children of that town had been harmed by the lead content in the water. The piece I wrote [for Columbia University] was called “Song for Flint”, but it stuck with me—the topic and the theme. I gave the commission money for a charity in Flint, but parts of the piece continued to haunt me, so I made another piece out of just a fragment of that piece and it's specifically for those children— It’s called “Children of Flint”.

Iyer also answered questions from students about the impact the pandemic has had on his composition and how he works around social distancing to collaborate with other performers.

”We’re not able to play for bands or play for orchestras, so a lot of the large scale things that we imagine have slipped away from us. For me what that’s meant is focusing on the intimate scale, almost the microscopic scale. Especially at the piano there’s a lot to discover just in the cracks at the quiet end. How many ways can you play one note and how much music can be made that’s almost silent? Or how much variation can you get from just one idea in a very small compact frame?” he said.

The episode runs an hour with Iyer going back and forth between performing and answering questions. All season episodes will be available for future viewing at no cost at by logging into a free account on the ticketing site.

The next episode in the series is set to premiere Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. The Dover Quartet will perform “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber and answer submitted questions due by Oct. 18 at noon. Questions can be submitted to in written or video format. 

The Cornell Concert series has hosted musicians and ensembles of international acclaim since 1903.


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