Jeanne Golan, Pianist



Reviews from publications across the country of Jeanne's work at the keyboard.

"technically polished and superbly expressive" – New York Times


FANFARE MAGAZINE,, March/April 2010

"Golan, aside from being a formidable pianist, is one with a deep intellectual and aesthetic curiosity. She is an imaginative and tasteful curator of the programs she presents."

I reviewed Jeanne Golan recently (33:2), along with soprano Mary Nessinger, about their "Innocence Project," a pairing of song cycles by Debussy and Berg with contemporary composers' takes on those sources. This disc confirms my impression that Golan, aside from being a formidable pianist, is one with a deep intellectual and aesthetic curiosity. She is an imaginative and tasteful curator of the programs she presents. The idea of this recital is to present works by American composer-pianists. While I've not heard all of these live (and Ornstein of course is no longer with us), the word on the street is that yes, they can all handle what they write, which of course gives some reassurance to listener--and make the rest of us green with envy.

David Del Tredici (b. 1937) proves Schoenberg's adage that much good music in C Major is yet to be written. I know of no other composer who is able to write in a convincingly tonal Romantic idiom and make it sound so natural, his own, and of his time. Among other things, the composer knows how to add just the judicious touch of dissonance at the perfect moment, like a chef expert in his spicing (though it's never for superficial effect). His 2003 piece seems to be an act of appropriative chutzpah, in that it cops not only the title but also the number of movements from Satie. However, the actual sound is far more subtle and tender, and projects a gentle seriousness, seeming almost world-weary. I find the second movement, with its gently lapping arpeggios, particularly memorable and moving.

Eric Moe (b. 1954) contributes Ballade: Legend on the Sad Triad (2004), an essay on the use of minor triads that are a half step apart. That sounds perhaps a little cerebral, and it is the most abstract and modernist sounding of the works on this program, but the work is soulful. Highly Romantic in spirit, often Impressionistic in surface, it's still tonally grounded.

Tom Cipullo (b. 1957) writes in a style that's more evidently influenced by French Impressionism, though the first of his 2006-08 Two Meditations reminded me a bit of Virgil Thomson: wrong-note tonal chorale writing that somehow ends up sounding more natural than its ostensibly correct background template. Water Lilies (1995) is much more overtly Debussyan... Cipullo's fluency in handling quick, complex yet gossamer textures is very impressive.

Leo Ornstein (1893-2002) lived into his 108th year (!), and was a fascinating case--a young lion of American ultra-modernism, an enfant terrible of the keyboard, he then seemed to vanish, and was only discovered late in life living in a trailer in the Southwest. The Sonata for Two Pianos (1925) is a sprawling, extravagant work, almost 40 minutes long in its three movements. It's an arrangement of his Piano Concerto, and the notes say it marked a move away from the futuristic music that had established his reputation. I have to admit that for me it's something of a mishmash: pounding primitivist rhythms like Stravinsky and Prokofiev, Rimskyan modal exoticism, ultra-chromatic perfumed harmony a la Scriabin, and a jangly American energy... Ornstein carefully voices passages so as create special sonic effects and textures. His attention to such matters as register and selective dissonant doublings can make the two instruments begin to sound as though they have electronic processing. As such, it's an innovative feat, and I'm glad we have this in the discography now (I've checked and it is the only recording), at the very least for its historical importance. And let me assure all that Golan and Oldfather surmount the challenges of this work with aplomb (and stamina!)

CD Review:Innocence Lost: The Berg-Debussy Project

FANFARE MAGAZINE,, September 2009

The Nessinger-Golan Duo has been performing together since about 2000 and exploring links and tensions between music past and present. With Lost Innocence: The Berg-Debussy Project they asked 10 American composers from a variety of backgrounds to write songs in response to 10 songs from hear the beginning of the 20th Century-Debussy's Chanson de Bilitis and Berg's Fruehe Lieder. The matching of songs and composers was done by drawing slips of paper from a breadbasket; and each composer, according to the notes by Golan, was asked "to write a piece for voice and piano with a text of their choice, whose impulse stemmed from the original song". This ingenious idea has produced fascinating results that are like new cycles, each in some way reflecting its original...

[This is] a fascinating release and a welcome introduction to some composers whose names are not well known: Eleanor Sandresky, Jorge Martin, Daniel Rothman, Anna Weesner, Joe Kerr, Lee Hyla, Tom Cipullo, and Eric Moe. Good notes; texts and translations.

CD Review:Innocence Lost: The Berg-Debussy Project, Albany Records Release. Troy 1113


"a substantial and adventurous undertaking, beautifully realized, and always thought provoking... The performances are exquisite."

This is an extremely creative and literate production. Soprano Mary Nessinger and pianist Jeanne Golan took as “templates” two song cycles from the cusp of the 19th to 20th centuries, Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis and Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder, and then asked 10 contemporary composers to write songs that responded to each number in the original cycles. The results are stimulating, often engaging… Every composer obviously took up the challenge with seriousness and good humor. And many of the songs are musically attractive and/or memorable. I found David Del Tredici’s breathless nursery-rhyme setting of a meditation on infinity to be sweet, poignant, and deliberately over-the-top, as is usually the case in his work. Joe Kerr has by far the most “extreme” stylistic work, which is a very convincing evocation of a Gershwin brothers’ song, with lyrics that seem to have been written by a contemporary Brooklyn hipster. Jorge Martin goes overboard in another direction, with extravagant Latinisms. Lee Hyla sets Neruda within a spacious realm of flickering atonal gestures that are calming rather than expressionistic. The new “cycles” are distinctly postmodern in that they swing wildly from one voice/style/language to another, dependent on the profile of each composer. This may not create great coherence, but it also allows for surprise and creative friction. Beyond the composers’ response to the text, I don’t feel as strong an attempt to reinterpret Debussy’s or Berg’s actual music in the new pieces. Eleanor Sandresky’s Rimbaud setting evokes aspects of impressionist practice most evidently, but for my money, the real bull’s eye is Sebastian Currier’s setting of T. S. Eliot’s “The Nymphs Have Departed” in response to Debussy-Louÿs’s “Le tombeau des Naïades.” This piece not only suggests the death of mythologies in a modern age (referring to the same mythological being as the original), but the music is plaintive, chant-like, somber, almost archaic, in a way that seems a direct descendant of Debussy without quoting him.

While not as obviously connected, it does strike me that most of these pieces do reflect a certain connection to the previous fin de siecle, in that their language seems to mix aspects of tonal Romanticism with modernist chromatic expressionism. Cipullo, Moe, Del Tredici, and Martin tend more towards the former; Rothman, Weesner, and Hyla tend towards the latter. The lines aren't hard and fast, though; there's always blending between the elements, and some feel a little further afield in different ways (Sandresky, Kerr, and Currier, as noted above)...

The performances are exquisite. I'd first heard Nessinger in a Lee Hyla disc a few issues back, and was stunned by her theatrical instincts and risk taking. In this recital, her diction is flawless, and she can shift vocal color and delivery (including degree of vibrato) subtly or dramatically to fit the interpretive needs of each piece... Jeanne Golan is a superb partner in the project, and writes highly literate program notes to boot.

...this is a substantial and adventurous undertaking, beautifully realized, and always thought provoking.

Concert: Innocence Lost: The Berg-Debussy Project

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 07, 2007

Music Review: Nessinger-Golan concert has an edge

It seems that theme concerts have moved beyond the all-the-rage stage and have become a staple in classical concert series schedules, which may include everything from Renaissance Halloween tunes to songs of servitude to lush German Romanticism.

Mezzo-soprano Mary Nessinger and pianist Jeanne Golan have found their own niche. Their passion for the song cycle and commitment to fostering new compositions have motivated them to commission works from contemporary American composers. Monday night, the two presented their latest collaboration, "Innocence Lost: The Berg-Debussy Project," in an exquisite but woefully under-attended concert (of course, the Steelers were playing) at Bellefield Hall Auditorium in Oakland, under the auspices of the University of Pittsburgh's Music On the Edge concert series.

The concept of the project was to create new works inspired by Alban Berg's "Seven Early Songs" and Claude Debussy's "Chansons de Bilitis," two enrapturing song cycles set to texts by several neo-romantic poets of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nessinger and Nolan commissioned 10 composers for the project: Tom Cipullo, Sebastian Currier, David Del Tredici, Lee Hyla, Joe Kerr, Jorge Martin, Eric Moe, Eleanor Sandresky, Anna Weesner and Daniel Rothman.

The result was a concert that covered the gamut of what medievalists called romantic love: the settings of texts from 16 poets ranging from initial innocent flirtation through comfortable afterglow to delusional denial and secure recovery.

Rest assured that the concert was not a dry dissertation. Nessinger and Golan are established international artists individually and were a musical tour de force when combining their talents. Nessinger infused every song with throaty passion, not to mention exceptional French, German and English diction. Golan was more than an equal partner, her virtuosic expressiveness making each of the 20 tunes a miniature tone poem.

Concert: Ornstein Concerto

The Boston Herald, June 25, 2002

Key Piano Performances Kick Off Super NEC Series

The Summer Institute for Contemporary Piano Performance (SICPP) at New England Conservatory is an annual weeklong event that offers an intensive course of study in, well, contemporary piano performance.

Directed by NEC faculty member Stephen Drury, SICPP also offers concerts, all free, that are among the most important of their kind to be heard in Boston all year.

Last night's opening concert in this year's series, featured superior performances of a dazzling pair of works from the early part of the last century: Charles Ives' First Piano Sonata, composed in various bits and pieces between 1909 and 1927, and Leo Ornstein's Sonata for Two Pianos, adapted by the composer from his 1923 Piano Concerto.

To some, this might stretch the definition of contemporary. Ives, after all, died in 1954. And while Ornstein died only this February, aged about 109 (his birth date is uncertain), the virtuoso pianist-conductor-composer mostly disappeared from public view after the 1950s. Pianist Jeanne Golan, who performed the Ornstein Sonata with Christopher Oldfather, came across the manuscript score a few years ago and has made promoting the work something of a personal cause.

It's certainly a worthy one. On the surface, Ornstein's music recalls that of Prokofiev, what with its long passages of percussive rhythm alternating with haunting exoticism. It has enough jagged edges and dissonant chords to qualify as modern, but enough sheer beauty to qualify as timeless.

The two performers complemented each other perfectly. Oldfather excelled in the sonata's more neurotic moments, and I thought smoke might actually start coming out of his ears during the almost unbearably aggressive finale. Golan played with similar energy but seemed more intent on bringing out the music's lyricism. Together, they gave us everything the music had to offer, at least in this arrangement. Their performance certainly made me yearn to hear the original for piano and orchestra.

Recording: Steps: Piano Music of Claude Debussy and Jorge Martín

Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, August 15, 2004 (****)

Jeux is Debussy's late, towering statement of anticliché. Even today, there's little in the repertoire that resembles these 20 minutes. More harmonically complex than most of his other output, and containing larger stretches of music without obvious melody, Jeux is one of those pieces you can listen to over and over and find something previously obscured.

Its structure is less obscured in this, Debussy's own piano version, than in the more popular orchestral version. What we lose in color and pure sonic magnificence from the orchestra we gain in clarity from the piano: The chord progressions are startling, its close chromatic melodies alluring. It has a feeling of solitude in places that the orchestral version doesn't find.

A story? It's up to you. Premiered in 1913 and danced by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, Jeux, Debussy wrote, had something to do with a tennis court, a lost ball, a chance meeting between two girls and a young man. The music suggests something considerably less innocent- sounding - a kind of nocturnal menace, perhaps. New Yorker Golan brings assured technique and some marvelous interpretive insights to the difficult reduction for piano.

Golan also includes first recordings of two works by Jorge Martín. Wand'ring Steps and Slow is full of exotic, chantlike figures that are as lovely and soulful as Khachaturian. Piano Fantasy on Sredni Vashtar is, predictably, less contemplative, given its subject matter: a story, by Saki, about a boy who keeps a pet ferret that ends up killing the boy's guardian. It's wonderfully epic music, dancing on the edge of dissonance in alternating playful and sardonic moods. It cries out for orchestration.

Concert: Night Flights

The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 12, 1999

Bringing a good bit of flair to music dedicated to the night

Pianist Jeanne Golan has sought a niche in a crowded world by designing programs about time or, in her recital Sunday at the Ethical Society, about evening music. The New York-based pianist used the recital as a forum for the premiere of Daron Hagen's Qualities of Light, and surrounded that piece with nocturnes by John Field and Samuel Barber, and night-shaded music by Granados.

It was her local debut, and she played this varied and demanding program with aplomb and no little technical flair while keeping the focus on the music itself. If some test of mettle were needed, she ended her program with the Barber Sonata, the final movement of which tests and certifies a player's speed and perception.

The Hagen piece, in three sections, is far from a sentimental musing on stereotypical night sounds. It expands on a line made of widely spaced intervals, probes internalized images through a long, unhurried bass melody and finds some idea of night terrors through big clangorous playing at the ends of the keyboard. A big chordal section late in the work reminds listeners of Mozart in that the dynamic levels, chord by chord, are sharply contrasted. The progress of the three sections -- "Dusk, Built Up Dark, and Gloaming" -- supply an atmospheric form for a work that speaks clearly and often songfully about night.

Golan prefaced the piece with three Nocturnes by John Field and one by Barber. Field's vision, in pieces that draw their drama and emotion through harmonic shifts, helped to point out the pianist's lyrical gift and ability to clarify the core of music often surrounded by ornament and flourish. She played pieces in E-flat and E minor, and a cheerful A-major Nocturne with a pert ending. Barber's Nocturne unfolded in her playing as Chopin magnified enormously, seething with emotive layers. She played Granados' Maiden and the Nightingale with her trademark lyricism and admirable sense of pace. The imagery seemed vivid in her playing, even to the ending in which the bird sings so prettily.

Barber's Sonata closed the night journey. In that, she moved through the work's many voices, creating a performance to match its hyperambitions. It all went clearly, ending with that flying fugue, in which her playing was solid, musical and infused with a sense of derring-do.

Recording: Schumann: The Poet Speaks

Fanfare, July/August 2003

Golan has entitled this CD The Poet Speaks... the disc is an often-extravagant celebration of Schumann's mercurial daring. To be sure, Golan has an exceptional sense of line (see Walter Simmons's praise of her Barber Nocturne, 22:6), and there are passages of serene radiance: the sweet nostalgia of the 17th movement of Davidsbündlertänze, for instance, or the intimacy of the seventh of the Papillons. But to my ears, what's most striking about this collection is not Golan's composure, but her ability to defamiliarize the music by bringing Schumann's disruptions to the fore: her sharp dynamic contrasts (listen to her abrupt pianos in the third movement of Davidsbündlertänze), her sudden shifts of tone and articulation, her willingness to engage in unabashed rubato, and her delight in the music's rowdy rhythmic quirks (note the way she sharpens the three-against-two conflicts in the tenth movement of Davidsbündlertänze).

I don't want to suggest that she's unsubtle: The nervous undercurrents of Liszt's transcription of Frühlingsnacht are superbly balanced so that they carry along the music's erotic striving, rather than drown it out... her performances are well worth hearing.

Excellent sound. Provocative notes by the pianist explore the issues of memory in Schumann's music.

Recording: Schumann: The Poet Speaks

American Record Guide, July/August 2003

This is called "The Poet Speaks" and that's what we get. The young American pianist Jeanne Golan, who is better known for her performances of contemporary music, here enters the heart of the romantic repertory... the results are very beautiful, her command of color make them a pleasure to hear. I enjoyed listening to Golan and I think you will too.

Concert: An Evening of Leo Ornstein

Aufbau Magazine, April 4, 2002

[Leo] Ornstein's piano music was given a full evening at New York's Greenwich House March 21, performed by the unbeatable combination of Jeanne Golan and Christopher Oldfather. Golan soloed in some of Ornstein's earliest and latest compositions, bringing great expressiveness to the mechanically demanding figurations. Oldfather's solos, in music of uncertain dates [in between], were executed with low-keyed almost off-hand wit.

Together they then essayed the Piano Concerto, in a two-piano arrangement by the composer, and wallopingly brought down the house. Why this brilliant work has been so rarely performed since the composer himself premiered it with Leopold Stokowski and The Philadelphia Orchestra must rank as a mystery of the century.

Recording: American Tonal

American Record Guide, Nov/Dec 1999

Subtitled "American Tonal", this attractive program offers one old and one new composer of romantic American piano music, vividly recorded and sensitively played by Jeanne Golan. The disc opens with a lyrical, reflective reading of Barber's Sonata, not as tempestuous as Horowitz or Cliburn, who deliver a hair-raising frisson at the end of the fugue that this pianist does not attempt. For an atmospheric, thoroughly musical, non-bangy version, this one is hard to beat. Barber's exquisite Nocturne and moody Ballade also come off nicely, with warm tone and phrasing.

Qualities of Light is a dazzling piece of impressionism by pianist-composer Daron Hagen that should prove a welcome addition to the repertory. It will please audiences with its colorful accessibility and pianists for its virtuosic writing. The harmonic range is wide, from the dark dissonance of II to the unabashedly tonal romanticism of the big tune in the middle of the finale. The opening, 'Dusk', is spare and lonely, in a style that seems highly personal; the other two movements recall Messiaen in their modal harmony, wide-spacing voicing, percussive pass, and brilliant showers of notes raining down from the treble. In her intelligent liner notes, Golan sees the long, benevolent shadow of Ravel in Hagen's harmonies and voicing. The piece certainly sounds French, in a thoroughly seductive way.

Recording: American Tonal

Fanfare, July/ August 1999

About Barber: "A very intelligent young pianist, [Jeanne Golan] is aware of what an unconventional interpretation she is presenting. Her illuminating in many ways, revealing an extraordinary richness of textural detail.

As might be expected, Golan's reading of the 1959 Nocturne is exquisitely delicate and poetic. Indeed, I have never heard the piece in a lovelier rendition. Golan is also successful with the problematic late work, Ballade, imparting a wide range of subtle nuances into this Scriabin-like mood piece, which so few pianists seem able to bring to life. Golan's artistry is abetted by the extraordinarily fine sound quality captured at the New England Conservatory, where the recording was made."

Recording: American Tonal

Tower Records, February 1, 1999

American Tonal is an enterprising CD pairing two large-scale American works of great distinction, both of which are played with stunning virtuosity by Jeanne Golan. Alternately explosive and ruminative, Barber's Sonata is full of intricate harmonies and nonstop vitality. The first movement utilizes some jazz rhythms and the sprightly second movement contains a brief passage that recalls a Chopin waltz. The Adagio mesto is possessed of a moody ambiguity while the final movement has a jaunty American feel to it. The Nocturne, "Homage to John Field," is a compositionally cunning work: while it contains hints of a twelve-tone procedure, it never strays from its gorgeous, cantabile melody. The Ballade is more sparse and marked by a moody restlessness that Golan captures beautifully.

Daron Hagen's Qualities of Light, written in 1998, is a magnificent work destined to become a concert staple. The first of its three movements, "Dusk," is filled with a tranquillity that effectively captures the end of the day; "Built Up Dark" is alternately moody and clangorous while the tuneful "Gloaming" shimmers and glistens with the return of light.

Recording: Time Tracks

Fanfare, May/June 1998

This imaginative collection juxtaposes two pairs of works with different "approaches to time": the Beethoven and Curran, according to Golan, attempt to come to terms with mortality by "transcending time"; the Granados and Nancarrow, in contrast, "establish a strong rhythmic underpinning that is rooted in real time and conjures up images of specific times and places."

Golan's Beethoven, with its imaginative rubato and its often striking articulation, provides its share of insights. She offers up an exquisitely luscious account of La Maja y el Ruisenor and she's quite attuned to the contemporary works. The sound is excellent. All in all, worth exploring.

Recording: Time Tracks

Stereo Review, July, 1998 (****)

[In] Jeanne Golan's Time Tracks, her program and performances add up to one of the nicest surprises of the season. In Beethoven's E Major Sonata, Op. 109, she allows the music to unfold in the most uncluttered, splendidly balanced way, making its points in human terms, including a hint of humor in the concluding variation movement, without rhetorical underscoring.

The refreshing Beethoven is followed by two fairly recent works: Cornelius Cardew's charming Piano Album (three descriptive miniatures) and Alvin Curran's extended memorial piece For Cornelius, the middle section of which, as Golan points out in her (program) note, contains certain parallels with the final movement of the Beethoven Sonata. There's still more: two Granados Goyescas and Conlon Nancarrow's intellectually playful Two Canons for Ursula. It adds up to an imaginatively balanced recital in which Golan identifies persuasively with all the material. The recording itself is outstanding in its well-focused realism.

Concert: New York Recital Debut

The Music Connoisseur, Spring, 1997

The Lyrical Piano- Vocal Composers at the Keyboard
Works of Copland, Cipullo, Hagen, Barber, Schumann.

To offer four American compositions on a debut recital bespeaks a commitment to the art that's as rare as it is welcome. The theme of vocal composers as writers for piano was admirably carried out by Ms. Golan throughout the evening, up to and including the encore. The music of the two composers of the older generation held up well indeed. These works balanced the newer music neatly.

Ms. Golan played beautifully throughout the evening, making light of the difficulties the music presented and showing the pieces to full advantage. As an encore she played Lizst's arrangement of Schumann's Widmung, elegantly combining song and piano music in one. A large and appreciative audience responded with enthusiasm.

Concert: American Symphony Chamber Orchestra, Mendelssohn Piano Concerto in G minor

Woodstock Times, October 3, 1996

Felix Mendelssohn's first piano concerto, Op. 25 was next on the program, with Jeanne Golan, soloist. Like Bach, Brahms and many other composers, Mendelssohn was a virtuoso keyboard player and improvisor. All five of his works for piano and orchestra demonstrate this with brilliant piano writing. Golan approaches the first of the three concertos -- with its moody first movement, tranquil slow movement and, as she says, a champagne-cork-popping last movement -- with nimble fingers and a clear idea of what she wishes to project.

With Leon Botstein conducting the orchestral accompaniment, Golan carefully phrased Mendelssohn's expansive melodic writing and with dynamic variation, turned in an expressive performance. She seemed to have a large fan club of young people in the audience, who stood and cheered at the end of the piece. That in itself was heartening.

Theme Park

A potpourri of programs and projects