Video Pick of the Week: Andrew York Plays ‘The Equations of Beauty: h’
Here’s a terrific video by Andrew York, performing one of the title pieces on his excellent current album, The Equations of Beauty. Like so much of what he writes and performs, it is at once beautifully lyrical, but also complex and virtuosic. I really like this one a lot!
What follows is Classical Guitar magazine writer Mark Small’s lead album review of York’s album(s), from the Winter 2018 issue. —Blair Jackson
Andrew York’s The Equations of Beauty Deliver Esoteric Concepts and Characteristic Warmth
By Mark Small
Andrew York’s latest album, The Equations of Beauty, is filled with music possessing the warmth that has drawn fans to his writing and playing for decades. He released it on vinyl and as a pair of CDs, each with its own title: The Equations of Beauty and Home.
The six-movement title work reveals the inspiration York draws from another of his passions: mathematics. The entire suite (26 minutes in length) is played with a capo on the fifth fret, in an alternative tuning that affords York a palette of sonorities including different open strings and peppery seconds. The suite’s individual titles are single characters that York explains briefly in the liner notes. The first movement, “h” is from Max Planck’s constant, which York states, “represents the smallest distance imaginable, where space and time both break down.” The longest movement (almost six minutes in length), it’s in E minor (actual pitch) and begins with an impressive flurry of descending notes played twice and then answered with an ascending scalar figure. The piece progresses with a middle section that is sometimes pensive and elsewhere intense with salty dissonances at various points of arrival. The opening figure returns briefly before the piece ends on a peaceful E major chord.
York reveals that “e,” the introspective second movement, “is the base number of the natural logarithm 2.71828, a transcendental number found in growth of all kinds.” In “π” (pi), York opens with a sunny montuno figure the flows into lyrical episodes all underpinned by the montuno’s rhythm. A brief contrapuntal figure later leads to a recap of the opening. The fourth movement, “i”, is inspired by “an imaginary number that is the square root of negative one.” The music consists of a hypnotic ostinato in 7 (grouped 4 + 3) with a two-note bassline that appears alternately on the fourth string and then the sixth with a variety chords, arpeggios, and single notes sounding above.
In “∞,” York’s musical statement on infinity, he uses a sometimes-moody tremolo that flows into subsequent melodic material with leaps of an augmented second that give the movement an oriental feel at times. For “c,” representing the speed of light, York chooses a Spanish-sounding sonority that alternates between G Phrygian and G major tonalities.
Two lyrical pieces, “Home” and “Shine,” open the second side of the vinyl and second CD. “Home” has resonated with York’s audience worldwide since the appearance of videos of the composer playing the heartfelt piece in 2016. The one of York playing it at GSI on an 1888 Antonio de Torres guitar has garnered more than a million views. Many other guitarists have since posted their versions on YouTube. The work’s wistful melody and apt title embody the elements that continue to attract many to York’s work. The piece had its genesis as an improvisation that York’s wife captured on her iPhone that he later transcribed. “Shine” is based on a brief melody that York breaks into small bits and then explores in detail against varied textures and harmonies.
Another suite, Six Easy Pieces, completes the record with short and distinctive items York wrote between 1988 and 2017. Some bear descriptive titles such as “New Shoes,” “Veil of Grey,” “Fading Colors,” and “Penny Pincher.” This music will be perfect for student guitarists wanting to play York’s music, but not ready for his more complex works.
The album was made with the support of a highly successful Kickstarter campaign and generous patrons, enabling York to present exactly the music he wants to the world.