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Pande Shahov was born in Macedonia in 1973. He is currently working on his PhD at the Royal Holloway University of London and lives in Hampshire, England. Of his suite for piano, Songs and Whispers, which receives its California premiere tonight, Shahov writes:

“Simon Trp?eski approached me with an idea for a piece linked to the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth. I suggested transcribing a few Macedonian folk songs. Chopin ‘dressed’ his Polish dances in the elegant and poetic language of 19th-century Romantic music. I wanted to contrast the original melodies with jazz-influenced harmony. I grew up with the sound of pianists such as Keith Jarrett and Egberto Gismonti and I like how the simplicity of their melodic vocabulary is ‘colored’ by harmonic progressions. My knowledge of jazz was further extended by working with Iliya Peyovski, a noted composer, arranger, and Jazz pianist.

“To link the suite to Chopin’s music more closely, I decided to take two quotes from the beginning bars of his pieces and compose two short interludes based on this material. After the first couple of bars, these interludes take these quotes in directions different to those of Chopin. Therefore, the songs are the melodies I have grown up with and the whispers are those of Chopin…

“Simon suggested I write a (relatively) tonal piece, with the songs being entirely recognizable to those who knew them, while introducing them without too much modification to those who did not know them. It is also my way of paying homage not only to Chopin but also to Debussy, Ravel, and Satie, composers I still admire and love.”

The first movement, “Oro,” a traditional circle dance popular at weddings and celebrations, is based on an old Macedonian song, retaining hints of its melancholy. The Scherzo which follows is based on the opening of Chopin’s Scherzo in E major. Shahov writes, “I thought that these initial chords could take the piece to an impressionist journey, especially because of the relatively low register used at the very beginning. There is some influence of Debussy and Ravel.”

“Elegy” is a transcription of the folk song, a lament, sung by a man about a beloved girl who, when the time came for the couple to marry, fell ill and died. “Vo Struga…” is a transcription of a well-known song which paints a picture of a vibrant market town in the South-West of Macedonia.

“Mazurka” starts with the first four bars of Chopin’s Mazurka in A Minor (Op.17). Shahov writes: “I wanted to explore the possibilities hidden in these chords and thought they had a Satie-type charm. Deliberately, I tried not to over-develop this movement and to stay focused on the chord motive, only rarely downgrading them to being an accompanying pattern and adding a new melody, different to that of Chopin’s Mazurka.”

“Quasi Toccata” is a transcription of the song Serbez Donka, about a girl named Donka. “I wanted to create a finale-type movement. The first three notes of the song are repeated note D. I realized I could emphasize the repeated notes and build a toccata. However, in order for the song to be heard and recognized, the repeated notes would have to move to the background and let the melody take over. This is why I called this movement Quasi toccata. The middle section explores textures not unlike the music of another two composers-pianists whom I like: Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. Simon Trp?eski wrote a brilliant, energetic cadenza, in which he incorporated some motifs from the song.”