Back before mp3 players and iTunes' Genius™ playlist function, there were Walkmans and the mixed tape, a cassette recording of one's favourite songs made to play in the car with your friends on the way to a party (AC/DC or Queen, anyone?), or to commemorate a break-up (hello Echo and the Bunnymen). I can remember spending hours and hours building up my own collection, much of it compiled by borrowing other tapes from my friends, first listening to a song, then rewinding and, most thrillingly, pressing record and play together on the second cassette deck. It was a laborious process, but at the time it seemed so utterly meaningful, each chosen song marking in some profound way a moment in my angst-ridden teen years.
For kids today, however, the term "mixed tape" doesn't even signify. This according to Music on Main Artistic Director David Pay, who has brought in musicians Gabriel Kahane and Timo Andres in a co-presentation with the PuSh Festival called Mixtape (all one word), which debuted last night at Heritage Hall and continues there for one more performance this evening. The show applies the principles behind my teenaged basement recordings to the live concert hall, with two pianos, four hands, and one voice moving seamlessly between works by Thomas Adès, Robert Schumann, and Franz Schubert, among others. Kahane and Andres, who weren't even born when I started making my first mixed tapes, and who reminded me of a younger and hipper Penn and Teller (one is tall, the other short; one is verbose, the other mostly tight-lipped), are also accomplished composers with their own solo careers. Thus, the concert was also liberally sprinkled with excerpts from their own repertoires. These included three stunning piano solos by Andres, who has an amazingly intuitive feel for the keys, and several songs by Kahane, who in addition to being classically trained also writes pop music in the vein of an Elbow or a Bon Iver. There was even a connection to a past PuSh hit, as Kahane performed two witty works from a suite called Craigslistlieder.
This mixed portion of the concert was framed by a prologue and epilogue that mirrored each other, comprised as they both were of two György Kurtág piano transcriptions of J.S. Bach (with the boys seated together at a single piano) and a series of vernacular folk songs by Benjamin Britten and Charles Ives. Impeccably played and sung, these opening and closing movements are just one indication of how carefully Kahane and Andres have conceived their program--and how thoroughly enjoyable it was to listen to.