American Grace, Adams & Mackey Piano Music

Available on CD and digital download

Orli Shaham piano

Jon Kimura Parker piano

David Robertson conductor

Los Angeles Philharmonic

Pianist Orli Shaham has established an impressive international reputation as one of today’s most gifted soloists and is in demand for her prodigious skills and admired for her interpretations of both standard and modern repertoire.

It has long been a dream of Orli Shaham’s to make a statement with American piano music. For Shaham, the composers John Adams and Steven Mackey ‘are at the forefront of defining what it means to be an American pianist today.’

Steve Mackey received his first Grammy Award in 2011 and is fast becoming the leading composer of his generation as orchestras and ensembles worldwide continue to embrace and perform his music. John Adams has been at the forefront of contemporary composition for the best part of 40 years, his Pulitzer Prize in 2003 just one of countless highlights. The two composers are separated in age by just nine years, yet come from two entirely different generations. Mackey started out on electric guitar and was a child of pop culture, Adams learned clarinet from his father, and played in marching bands as a youngster.

The idea to commission Stumble to Grace originated with Orli Shaham and her husband the conductor David Robertson. According to Orli, “David had performed several of Steve’s works, and I had heard Beautiful Passing, his violin concerto, and it was just gorgeous. I thought, I’d love to play something by him.”

Stumble is inspired, Mackey says, by observing his toddler “learning to become human.” It opens as a child’s consciousness might: with sounds like an orchestra tuning, a little song on the celeste, with bits of percussion. When the piano enters, it is with plunkings that could be a child’s first grabs at the keys and these progress to fumbling efforts as one learns how to master the piano. By the end of the concerto the student has bloomed into a polished virtuoso, the concerto’s crowning moment being a wonderful yet frightfully demanding triple fugue. Stumble to Grace was co-commissioned by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Mackey’s Sneaky March was commissioned by Orli Shaham for her Baby Got Bach series for pre-schoolers and one can clearly hear musical snatches which found their way into Stumble to Grace. 

John Adams China Gates is for Orli Shaham the “opening gambit of contemporary American piano music.” Written in 1977, it is among Adams’s earliest works. His work for 2 pianos Hallelujah Junction (1996) is, according to Orli, “a work I can never get enough of” and remains one of Adams’ most popular compositions.

Joining Orli on this recording is her husband David Robertson, one of today’s most sought-after conductors, revered for his programming and dynamic stage presence. Pianist Jon Kimura Parker has performed in concert with Orli since 2009. A veteran of the concert stage he won the Gold Medal at the 1984 Leeds International piano competition and, like Orli, enjoys an active media career hosting a television series on Bravo! and a radio program on CBC.

The CD opens with Hallelujah Junction (1996), a two-piano piece by Adams performed by Shaham with Jon Kimura Parker. It is the most unassailably great work on the album, sharing the dynamism of Stumble to Grace with its vibrant rhythms and brilliantly interlocking chords. Parker and Shaham provide striking contrasts in articulation, moving from buoyant to smooth to jabbing. They also display impressive communication in navigating the complex and antagonistic network of rhythms. It ends in a vigorous display of obstinacy where both pianists attempt to go in different directions and refuse to acquiesce to the other’s wishes. After a harmonically crazed argument, they finally come to a grudging understanding for the last few chords. Stubbornness and exuberance are an essential combination in commissioning and performing new works, and Shaham nails it this CD.

Cleveland Classical

John Adams's Hallelujah Junction, for two pianos, peals invitingly in its intricate opening, and from there over three movements and 16 minutes the listener is beguiled by pleasing harmonies, rhythms and exchanges while wondering about substance and direction; clever and appealing, though, with Orli Shaham and Jon Kimura Parker revelling in the interplay.

classical ear

The music has exemplary qualities and the performances shine. Ms. Shaham has arrived with a bang-up flourish. This is music not to miss!

Capplegate Classical - Modern Music Review

...Played continuously without pause, the 26-minute Stumble begins with a celesta lullaby and ends in the throes of an exhilarating triple fugue which includes in its midst what Mackey describes as 'thevarious stages of progress and regress in the physical and spiritual evolution of the piano.' And yet, for all the size and complexity of Mackey's impressive musical engine, the lasting impress is of authentic affection and love.

Shaham has innocent fun with Mackey's Sneaky March, brings an etheral beauty to John Adams's China Gates, and, with Jon Kimura Parker, intrepidly investigates the intersections of angularity and romanticism in Adams's Hallelujah Junction...


‘…she [Orli] superbly performs a couple more familiar works, “Hallelujah Junction” and “China Gate,” that exemplify why John Adams is among the most popular of living composers for both musicians and audiences’. 

The Buffalo News

Adams works here [China Gates and the two-piano, four-hands Hallelujah Junction]  have been recorded more than once before, but Shaham's interpretations of both are welcome additions to the discography. She and fellow keyboardist Jon Kimura Parker bring the kind of force and precision these intricate, passionate pieces demand. 

The infancy of Mackey's son inspired this piece [Stumble to Grace], which gradually develops from the staggering first steps of the opening movement to a virtuosic fugue in the finale …