Barnes to perform in New York City on April 19

Paul Barnes
Paul Barnes

Glenn Korff School of Music Marguerite Scribante Professor of Piano Paul Barnes will perform April 19 in New York City as part of the Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival.

His performance at 6:30 p.m. CT live in the Symphony Space in the Thalia Theater will be available free by webcast on YouTube at

“I’m tremendously excited about this trip to New York. This is the first time I will get on a plane since November of 2019. I’ve almost forgotten how to do it,” Barnes said.

He’ll be arriving early and quarantining at the condo of composer Victoria Bond.

“She’s got this gorgeous Steinway, and she always takes off on the weekends to the East Hamptons,” Barnes said. “ I will be quarantined in this really hip place in the West Village, and at least I’ll be able to practice. Then I have to take a covid test, test negative, and then all will be good. What I’m really hoping is to be vaccinated by the time I fly out, and I’ve been working on that as well. I never imagined that these would be the things I would be thinking about, but nonetheless, it will be a wonderful performance.”

Barnes will be performing a number of premieres during the concert. He opens the performance with the New York premiere of Ron Warren’s “Distances Between 2.”

“I love that piece so much,” Barnes said. “It’s interesting because the melodic material is patterned after what is idiomatic on the Native American flute. And Ron wrote the piece because he was inspired by my own chanting.”

Because Warren is not able to attend to perform with him, Barnes will also show a video of their performance of the second movement of composer Philip Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (After Lewis & Clark).

Barnes’s program also includes the New York premiere of his solo transcription of Glass’s Piano Quintet “Annunciation.” Barnes originally premiered this piece with the Chiara String Quartet at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in April 2018. Glass is scheduled to be in attendance for this New York performance.

“Every single time I play through it, there’s always some new detail that emerges that I think is fascinating to me,” Barnes said. “I was scheduled to play it with so many string quartets [this past year], but that all, of course, got canceled. But playing it solo, I don’t have to worry about ensemble issues. I’m always perfectly together with myself. In terms of timing, the piece has become incredibly free as a result of living with it for three years. And so it’s a joy.”

That joy is what he loves about the piece.

“Every time someone hears it for the first time, it just brings joy, and that’s what I want to be able to do as a pianist,” Barnes said.

One of his biggest challenges in writing the solo transcription of the piece was to solve the ending of the piece.

“The ending has all these cascading scales where each of the string players enters at different times,” Barnes said. “I had to figure out a way to simulate that as best as I could. I decided to do everything in octaves. It’s very athletic at the end, but it actually works out well.”

Also on the program is the New York premiere of Glenn Korff School of Music Lecturer David von Kampen’s “Trisagion.” This piece was originally commissioned by the Nebraska Music Teachers Association and the Music Teachers National Association as part of their Commissioned Composer program.

“Paul has performed the piece several times now, and I’m really excited that it will have an East Coast premiere, especially at a concert with so many other fantastic living composers,” von Kampen said. “The piece develops two different Orthodox chant melodies through a combination of counterpoint and jazz harmonic vocabulary. I love how the piece turned out, and Paul plays it wonderfully.”

Barnes has been chanting in Orthodox churches for 25 years and playing the piano for 50 years. Barnes writes in the program notes that combining those sacred activities has been his professional priority since Bond wrote her pianistic meditation on the Greek Orthodox communion hymn “Potirion Sotiriu” (The Cup of Salvation) in 1999. Since that time, several composers, including Glass and Ivan Moody, have written piano works for him based on byzantine chant.

“When I asked my composer friend and Glenn Korff School of Music colleague David von Kampen to write a piano piece for me based on byzantine chant, I had selected the beautiful baptismal hymn ‘Osi Is Hriston’ from Galatians 3:27,” Barnes said. “But life is full of unexpected events. While David was writing the piece, I chanted the funeral of our priest’s wife, Veda Anne, and was deeply moved by the beauty of processional chant that is sung as the body is brought to the front of the church at the beginning of the funeral service. This hymn is also sung on Holy Friday when Orthodox Christians remember Christ’s Passion and experience the truth of a God who died for all. This hymn had such a powerful effect on me that I asked David to incorporate it into his new work. Thus, ‘Trisagion’ (or ‘Thrice Holy’) was born.”

Barnes said the ending of the piece is simply “glorious.”

“David, of course, is profoundly inspired by jazz language, but also counterpoint,” Barnes said. “So it’s got everything—the contrapuntal energy of Bach is there, and then these gorgeous jazz progressions. It’s just a joy to play. It's beautifully written for the piano.”

Barnes will end his New York concert with three works by Bond, including “Poitirion Sotiriu” and “Simeron Kremate,” as well as the world premiere of “Enite ton Kyrion,” which Barnes commissioned with support from the Hixson-Lied Endowment.

“My very first major project as a UNL faculty member was the recording that I did of American Piano Concertos, and that’s where I met Victoria. I recorded her jazz concerto, ‘Black Light.’ That recording was done in, I think, 1997. During the recording, she knew I was a chanter, and she asked me to sing something. I sang Poitirion Sotiriu (The Cup of Salvation), and that began this 25-year process where every so often, she’ll write a piece for me based on a Greek Orthodox hymn.”

Bond reworked “Poitirion Sotiriu” as a piano concerto titled “Ancient Keys,” which Barnes recorded on his second volume of American Piano Concertos.

“And then just two years ago, the Hixson-Lied College and the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation in Chicago commissioned ‘Simeron Kremate,’ which is the second piece based on Greek Orthodox chant. I’ve been playing that on my Bright Sadness recital everywhere,” Barnes said. “But then she had always wanted to do a third piece, and this new piece, ‘Enite ton Kyrion,’ (Praise the Lord), which comes from Psalm 148. She’s going to publish all three pieces as one major work.”

“Enite ton Kyrion” is chanted every Sunday as a communion hymn. Barnes said it is in the plagal of the fourth mode.

“What’s wonderful about this mode is that it’s just absolute serene beauty, and it’s basically a contemplation of divine love,” Barnes said. “And that’s exactly what I wanted this last final piece to be. Because ‘Poitirion’ is in the minor key, and then ‘Simeron’ is intense and painful and is about the crucifixion. And then ‘Enite’, the third piece, is simply about divine peace and love.”

He will be recording these three Bond pieces in May in Kimball Hall with Glenn Korff School of Music Assistant Professor of Composition, Emerging Media and Digital Arts Tom Larson as recording engineer.

“That will be part of an all-Victoria Bond recording that will be produced by Albany Records and coming out next year,” Barnes said.

Barnes is looking forward to this concert in New York, even while it’s uncertain whether there will be a live audience there or not due to the ongoing pandemic.

“This performance will be very different, just because there won’t be that many people there, and it will be all me,” Barnes said. “But it’s a beautiful piano, and it’s been a special hall. I’ve played there for decades now, and just being in that environment is very inspiring for me.”

The concert will be livestreamed so anyone in the world will be able to watch. But Barnes is looking forward to having live audiences again.

“I know it probably seems a little bit vain, but hearing applause is really important in a performance,” he said. “That’s feedback. That’s such an important part of what we do as performers. Even in a limited way, I’m hoping for that.”

Barnes was also recently named the artistic director for the Lied Center for Performing Arts Piano Academy.

“I have been passionately dedicated to inspiring young pianists in reaching their full human and musical potential, and the Lied Center Piano Academy fulfills that aspiration perfectly,” he said. “Using the world renowned faculty of the Glenn Korff School of Music, I want to inspire young pianists to think in very new ways about music that will make them a force for good in the world. Academy fellows will engage the rich tradition of piano music, but also explore improvisation and the exciting world of contemporary piano music. I’m thrilled to put my creative, artistic, and pedagogical energy into the Lied Center Piano Academy and look forward to welcoming many young pianists to our campus this July.”