The pianist Christopher O’Riley’s fascination with the contrapuntal textures of Radiohead songs inspired him to arrange many for keyboard. Art Tatum and Earl Wild were among the pianists to transcribe the works of George Gershwin.
The pianist Anthony de Mare’s love of the songs of Stephen Sondheim has led him on a similar path, an adventurous project to commission classical, opera, jazz, pop, musical theater and film composers to write new works based on Sondheim tunes.
He presented the first installment of “Liaisons: Reimagining Sondheim From the Piano,” which featured pieces by 17 composers, last year at Symphony Space. The second installment was held there on Saturday night with Mr. de Mare performing selections by 18 composers, all receiving their New York, American or world premieres.
Last year’s works were “based on character,” Mr. de Mare said from the stage, and this year’s selections are based on dialogues, he said, adding, “Each of the composers is having a conversation with Mr. Sondheim — with his material but also his influence, his musical wit and his craft.”
The recent loss of a close friend of 50 years brought new resonance to Frederic Rzewski’s mellow, alluring and harmonically ambiguous take on “I’m Still Here” From “Follies.”
Jason Robert Brown imagined a room full of trilling birds for his rambunctious, multitracked “Birds of Victorian England” (after “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” from “Sweeney Todd”).
Nico Muhly offered a colorful, rhythmically driven and pointillistic homage to “Sunday in the Park With George.” Mary Ellen Childs experimented with metrical tweaks in “Now-Later-Soon”; Steve Reich also added changing meters to his two-piano adaptation of “Finishing the Hat” from “Sunday in the Park With George,” his signature style immediately evident in the pulsing rhythmic character. John Musto worked an intriguing fugal element into “Epiphany” from “Sweeney Todd,” and Mason Bates used racing filigree to illuminate his take on “Putting it Together” from “Sunday in the Park With George.”
Mr. de Mare performed with vivid commitment throughout, fully plumbing the nuances of each work. In Eric Rockwell’s “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” from “Company,” Daniel J. Sherman, Mr. de Mare’s page turner (otherwise well behaved throughout the program), hammed it up as the page turner from hell, messing up the score and distracting the soloist.
In “Perpetual Happiness” Eve Beglarian reworked the opening duet from “Passion” by using a rapid-fire moto perpetuo to represent Tony, one of the lovers.
The performances were interspersed with short films featuring interviews with the composers, who recounted their first experiences hearing Mr. Sondheim’s music and their approaches to the composing project. Some found it a tremendous challenge, and others a straightforward process.
In an onstage interview with Mark Eden Horowitz, author of the book “Sondheim on Music,” Mr. Sondheim discussed listening to his own music and others’ after taking LSD, his excitement about the composer-pianist Nikolai Kapustin, his love of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and the nuances of programmatic music.
The program also included pieces by Rodney Sharman, Thomas Newman, Bernadette Speach, Michael Daugherty, Nils Vigeland, Peter Golub, Annie Gosfield, and Jake Heggie, whose “I’m excited. No, You’re Not” ended the program on a lively note.
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