LOS ANGELES, Oct. 9, 2020 — Composer and pianist Joseph Seif has released his third piano sonata, titled Piano Sonata №3 in B-Flat Minor. This has been a prolific year for Seif, who, despite the pandemic and the current social and political unrest, has managed to release a full-length LP on vinyl, an E.P. of flamenco-inspired piano compositions, and music for an iconic New Balance television commercial featuring Kahwi Leonard. “I’m no stranger to societal collapse” says the Lebanon-born Californian, “Now that it’s happening in my lifetime again, I aim to channel that dark energy into my music and turn it into something transcendental. I began working on this third sonata around the start of the pandemic. It was a long and arduous process, full of distractions and anxiety. I kept giving up on it and coming back to it, for months.

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While I have released a crazy amount of new music recently, this particular sonata has been the most challenging. To me, it carries the weight of this moment, and it’s a deeply sentimental meditation on humanity and our collective journey through this important yet exhausting inflection point in our history. This sonata is my proudest achievement in my musical journey so far.”

Seif’s compositions seem to walk a tightrope between Late Romantic intricacy and a more modern, cinematic aesthetic. An unabashed admirer of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, his compositions bring virtuosity and lyrical pianism that is both rare and unexpected when modern (and often minimalist) compositional trends are considered. There is a timelessness to his work, a misty bridge that connects the past to the present.

His third sonata is no exception. I. Allegro, the first movement, begins with a set of shimmering chromatic runs that are complemented by a somber and weighty low-end. There is a palpable tension that builds, with the sparkling high notes struggling to break free as they seem to be seized in thin air and pulled back to the abyss. II. Dal Cuore, the second movement, follows with a pensive 3/4 progression reminiscent of post-war cinema. It soon breaks its pattern to again soar into a heartfelt (hence the “Dal Cuore” in the title), lyrical statement, only to be pulled back down by a brooding and tango-esque counterpoint, and finally returns to the opening 3/4 pattern, with visions of flickering black and white movie screens of years past. 

III Allegro Agitato, the third movement, explodes with a Paganini-esque firestorm that is temporarily tamed with a final sentimental theme that once again creates a push-pull dynamic between the earthly and the sublime. Only this time, the firestorm reprises with ferocity and the melodies seem to escape the pull of the earth with an epic crescendo that leaves the listener hanging off the side of a cliff, that is, until they are pulled back with a reassuring and comforting return to the final theme. “My hope is that my music can speak to the listener’s deepest self, and awaken something magical in them — a childhood memory, thoughts of a lost love, the feeling of slipping into a lake. Though we often forget, our shared humanity is the one thing that will get us through turbulent periods in our history, and I believe music is the greatest and most beautiful reminder of what is lost, and what can be had again.”

Photo Credit: Philip Cheung

Garth Thomas