BCMG NEXT Pianist Robert Hao shares his experience working with George Lewis, his jazz-inspired compositions, and the first concert for our 22-23 cohort!

I performed George Lewis’s Endless Shout at the BCMG NEXT concert on the 19th of November, and it’s definitely a piece not like any other I have played. The piece was composed with inspiration from some of the great jazz musicians of the previous century, in the transformed gestures of boogie-woogie and stride pianists. The way in which George Lewis mixes musical landscapes creates a piece that sounds both foreign and familiar. Although great, this also presents certain difficulties for us pianists! The real challenge of this piece for a classically-trained, note-reading pianist such as myself, is finding the freedom and jazz-infused energy beyond the page. It was a combination of listening to all the (jazz)
musicians listed in the preface of the score and then trying to associate any rhythms that are written with something I might have heard in these recordings.

There are also certain playing techniques or ‘gestures’ from the jazz world which present some technical difficulties in learning this piece: I’m not often asked to play stride-bass accompaniments or extended tremolos for almost 3 minutes! When I watch great jazz pianists I see a very particular kind of relaxation in their hands when they are at the keyboard, and trying to incorporate this into
my own playing made performing this (difficult) piece a bit easier. The day before the concert, I also worked with George on this piece.

Despite being composed almost 30 years ago, and performances and recordings already made, he was still willing to try new (albeit subtle) ways of playing his music. He suggested a few things to me, but the two that made a big difference in the performance were to make more of the dramatic pauses in the music, and to feel the more relaxed groove that lay underneath all the complicated rhythms!

In the performance, the rhythms in Endless Shout really came alive once I decided to control the music less and trust the feeling of all the jazz rhythms that I had worked on. The Oscar Peterson-inspired last movement of the piece also got a few laughs in the performance! I’m looking forward to working on the entire piece more (with a new copy of the score from
George himself too) and hopefully perform it again in the near future. I now have two ‘editions’ of Endless Shout - one with highly syncopated rhythms notated as one might expect, and another where it's notated to correspond with how rhythms are phrased.

NEXT also performed another piece of George Lewis’s, and a little note to the composers out there: a regular mug, face-down, scraped across the piano strings makes quite the unique sound - something like a smooth glissando with harmonics. I think that was my favourite discovery when working on George Lewis’s Hexis!


Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire join forces yearly to offer a unique training programme for music students and professional musicians looking for a career as performers of contemporary music. As part of this, our talented early career musicians perform throughout the year along with our BCMG Musicians, come and support the next generation of musicians. Read more about BCMG NEXT.