BIBA : When and how did you become interested in piano?
EH : I started as a cello student when I was 3, but I switched to piano at 6. I was drawn to the piano because of how easily I could understand it visually; I felt like I could just sit down and figure out melodies on the keyboard all day! The piano was also a very familiar and comforting presence in my house. I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, where we spent lots of time entertaining ourselves indoors in the winter. I remember taking many naps under the piano, reading next to it, and of course playing and singing ALL the Mariah Carey hits with my sister. I also sang in choirs (local children's choruses, and later on, high school choir), which I consider a primary influence in developing my ear, confidence in sight-reading, and building a genuine love for making music with others.
BIBA : As a chamber musician, with what ensembles do you play and for how long have you been with them?
EH : I play primarily with three ensembles. Meraki is a clarinet and piano duo that I co-founded in 2016 with my former classmate, Anastasia Christofakis. Through our performances, we strive to awaken cultural compassion through chamber music. We program music that evokes the culture and history of people through their folk sound and musical language. Our name, Meraki, is a Greek expression for the love and essence of yourself that you put into your work. I've been the principal pianist with Symphony Number One since 2015. We are a Baltimore-based chamber orchestra, led by conductor, Jordan Randall Smith, that is dedicated to performing substantial works by emerging composers, alongside riveting masterworks, and a twist of pop. And finally, I joined Balance Campaign last spring; we are a contemporary classical ensemble, based in Washington DC, with a focus on performing and commissioning new works by underrepresented women, LGBTQ+, and minority composers.
BIBA : As an advocate for new music, what have been some of your favorite projects and pieces that you've performed?
EH : Ooh, that's a tough one because there are many, but here are some of my favorites ...
Heloha Okchamali by Jerod Tate - Meraki commissioned this piece in 2018 as recipients of the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program. This piece is so close to my heart, because Anastasia and I were dreaming for years of a major work that is infused with Native American folk song. We were so grateful to CMA for making this piece possible, and Jerod certainly delivered! We are currently programming and performing it as much as we can. Heloha Okchamali was inspired by Jerod's young son, Heloha; this connection brings a deep layer of personality to the music, and provides a frame of reference for how the traditional folk songs interact with and influence the modern music around it.
ANIMAL by Nathan Lincoln-deCusatis - This piece was commissioned in 2019 by Balance Campaign. Honestly, it's one of my absolute favorites; I've never performed anything quite like this before. The musical journey represents the development of an imaginary organism through many evolutionary stages until it becomes a "humanoid" and marches into its own demise. It is an intense and demanding work for our entire sextet, and it is so much fun to perform together! We premiered ANIMAL this past October in New York, featured it earlier this season on our program 'Destruction,' and will perform it again on other programs later this spring.
Lastly, a solo performance that has really stuck with me as a favorite was one that I gave at Catholic University (Washington, DC) in 2018. I performed two solo piano works (Spatials and Sonata No. 5) by the composer, George Walker, at a concert given in his honor. It was such an incredible experience to meet and work with him, and of course to perform his music! He had such a clear vision for what he wanted out of his music, and especially for the rhythmic impact it should have. I will always be incredibly grateful for that brief time but meaningful experience before his passing a few months later.
And here's just a final few other favorite new works that I've had such a pleasure performing (sans the backstory!): Wissahickon poeTrees by Jennifer Higdon, Approaching Eternity by Nicholas Bentz, Timelapse Variations by Natalie Draper, and Piano Concerto No. 2 by John Hilliard. There's so many more ... but, I'll stop at that!
BIBA : What are some of your upcoming projects?
EH : In just about a week, on Feb. 23, I will be performing Florence Price's Piano Concerto in One Movement with the Johns Hopkins Concert Orchestra (Baltimore, MD), under the direction of Jordan Randall Smith! I am so excited about this project; not only do I get the honor of presenting her concerto, but I get to work with Jordan again, who's such an innovative musician and good friend. Price's piano concerto is a gem to program because, while it's pretty compact as a concerto, it digs deeply into a diversity of musical styles and requires the pianist to extract a lot of personality out of the instrument.
I'll also be performing a new program with Balance Campaign for the Intersections Festival 2020 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center (Washington, DC). This program, 'Rebirth,' highlights new musical works that are grounded in the hope of new beginnings within the framework of an increasingly complicated and fragmented world. It features works by Judd Greenstein, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and Daniel Kellogg. This program is the second of our triptych of programs this season: Destruction | Rebirth | Metamorphosis.
Lastly, Meraki has multiple performances of our program 'Blue Thunder' coming up in March and April. I'm thrilled about these because this program will feature the premiere performances of Be Still My Child by Anthony R. Green! Anastasia and I organized a consortium to commission this new work; a collection of six pieces inspired by lullabies from around the world. It is truly a unique and touching addition to the clarinet and piano duo repertoire. Our 'Blue Thunder' program will also feature Heloha Okchamali by Jerod Tate, and works by Jamie Wind Whitmarsh, and Jennifer Higdon.
BIBA : I give you unlimited time and funds. What piece would you organize for a performance (or commission)?
EH : Oh, too many possibilities. What comes first to mind is that I would love to organize more performances of Florence Price's piano concerto ... internationally! I love the music community's growth of interest and dedication to her story and music, and it would be an honor to help take her compositional voice around the world. I would definitely jump at the opportunity and resources to spend some time traveling and performing her music with different orchestras!
Aside from that, there are so many ideas that I have spinning around in my head to commission! As a musician, I'm drawn to the power of storytelling through music. My mission revolves around using music to speak for those who have been silenced, and for those who are underrepresented. Any piece that I can commission or perform, and any future collaboration that helps me return to this theme would most definitely be the product of whatever unlimited time and funds that could ever come my way.
To learn more about Elizabeth Hill, please visit her website: http://elizabethghill.com/
And follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Soundcloud: @lizhillpiano