Spirio | r’s advanced technology brought to life Alistair Coleman’s futuristic vision for Klara and the Sun, an original composition based on the best-selling dystopian novel by Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro.The piece premiered in May at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
The young composer said Spirio | r was a “natural and exciting choice” to capture the relationship of Ishiguro’s two characters: Josie, a young girl leading a totalitarian existence, and Klara, her AI robotic friend.
Janice Carissa and Alistair Coleman made early history for Spirio | r and Steinway & Sons with a cutting-edge collaboration at the Curtis Institute of Music.
“It’s a beautiful story I wanted to tell through the medium of ‘composed theater,’’ a topic that Curtis composers are studying under the mentorship of Amy Beth Kirsten that infuses both musical and theatrical elements,” said Coleman, who holds a bachelor of music degree from Curtis and an artist diploma from The Juilliard School.
He wrote the piece expressly for Indonesian pianist Janice Carissa to represent the erudite Josie, with Klara personified through Spirio | r.
“This duet between pianist and instrument opened up seemingly infinite creative possibilities for me to imagine a musical conversation between the characters,” he said.“When Alistair pitched the idea of combining new technology with music, I knew there was something special brewing,” Carissa said, noting the collaboration began with an early autumn afternoon stroll by the Schuylkill River. “His idea of humanizing a machine – that it can have a voice, a soul, and the ability to move people – really appealed to me.”
The 2022 Gilmore Young Artist started playing piano at five and entered Curtis at 15, where she studied with legendary pedagogues Gary Graffman and Robert McDonald. Upon graduating from Curtis earlier this year, she joined the master’s program at Juilliard.
Coleman’s contemporary piece is not a complete musical score. It required Carissa to have a heightened understanding of timing and pacing to be in sync with Spirio, which played itself around – and sometimes in between – her part.
“Janice’s boundless artistry and musicianship, combined with Spirio’s capabilities, created a unique environment where two different kinds of musical virtuosity were in dialogue,” Coleman said.
Spirio | r allowed him to experiment with new ways of recording and using the iPad app to manually program exact pitches, rhythms, and other expressive ideas. “The resulting music had the Spirio channel-surf between humanlike expression and more synthetic machine-like sounds,” he said.
This duet between pianist and instrument opened up seemingly infinite creative possibilities for me to imagine a musical conversation between the characters.
The multi-sensory production incorporated elements of drama, choreography, and suspenseful lighting. As the Spirio-infused Klara became more human, a bright red hue engulfed the concert hall.
“Alistair’s genius made her human,” Carissa said. “Working closely with him has been unlike any other experience. From day one, he went above and beyond to make sure my voice was heard,” she said. “It was an honor to take part in this project and tell the story of Klara and her dear friend.”
Offering a new platform for composers, the Spirio | r – acquired by Curtis through Jacobs Music in Philadelphia – allowed Coleman and Carissa ample flexibility and time to get to know the instrument and its creative possibilities.
“The opportunities to record, manually input notes and hear the resonance of an instrument in a given space provides us with entirely new tools to think beyond the score. Not only can composers write for the Spirio itself, but it can teach us a great deal about the piano’s expressive capabilities and better prepare us for our own collaborations with pianists and performers who have inspired it,” Coleman said.