This project was born of coincidence. My interest in the writings of and about Georgi Gurdjieff, a philosopher-mystic of the first half of the 20th Century, crossed with my interest in Thomas de Hartmann, a Classically trained Russian composer who was a classmate of Sergei Prokofiev at the St Petersberg Conservatory. It has taken 17 years to realize, and along the way, there have other coincidences.

This huge body of work is unique in classical music, certainly for the diversity of its style, which includes a healthy dose of Middle Eastern inspiration. It is also a rare example of true collaboration. Neither Gurdjieff nor De Hartmann alone could have created this legacy.

When I first conceived of this album, the idea of alternating Western and Eastern inspired pieces was the cornerstone. Choosing the works took some time - while the Hymns of a Great Temple seemed to be a natural choice, deciding which Middle Eastern pieces would come in between was more delicate. The key relations, the atmosphere, the tempi, the variety - all were important factors that directed the structure.

When things locked into place, the idea of using altered tunings for the Middle Eastern pieces seemed like a wonderful way to enhance the contrasts between East and West. In researching for this aspect, I discovered the group Al Kindi and its creator, Julien Weiss. The fact that he was a harmonia mundi artist like I was made our encounter much easier, and we had numerous exchanges and trial sessions that led to the development of many of the scales that were used in the final recording.

Later, composer Michael Harrison also contributed some of his own developments to the altered tunings, which brought everything together in a wonderful way.

The greatest challenge in getting this program recorded was the fact that there was no easy way to perform the program live. Unless I could find a way to have 8 pianos on stage for the 8 unique tunings, I would have to wait until technology caught up with my idea. Fortunately, Yamaha’s developed a keyboard that allowed for individual note tunings, as well as a way to incorporate their concert grand sampled sound.

The first performance of this recital took place at the Rubin Museum of Tibetan Art in NYC. The technology worked perfectly, and finally there was proof that the program could be performed. The audience reaction to the tunings was even more intense and enthusiastic than I had imagined.

After launching a successful Kickstarter project to raise funds for the recording, my search for the perfect recording studio ended up with Manifold Studios outside of Raleigh, NC, created by the visionary Michael Tiemann. The circle truly closed with this decision; the studio, designed by Wes Lachot, is based on the acoustic architecture theories of Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright was an early and enthusiastic evangelist for Gurdjieff in the US, and he continued his relationship with De Hartmann after Gurdjieff’s death, discussing theories of acoustics and music with the composer who knew so well the universal principles laid out by his mentor Gurdjieff. In designing the studio, Lachot therefore brought into life these ideas that had origins in Gurdjieff/De Hartmann’s world-view. He also designed the studio specifically around the sound and dimensions of the concert grand piano.

Thus a 17-year project is coming to a kind of a close, but a new project has begun - the public life through the Hymns & Dervishes recording and live performances of this program. Already, through the Kickstarter and the development of the recording, people have come into my circles that I never knew were influenced by the work of Gurdjieff, De Hartmann, Wright, Lachot. I’m eager to see what new paths appear, and to explore where they lead.

Frederic Chiu