Hymns and Dervishes

Press Release


For Immediate Release

Contact: Maria Guralnik


(682) 551-3235



Frederic Chiu’s innovative first release for Centaur, requiring a specially tuned piano, blends ancient Middle-Eastern and Western traditions, the result of a historic collaboration between Gurdjieff and Russian composer Thomas De Hartmann.

Mr. Chiu's playing beautifully projects a kind of doleful pleading... renders with aplomb the kinds of complex ornamentation employed by singers of the region...The dance...emerges from the Dervish's chants and dirges like a whirling Sufi...The final track is a real surprise: Mr. Chiu here offers his own arrangement of Bach's “Erbarme Dich” from the “St. Matthew Passion”...so much beauty to enjoy.” - Wall Street Journal

Photos: Chris Craymer

Album cover: Noah Johnson

(Westport, CT) American pianist and educator Frederic Chiu’s first release for Centaur Records presents the music of early 20th century mystic and philosopher Georgi Gurdjieff in collaboration with Russian composer Thomas De Hartmann. Utilizing tunings to create a unique sonic environment for each composition, Hymns & Dervishes is the latest project of Chiu whose career has centered on expanding boundaries in classical music – from performance protocols to teaching and technology. 

The music of Gurdjieff/De Hartmann has rarely been recorded, and is even more rarely presented in an artistic rather than documentary fashion. Mr. Chiu’s interest in the Armenian mystic Georgi Ivanovich Gurdjieff was sparked by a book written by Thomas de Hartmann about his life with his teacher and mentor.

Gurdjieff’s music was notated and arranged by Thomas de Hartmann, a graduate of the St. Petersburg Conservatory and classmate of Prokofiev. According to Chiu, “this significant 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.”

In an effort to do justice to the music, Mr. Chiu began studying Middle Eastern scales. He consulted Julien Weiss, founder of the Middle Eastern musical ensemble Al Kindi about tuning the piano to these scales to achieve a closer sense of the spirit. The result is a recording that uses both standard “equal temperament,” and alternate tunings, giving the music “a feeling of inhalation and exhalation.”

Hymns and Dervishes follows another recording first for Chiu, the critically acclaimed Distant Voices, an inaugural release for Yamaha Entertainment Group, utilizing state-of-the-art audio and video technology to juxtapose works by Impressionist master Claude Debussy with contemporary works by Chinese composer Gao Ping. Distant Voices was released in September 2015

About Frederic Chiu

With a vibrant concert schedule, a legacy of 25 CDs, and a stream of superlatives from major critics around the globe, pianist Frederic Chiu occupies a special place in the world of classical music. In an eclectic career encompassing unusual collaborations and little-played repertoire, along with explorations into the psychology of performance, Mr. Chiu has demonstrated an ability to go beyond boundaries. Not coincidentally, this long-term Yamaha Artist also helped the instrument establish its brand as one the world’s great piano makers by providing important feedback to technicians as they developed the newest models.

The accolades tell part of the story. Reviewers have called his recorded performances “playing on an exalted level” (Fanfare), and “stunningly virtuosic… [with a] sense of spontaneity [that] is often incandescent”  (BBC Music Magazine). The New Yorker included his version of Liszt’s Années de Pélérinage, Italie among their “Best Classical Albums of 2001.” His Mendelssohn Sonatas—selected as “Record of the Year” by Stereo Review—became a best-seller in the classical piano category.

Read more at www.fredericchiu.com.

About Centaur Records

Founded in 1976, Centaur Records is one of the oldest and largest independent classical labels in America. The company is located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and was founded by Victor Sachse. Their recordings are available in major markets throughout the world, and their catalog includes classical, historical, pops, contemporary, crossover, electro-acoustic, and world music.

Read more at http://www.centaurrecords.com

Frederic Chiu describes the journey of Hymns & Dervishes

This project was born of coincidence. My interest in the writings of 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. Having recorded the complete piano works of Prokofiev, I saw his connection with De Hartmann as the closing of the circle. It has taken 17 years to realize, and along the way, there have been numerous serendipitous events.

When I realized Gurdjieff was a composer, my curiosity led me to further research including a number of scores held by the Library of Congress archives.  When I first conceived of this album, the idea of alternating Western and Eastern inspired pieces was the cornerstone, alternating between the Western focus on structure and the Eastern focus on melodic ornamentation and rhythm. 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.

The idea of using altered tunings for the Middle Eastern pieces seemed like an ideal way to enhance the contrasts between East and West. Research into the requiring tunings led me to the group Al Kindi and its creator, Julien Weiss (http://www.alkindi.org/). The fact that Weiss 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. Composer Michael Harrison (http://www.michaelharrison.com) also contributed some of his own developments to the altered tunings, which further enhanced the result I was seeking.

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 developed a keyboard that allowed for individual note tunings, and sampled their concert grand sound.

A live premiere of the Hymns and Dervishes program took place at the Rubin Museum of Tibetan Art in NYC in the fall of 2011. The technology worked perfectly, and finally there was proof that the program could be performed live. 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.

The release of Hymns and Dervishes means a 17-year project is coming to a kind of a close, but a new project has begun – the public life through the 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 will lead me next!

FREDERIC CHIU: Hymns & Dervishes

Centaur Records: CRC 3468

PRODUCED BY: Philip Amalong

Engineer: Ian Schreier

Piano technicians: Richard Ruggero, John Ruggero

Cover design: Noah Johnson

Recorded December 13-15, 2012 at Manifold Studio, Pittsboro, NC

Release date:  February 12, 2016

Yamaha CFIIIS Piano

1- Sayyid Chant (#15)

2- Hymns of a great temple #2 – Lento

3- Bayaty (#35)

4- Hymn #3 – Lento

5- Sayyid Chant and Dance (#8)

6- Hymn #4 – Larghetto

7- Sayyid Chant and Dance (#42) – Moderato

8- Hymn #1 – Lento

9- Dervish Chant and Dance (#7) – Andante con moto

10- Hymn #5 – Andante cantabile

11- Dance (#24)

12- Hymn #7 – Rythme oriental

13- Sayyid Chant and Dance (#3)

14- Hymn #6 – Allegretto con moto

15- Sayyid Chant and Dance (#23) – Liberamente

16- Hymn #8 – En Contrepoint de rythme

17- Sayyid Chant and Dance (#29)

18- Hymn #9 – Pesante e molto largo

19- Sayyid Chant and Dance (#10) – Andante e Molto cantabile ed espressivo

20- Bach/Chiu Erbarme dich from St Matthew Passion

February 12, 2016