Indianapolis Star
Author: Smith, Whitney
Date: Sep 22, 2008

As he launched the American Pianists Association's 2009 Classical Fellowship Awards on Sunday at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Michael Kirkendoll played contemporary works that could be the hardest sell of any program the five finalists will play during the Premiere Series kicking off the contest. As with all of the Premiere Series concerts' finalists, who will perform through February, Kirkendoll's program included a recital and a concerto with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra. Past participants in the triennial Classical Fellowship Awards have featured modern pieces, but the 29-year-old Kansas resident's program pushed the envelope especially with his two largest pieces, Jerome Kitzke's "Sunflower Sutra" and Alfred Schnittke's Concerto for Piano and Strings. Kirkendoll closed his recital with "Sunflower Sutra," an edgy, theatrical piece for an amplified, speaking pianist. It's a weird, disjointed work based on a rambling Allen Ginsberg text purporting to be a chat with his friend, Jack Kerouac, in a railroad yard. Kirkendoll's performance was compelling, despite persistent, distracting microphone problems. 

With the Indianapolis orchestra, Kirkendoll gave a commanding performance of the Concerto for Piano and Strings from 1979. It is a challenging listen, even if it is deemed one of the finest works by the Russian composer influenced by German modernists. The often-dissonant concerto is laced with conflict that has been described as a battle between romanticism and dissonance.


The first four pieces of the recital showed Kirkendoll at moreaccessible moments. He began with a captivating take on David Rakowski's Etude No. 52, "Moody's Blues," a rousing, rhythmically driven, rock-and-roll study inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis. Kirkendoll followed with a gorgeous, contemplative rendering of Olivier Messiaen's "First Communion of the Virgin," riddled with bird twitters. Frederic Rzewski's "Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues" from "Four North American Ballads" pitted big, percussive, industrial-sounding phrases against a free blues section. "The Alcotts," a slow movement from Charles Ives' Piano Sonata No. 2, was pretty and controlled, a portrait of domestic tranquillity in Louisa May Alcott's family home.