Sarah Cahill, pianist
“A sterling pianist and an intrepid illuminator of the classical avant-garde…”
– The New York Times
“Through her inspired interpretation of works across the 20th and 21st centuries, Cahill has been instrumental in bringing to life the music of many of our greatest living composers.” – Keyboard Magazine
"A persuasive advocate for American experimentalist composers..." – Chicago Tribune
“A brilliant and charismatic advocate for modern and contemporary composers...”
– Time Out New York
“As tenacious and committed an advocate as any composer could dream of…”
– San Francisco Chronicle
“A leading light of the new-music piano scene…” – The New York Times
Sarah Cahill, recently called “a sterling pianist and an intrepid illuminator of the classical avant-garde” by The New York Times and “a brilliant and charismatic advocate for modern and contemporary composers” by Time Out New York, has commissioned and premiered over sixty compositions for solo piano. Composers who have dedicated works to Cahill include John Adams, Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, Pauline Oliveros, Julia Wolfe, Yoko Ono, Annea Lockwood, and Ingram Marshall. Keyboard Magazine writes, “Through her inspired interpretation of works across the 20th and 21st centuries, Cahill has been instrumental in bringing to life the music of many of our greatest living composers.” She was named a 2018 Champion of New Music, awarded by the American Composers Forum (ACF).
Cahill enjoys working closely with composers, musicologists, and scholars to prepare scores for each performance. She researched and recorded music by prominent early 20th-century American modernists Henry Cowell and Ruth Crawford, and commissioned a number of new pieces in tribute to their enduring influence. She has also premiered and recorded music by Leo Ornstein, Marc Blitzstein, and other 20th century mavericks.
Cahill’s latest project is The Future is Female, a ritual installation and communal feminist immersive listening experience featuring more than sixty compositions by women around the globe, ranging from the 18th century to the present day, including new commissioned works. Featured composers include Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Maria de Alvear, Galina Ustvolskaya, Frangiz Ali-Zadeh, Florence Price, Hannah Kendall, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Kui Dong, Meredith Monk, Vítězslava Kaprálová, Deirdre Gribbin, Fannie Dillon, and many others. Cahill is performing this project in museums, galleries, and concert halls in current and future seasons. Recent and upcoming performances of The Future is Female include Carolina Performing Arts, Carlsbad Music Festival, Detroit Institute of Arts, Bowling Green New Music Festival, North Dakota Museum of Art, and Mayville State University.
Cahill has worked closely with composer Terry Riley since 1997, when she commissioned his four-hand piece Cinco de Mayo for a festival at Cal Performances celebrating Henry Cowell’s 100th birthday–the first of six works she has commissioned from him. For Riley’s 80th birthday, Cahill commissioned nine new works for solo piano in his honor and performed them with several of Riley’s own compositions at (Le) Poisson Rouge and Roulette in New York, MIT, the North Dakota Museum of Art, and other venues across the country.
Sarah Cahill also worked closely with Lou Harrison, and has championed many of his works for piano. In 1997, Cahill was chosen to premiere his Festival Dance for two pianos with Aki Takahashi at the Cooper Union, and worked with Harrison in rehearsals. She was also chosen to perform his Dance for Lisa Karon, discovered only a few years ago and not heard since its premiere in 1938, and she performed his Varied Trio, both piano concertos, and a number of solo and chamber works on her 2017 Lou Harrison tour celebrating his centennial year, with concerts in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Orlando, Miami, Hawaii, Tokyo and Fukuoka in Japan, and more. In fall 2019, Sarah performed Lou Harrison's exuberant Concerto for Piano with Javanese Gamelan in two Berkeley performances.
Cahill has performed classical and contemporary chamber music with artists and ensembles such as Jessica Lang Dance; pianists Joseph Kubera, Adam Tendler, and Regina Myers; violinist Stuart Canin; the Alexander String Quartet; New Century Chamber Orchestra; Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, and many more. She also performs as duo with violinist Kate Stenberg.
Recent appearances include the Interlochen Arts Festival, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Boston Institute for Contemporary Art, a performance at Alice Tully Hall with the Silk Road Ensemble, Stanford Live, Le Poisson Rouge,and concerts at San Francisco Performances, Sacramento State’s Festival of New American Music, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in the United Kingdom, and Toyusu Civic Center Hall in Tokyo.
Sarah Cahill’s discography includes more than twenty albums on the New Albion, CRI, New World, Tzadik, Albany, Innova, Cold Blue, Other Minds, Irritable Hedgehog, and Pinna labels. Her 2013 release A Sweeter Music (OtherMinds) featured musical reflections on war by eighteen eloquent and provocative composer/activists. In 2015, Pinna Records released her two-CD set of Mamoru Fujieda’s Patterns of Plants, an extraordinary fusion of nature and technology created by identifying the musical patterns in the electrical impulses of plants. In September 2017, she released her latest album, Eighty Trips Around the Sun: Music by and for Terry Riley, a box set tribute to Terry Riley, on Irritable Hedgehog Records. The four-CD set includes solo works by Riley, four-hand works with pianist Regina Myers, and world premiere recordings of commissioned works composed in honor of Riley’s 80th birthday. The Wall Street Journal praised Cahill’s performance on the album, saying "Ms. Cahill offers fluid interpretations of works from Mr. Riley’s copious solo piano output, as well as four-hand piano pieces, which she and Regina Myers play with impressive unity and an ear for Mr. Riley’s chameleon-like style morphing."
Sarah Cahill’s radio show, Revolutions Per Minute, can be heard every Sunday evening from 8 to 10 pm on KALW,91.7 FM in San Francisco. The program focuses on the relationships between classical music and new music, encompassing interviews with musicians and composers, historical performances, and recordings outside the mainstream. Cahill is on the piano faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory and curates a monthly series of new music concerts at the new Berkeley Art Museum titled “Full,” occurring on the night of each full moon. She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband, video artist John Sanborn, and daughter.
Pianist Sarah Cahill announces new concert programs, offered for the 2021-2022 concert season and beyond.
Sarah remains strongly committed to making music during these challenging times, and is also offering several programs of virtual livestreamed or pre-recorded performances with live Q&A sessions this season.
Based in Berkeley, CA, she is available throughout the 2020-2021 season to perform live concerts for socially distanced audiences, either indoors or outdoors, in central and northern California.
The Future is Female
The Future is Female is an investigation and reframing of the piano literature featuring more than sixty compositions by women around the globe, from the Baroque to the present day, including new commissioned works.
Sarah Cahill has worked with George Lewis, Tania León, and Mary Watkins since the mid-1990s, and she premiered and recorded Lewis’ four-movement Endless Shout under the composer’s supervision. For this program comprising works written by Black and POC composers, Sarah revisits these favorites and juxtaposes them with recent works, including new commissions from Mary Watkins and Regina Harris Baiocchi.
Be Kind to One Another
Sarah Cahill has commissioned Frederic Rzewski to compose a substantial solo piano work in honor of Terry Riley’s 85th birthday. Of Riley, whom he has known since 1964, Rzewski writes, “I guess he is what you might call a ‘good man.’ There are not many of these in the world of contemporary music, where generally the rule ‘Nice guys finish last’ tends to apply. Fortunately, Terry is pretty much recognized for what he is: a good composer and a good person. I was really happy when Sarah Cahill asked me to write a piece for his 85th birthday.” The commissioned work, in six movements, is called Humanitas. Sarah pairs Humanitas with works by Terry Riley, Margaret Bonds, Theresa Wong, and Ingram Marshall. All but Bonds’ Troubled Water were commissioned by Sarah, and all contribute to the powerful message of encouraging decency and compassion. The title of the program comes from Terry Riley’s work of the same name, which is a quote from the writer Alice Walker a few days after 9/11: “We must learn to be kind to one another now.”
Photo by Christine Alicino