In an overwhelmingly positive review I wrote about Heidi Breyer’s Beyond The Turning – rightfully chosen ZMR’s Best Instrumental Piano Album 2012 – I mentioned that she had been on an extraordinary journey of self-discovery that culminated in this work, which I described as “a heartfelt and evocative, introspective and ultimately universal look at humanity and the sometimes joyous, often embattled path we take to ultimately find our path home.” Listening now, six years later, to Moonlight in Empty Rooms, an epic 12 song new age/neo-classical collection of artful and transcendent, alternately poignant and whimsical pieces driven by her impressions of works by her realist painter husband Alexander Volkov, I realize more than ever what “home” means to this multi-talented artist.
Just as we can’t imagine watching films without a score, there’s something emotionally powerful about that place between artistic worlds where music helps our hearts better understand what our eyes may have missed. This album, produced by Heidi with Windham Hill legend Will Ackerman and engineer/mixer extraordinaire Tom Eaton, gives us a rare opportunity to contemplate each work and perhaps dream for several minutes as Heidi takes us on a whirlwind journey with the exquisite harmonies and counterpoint voice of the masterful veteran violinist Charlie Bisharat. Listening to a loving wife envelop her passions around places her husband calls “a space where there’s no tomorrow or yesterday, where there are no projections for the future and no excuses for the past,” I am reminded of something a dear writer friend of mine wrote about his in-laws who were married for 60 years: “They’d grown together like intertwined roots that were never meant to survive a severing.”
Heidi’s eloquent liner notes next to each of Alexander’s images serve as something of a guided tour of where the muse takes her and how – but even without those detailed explanations, her pure piano poetry speaks volumes about the meanings of love and life. It might be an interesting experiment to listen to Moonlight in Empty Rooms first, reading along and studying the artwork – and then just hearing the music by itself and going on your own excursion of self-discovery.
The set begins with two and a half minutes of beautiful hypnotic ivory meditation before Bisharat’s voice enters the moment, hoping to create a dialogue on a higher level. Heidi responds by alternating tempos as if in search of the perfect way to connect. Alexander finds beauty in the dying of trees amidst a stark winter landscape on “Autumn Snowfall,” which inspires Heidi to create interesting contrasts between moody, shadowy contemplation and a few hopeful high notes as Bisharat swirls about like gently falling snow.
“Autumn in Bruges” reflects on that same season but in a whole different way, amidst the many images competing for our attention in Alexander’s late in the day empty street in the famed Belgian city – bicycles, lit and shadowed trees, brick pavement, a distant steeple and inky sky.
Heidi captures the lighthearted whimsy of possibility, then eases into a bright waltz-like dance with Bisharat, which rolls like a pleasurable stroll, ripe for new adventures, down the street. As for the heartfelt, gracefully inviting “Christian’s Workshop,” we may not know who Christian was, but Alexander’s painting of a long ago abandoned woodshop, looking out streaked windows into the light, allows us to create a character of our own choosing. Heidi and Alexander work that way, drawing us in to fill out the characters and places they shed cracks of light on.
As it flows on, Moonlight in Empty Rooms continues to expand our collective heart’s possibilities, with Heidi creating a lovely, swaying sense of camaraderie with Bisharat, dancing in empty room where lit by distant moonlight on the title track; celebrating a beloved pet’s peaceful transition from slumber to being awake at “Eastertide”; letting a gentle rain spark moments of sorrow and wistful nostalgia on a quiet “Rainy Day”; and, on “The Sound and the Fury,” tackling the deeper roars of nature with passion, power and intensity via intense chords jamming with Bisharat’s hard to pin down flights of fancy. The last third of the album takes us through the seasons, with the gentle unfolding sweetness of a “Winter Rose” giving way to hope for a season of rebirth a “Half Hour before Spring” and concluding with a simply stated reminiscence at the “End of Summer.” Bridging those last two tracks is “Faith,” presented as a deeply lived, internal mood swinging struggle to believe in and understand God, set against the simple image of a country church in a yellow field with storm clouds gathering in rural Vermont.
Heidi’s quote about her music is as relevant to her mastery on Moonlight in Empty Rooms as it was when she said it earlier in her career: “I bring to my music, and to everything I do in my life, all that I am and all that I have experienced -- and I’m finding in music that approach leads to success more often than in life. I bring every emotion, including those I share as a student, parent and teacher, those I give when I love and those private alone times, which if it weren’t for the music, might be forgotten. I feel completely privileged and honored to be on this journey and feel the adrenaline and excitement of it all when I’m at the piano composing.”
The Moonlight in Empty Rooms Package includes a DVD with videos that delve deeper into the album's theme and official subtitle, "A Musical Study of the Art of Alexander Volkov."