Interview: Kathleen Tagg connecting dots – tribute to Andre Petersen -at Jazz & Classical Encounters 2021- in a programme “filled with beautiful music, unusual and interesting layers and sounds”

Who: Kathleen Tagg–South African pianist–based in New York

Latest project: Playing at Jazz & Classical Encounters Vol 3 @ Spier on Saturday December 4, 2021 tribute to the late Andre Petersen – colleague and friend
Festival tickets:
  R565 –one ticket; R1790 – for two tickets and includes picnic
Festival and accommodation tickets: R 3450 – for two – in a signature room at Spier Hotel – includes breakfast, picnic basket and festival tickets

Booking links: or  
Kathy Tagg on Instagram: @kathleentagg      

Seeing Kathleen Tagg perform live is an experience. The internationally acclaimed pianist exudes stage presence- charged with high energy and innovation- with her ‘piano orchestra’. The South African artist, is based in New York and will be making a welcome return to the Cape stage, on December 4, 2021 at, Jazz & Classical Encounters Vol 3 @ Spier. It has been two years since she was back home. Her set at Jazz & Classical Encounters is dedicated to the late musician Andre Petersen, who was her friend and colleague. They worked together in SA. Sadly, their work as a duo on the international circuit, was brought to a halt by Covid and now with his passing, she remembers him with deep gratitude. Tagg’s Jazz & Classical Encounters programme, is very much a homage to his work and will reference the many dots that connected, them, through their passion for music.

Programme filled with beautiful music, unusual and interesting layers and sounds

Unable to get back home with Covid and lockdowns and Covid, Tagg had planned to make it back here for the festive season and when she was invited by festival organiser, Aymeric Péguillan to play at Jazz & Classical Encounters Vol 3 @ Spier, she did not hesitate to shift her dates. Tagg: “I haven’t been able to come home for two years so this is a big trip to play and to see my family and friends. I would have come a bit later in the month, if not for this performance, so I am coming early for the performance.” Regarding the programme: “I am going to have an eclectic program that features some of Andre’s music: The starting point for is Andre’s beautiful Time Watchers, inspired by the Book of Daniel. I’ve been thinking about Andre’s openness and curiosity. I wanted to include a bunch of the sounds that used to make him smile. He was interested in the sounds and techniques that I’ve been using and developing over the past decade, building my ‘piano orchestra’. I create a kind-of orchestral texture out of loops and samples of the inside and body of the instrument. There will also be music that we played together- but of course cast in a different way…The programme will include music that we both loved from college days – like Bach -when Andre was a classical piano major. I’ve been trying to build a programme which connects dots but takes the audience on a cohesive journey, filled with beautiful music, and unusual and interesting layers and sounds.”

The last time -Kathleen Tagg and Andre Petersen performed together

I last saw Kathy Tagg and Andre Petersen play together, at the Baxter, in 2016, when they launched their album, Where Worlds Collide but there were subsequent gigs together. “The last time we played together in Cape Town, was two nights in 2017, in the recital room at the College of Music as part of a wonderful Concerts SA tour, through the country. Since then, we performed a bunch of concerts in the US. Our last show was in the Performing Arts Center at Connecticut College, which was the first of the shows that our new New York based agent, Sue Bernstein, had booked for us. We also did the Classical NEXT Festival, in Rotterdam.” 

Meeting at students at UCT’s College of Music

Kathleen Tagg and Andre Petersen met as students. “We met at UCT College of Music in 1996 when we were undergrad students, but we didn’t start working together until nearly 20 years later. I knew of course of Andre’s career and what he was up to, and always admired and loved his playing and way of thinking about music. It was his idea, of doing a collaboration. We got together to talk about what that could possibly be. He was thinking of a kind of ‘classical meets jazz project’, but I had been working a lot in the few years prior on my own music and starting to create my own sound working with improvising musicians from different backgrounds, and also with electronics. He had been writing a bunch of his own musical compositions. We got into a practice room and left that afternoon extremely excited. We had a project. It was an immediately open connection. I am always very wary of lack of structure. In a situation where you have two people on pianos – creating a dense texture- you have to be really careful about who is playing what. So, from the start, I got really specific, about using extended techniques and sounds to ‘layer us up’ and create different textural strands. Andre was very open to this and excited by this approach. At the same time, I was taken with his way of looking at structure and solos. I was grateful for him, inviting me into a space, where I could have access to this wonderful body of work that I didn’t feel I could ever legitimately play myself- as I wasn’t a jazz musician -music by greats such as Bheki Mseleku, Moses Molelewa and Abdullah Ibrahim. He invited me in; gave me space to make my own contribution. I think the biggest reason that we clicked was because we were both curious- about other people, music and genres- sound and storytelling in general. We respected each other and enjoyed each other’s company. I think that goes a really long way.”

Pandemic pivoting – engineer, video-maker, podcast maker, editor, producer

Before the pandemic, Tagg toured extensively. “Yes- it has been such a weird time. A lot of amazing stuff was cancelled. However, I was very lucky to have work, creating projects online and writing new works. I wrote a clarinet concerto with, and for, my partner, David Krakauer. The concerto recently premiered in California. I wrote a collection of songs for the stunning soprano and pianist combo of Golda Schultz and Jonathan Ware. A lot of the work, required me to pivot in many directions. I became a sound engineer, video-maker, podcast maker, editor, producer; green-screen using project-assembler. When I was trying to frantically finish something, after a week reading manuals and watching online tutorials, my 3am mantra tended to be: ‘This is not what I do!’ And yet, it became what I did. I did a lot of advocacy work in the arts space with the NYC-based Music Workers Alliance. It took an insane amount of work and energy to pivot and start making work in new ways. I feel very fortunate that I was able to do that; that I had things like a small yet quiet and secure apartment; a strong functioning internet connection, computer; phone etc – which many artists did not have access to during this time. It has been an incredibly hard time for all arts workers. The pandemic has highlighted the disparities and flaws that already existed in our industry.”

Excited to be able to re-center at home in South Africa

Tagg is thrilled to be coming home. “It is going to be huge for me. It has been an extremely hard two years. It has had its own grace as well, but when I’m not home, I really don’t feel centered. The last thing I did on my last trip home was to stop in Jo’burg, for a day and a half, to see Andre and to record a bunch of interviews and discussions about our work and partnership. He took me to the airport. I went back to New York not knowing so many things. In 2019, Andre and I started working with a wonderful agent in NYC, Sue Bernstein. We had exciting performances to look forward to such as the wonderful Gilmore Festival- one of the world’s most prestigious piano festivals and the National Gallery in Washington DC. We had managed to play one show which was booked by Sue -before the pandemic hit- at the beautiful hall at Connecticut College. I am gutted that more people here [USA], didn’t get to hear and know Andre. Every time we played in the US -or in Europe- as we did on one occasion – people were blown away by Andre and his musicianship, incredible humanity and deep way of connecting intellectual concepts to the music in a very understandable, human way. I haven’t played a show in South Africa, since 2018. As I mentioned earlier, my last tour to SA, was in 2017 with Concerts SA, with Andre. I did not play any shows the last few times that I was home because I was in between major projects in Europe and the US. It felt good to relax and see family and friends; to get time off. I am very excited to be coming home, and to be a part of this beautiful festival. There are so many wonderful artists playing- each of whom has such a different approach and sound- but all so masterful- and in such a beautiful venue. It is really special. I am very grateful to Aymeric Péguillan for asking me to be a part of this festival.”

Duo: The late Andre Petersen and Kathleen Tagg. Photo: Colette Y Benjamin. Supplied.

✳This interview has been marginally edited for length and clarity. Images by Colette Y Benjamin. Supplied.

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