Gunnar Madsen | Two Hands

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Two Hands

by Gunnar Madsen

Solo Piano, soulful, in the twilight between classical and ECM Jazz.
Genre: Classical: Piano solo
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Break into Blossom
3:34 album only
2. In These Lonely Regions
3:40 album only
3. Kerenyi
4:09 album only
4. Half Empty
3:01 album only
5. Nino and Me
5:06 album only
6. Ordinary Day
3:30 album only
7. The Blackbird Whistling
4:45 album only
8. Frank Grows Flowers
2:11 album only
9. Bandon
3:45 album only
10. For Wendy
2:46 album only
11. Imagine it Falling
2:15 album only
12. Down Moon
4:45 album only
13. Ockeghem's Turn
3:31 album only
14. Oak Sky
4:03 album only
15. 3 South Trail
4:33 album only
16. Red Bird
5:05 album only


Album Notes
One winter a few years ago I got a case of pneumonia.

In the early weeks of recovery my sole comfort was to noodle at the piano for short stretches. A few minutes of improvisation, then back to bed. I recorded these pieces on a pocket voice recorder, and later transcribed the ones that caught my fancy. I added them to a folio of instrumental pieces that I meant to record someday, and put them on a shelf.

Then last autumn the folio tugged at me for attention. I began playing through it, and liked many of the pieces. It got me in a mood, and I wrote a few more pieces. I began to rehearse them on my grandmother’s old 1927 Knabe, the piano I’ve composed nearly all my music on. It’s a good friend. But these pieces needed to be recorded on a better piano.

With the help of many people (including a local private studio that allowed me to practice for weeks on their gorgeous Steingraeber), I found the piano for this recording. The minute I sat down on the scoring stage at Skywalker Sound and played their Yamaha concert grand I was in love. The piano, the hall, the total environment was a dream come true. The spirit of the sessions blossomed further when Irene Sazer joined us with her violin. We recorded 18 pieces over the course of 2 days. Much of what you hear are single takes, unedited.

While I hope I never get pneumonia again, the ethereal state it put me in stripped my music down to simple essences, and let me see beauty where before I might have rushed by it.
I’m thankful for that.

Grammy-nominated composer Gunnar Madsen is also an accomplished singer, writer, filmmaker and actor. He is well known as the co-founder and songwriter/performer with the legendary acapella group The Bobs. His solo efforts have yielded critically acclaimed albums across dramatically different genres. He has received commissions from Lincoln Center, the Los Angeles Theater Center, the Minnesota Opera, Oberlin Dance Collective, ISO Dance Theater, National Public Radio and many others. He is a featured performer on the soundtrack of "At Play in the Fields of the Lord," in the National Geographic Special "Asteroids: Deadly Impact," and is the emotionally charged voice of Sammy Davis, Jr. in the Emmy-award winning HBO film, "The Rat Pack." He arranged music for and appears in the Jennifer Aniston/Vince Vaughn hit "The Break-up", and the music from his Spinning World CD has been featured in many episodes of "Sex and the City" and in the Marisa Tomei film "Just a Kiss."

Gunnar's stage musical based on the outsider group The Shaggs (with collaborator Joy Gregory) has been produced in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York to thunderous critical and popular acclaim. It set new box office records and won Best Original Score from Entertainment Today (beating out Mel Brooks' The Producers), and won 6 Garland Awards, 3 LA Drama Critic's Circle Awards and 4 LA weekly awards, including Musical of the Year and Best Score. The NY Times called it: "unsettling, disturbing, challenging, even a little awe-inspiring."

Gunnar's family CDs (Old Mr. Mackle Hackle, Ants in My Pants! and I'm Growing) have received multiple prestigious national awards, including Parents' Choice Gold Award, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold, NAPPA Gold, Scholastic Teacher's Pick Award, and the CMW Best Recording for Older Children award. His storybook adaptation of his song Old Mr. Mackle Hackle is available from Little, Brown.

In 2000, Gunnar journeyed to Russia to film a documentary on a remarkable farming community for disabled people. The film, Svetlana Village: The Camphill Experience in Russia, was an official selection of the Ojai International Film Festival.



to write a review

John P. Olsen / NewAgeMusicWorld.Com /

Gunnar Madsen by his own Two Hands
Gunnar Madsen from Berkley California has achieved an impressive level of success most would hope for at this stage of his bright career. You can visit his website to learn all about his career choices through the years and I feel his grand success as a Grammy Nominated pianist and award winning composer, singer, writer, sound designer, filmmaker and actor are career decisions that might have even impressed his family. Two Hands is the New Age, Cinematic Piano, Instrumental 2010 release from Gunnar Madsen and eighteenth CD he has produced. This album is a more especial and innermost portrayal of his musical works in relation to his earlier compositions with the a capella group he founded called The Bobs. His first solo album Spinning World is a closer likeness with Two Hands, in a uniquely diverse discography that includes award winning family CDs along with an Epic Orchestral recording and even a lively pop art Rock album titled The Power of a Hat. The recipient of countless music and theatre awards, his Grammy Nomination was for a song arrangement by The Beatles and has received ASCAP Awards for 15 consecutive years, plus his music is featured in some episodes of the widely popular HBO series Sex and the City and films Breaking the Rules, A Special Providence, The Break Up & Just a Kiss. Gunnar Madsen also does voiceovers, providing the film voice for Don Cheatle when he portrayed Sammy David Jr. in the Emmy Award winning HBO film The Rat Pack and this is just a partial listing of many credits during his career so far. Two Hands was recorded at the industry regarded Skywalker Sound Studio and includes 16 songs total. Three songs have contrasting instrumentals where notable guest violinist Irene Sazer, a member of the improvisational Jazz and Classical group Turtle Island String Quartet lends her elegant expressions. The first violin portrayal by Irene Sazer on Kerenyl is more subtle while gently tracing the melodic depth on strings as Gunnar leads on piano. Ordinary Day & Red Bird make a beautiful piano and string duet from the pair, extending the symmetrical harmony on each song while interblending into a narrative full of melodic drama. Solo Piano ballads of Cinematic proportions are the sequential songs where Gunnar begins to reveal the innermost reflections of his work in a manner of classic distinction. Outlined with a conceptual feeling of depth, some of the more melodramatic and intriguing phrasing performed on songs like Nino and Me, Down Moon & South Trail are offered with a personalized touch. Frank Grows Flowers is a song responding with an upbeat tempo and imaginative runs while dancing along the piano keys in every measure. The light reflective moments yet none the less expressive songs The Blackbird Whistling, Brandon & Oak Sky are more introspective in their structuring. Break into Blossom begins with a lighter metrical sway and soon unfolds into bolder imagery by exploring a more robust presentation of greater intensity before returning into restful state of contentment and has a resemblance in style with In These Lonely Regions & Down Moon, given the more pronounced dynamics of diminuendo and crescendo variances. Much like the memoir notes on the inside album cover detailing each composition, Gunnar Madsen traces every song on Two Hands with a gifted accounting of his diverse imagination while delivering a beautiful finger to key statement and like the valuable reward of success that is never just handed to anyone, it came from the talent and determination of an individual who started with and continues to have, hopes and dreams.

Serge Kozlovsky /

Writings by Serge Kozlovsky
These instrumental melodies touch the heart with their incredible sincerity. The album “Two Hands” by Gunnar Madsen is only his acoustic piano with a delicate violin accompaniment by Irene Sazer on several tracks. But you don’t need anything else when you listen to this music which has a purity and a clearness in its expression.

Gunnar Madsen is a bright composer and performer. Sometimes his music reminds me of the great French impressionists like Satie or Debussy, sometimes Gunnar Madsen’s piano is a bit similar to a meditation stream by George Winston, sometimes his instrument sounds even in an avant-garde style but always Gunnar Madsen’s music is very fresh and unique.

In general a strong individuality is felt in every note of the album “Two Hands”. And yet Gunnar Madsen's music is exquisite and deeply emotional. At the same time “Two Hands” is listened to easily for perception. Melodies of Gunnar Madsen are picturesque. They invite you in to an attractive colored world which is created by a great piano master.

One wants to stand this album in a row with the best samples of the famous Windham Hill Records.

Serge Kozlovsky


Música en su estado más puro!. Sublime
Two Hands es el décimo tercer trabajo del premiado y reconocido pianista, compositor, actor, cineasta y escritor, Gunnar Madsen. Este ha recibido encargos desde las más grandes sedes, ha dirigido teatro y cine y su música puede ser escuchada en los capítulos de la serie "Sexo en Nueva York" o en los documentales de National Geographic. Two Hands se compone de dieciséis solos de piano, acompañados en alguno de ellos por la violinista Irene Sazer, estos están compuestos tras una larga convalecencia a causa de una neumonía; obras que mantienen un estado sereno, sin sobresaltos, evitando por completo los tempos excesivamente rápidos y manteniendo al oyente en una continua atención debido a la impresionante calidad de las composiciones.

El comienzo no puede ser mejor, "Break into Blossom" abre el CD. Sin ser rápida, esta pieza guarda un sentimiento de coraje extraordinario, apasionado. De un gran poder alentador, este tema es la puerta al optimismo y las buenas vibraciones. Me gusta!.

"In These Lonely Regions" es un corto inspirado en unas líneas de un poema del chileno y Premio Nobel, Pablo Neruda y en el fallecimiento de un familiar del artista. Una pieza triste y herida con una melodía desconcertante cuya emoción se ve acentuada en ocasiones, por la fuerza y energía que Gunnar transmite al piano.

Una de mis preferidas es "Kerenyi", Un tema escrito para una obra de teatro en el año 81. Con la colaboración de la violinista Irene Sazer, este tema posee una composición extraordinaria, pegadiza y sobretodo, hermosa; recordando a algunos pasajes de Mertens o Dorantes. La pieza pasa de ser delicada y expresiva, a poderosa y apasionada. Me encanta!.

"Half Empty". En pocas ocasiones, la simplicidad ha llegado a ser tan bella. Una melodía que parece ser improvisada nace de notas altas y de golpes sutiles de acordes. Una pieza que muestra una profunda emoción.

Con un comienzo risueño y cariñoso "Nimo and Me" va tornándose en un oscuro vals. Apto como banda sonora de una película de época, esta pieza posee una nostálgica y suave melodía.

En "Ordinary Day" vuelve a aparecer el violín de Irene Sazer. De nuevo, el piano y el violín crean una unión perfecta, dando vida a otra de las melodías destacables en este CD. Co-escrita con Joy Gregory, esta pieza, es sin duda, un placer para los oídos, perfecta para lograr una buena relajación. Otras de mis preferidas!.

Inspirado en el poema "13 formas de ver a un mirlo" de Wallace Stevens, "The Blackbird Whistling" es una obra descriptiva para esas trece composiciones que componen el poema, donde simples golpes de acordes, acompañan a la melodía principal que reproduce la mano derecha.

Dedicado a unas de sus principales influencias musicales, el guitarrista y director de cine Frank Zappa, es "Frank Grows Flowers". Como una manera de volver a dibujar ese juego melódico que Frank conseguía con su guitarra, Gunnar hace lo propio pero al frente del piano, creando una pieza ligeramente más rápida que las demás y con un carácter optimista y despreocupado.

El lado melancólico de este álbum lo pone "Bandon", una mirada al pasado. Bandon es una ciudad situada en el estado de Oregon, a la que Gunnar solía ir para ver a sus tíos y jugar de pequeño. Con una sencillez extraordinaria, la pieza apela a la tranquilidad, dibujando el escenario perfecto para rememorar con cariño esos entrañables momentos. Qué delicadeza!.

"For Wendy" es la pieza romántica del CD. Fue la primera obra escrita por el pianista. Dedicada a su novia, esta pieza es delicada, tierna, con una desbordante emoción y cariño que encoge el alma. Me encanta!.

"Imagine it Falling" nació de una improvisación jazz a la que Gunnar intentaba dar vida. La melodía que surgió fue de tal belleza, que este dejó a un lado su objetivo y perfeccionó esta delicada pieza. De carácter apasionada, la suave melodía fluye lenta, dejando instantes de silencios tan importantes como las propias notas, resaltando las emociones que esta puede transmitir.

Una de las obras maestras de este álbum es, "Down Moon". Con un comienzo sombrío, el tema va tornándose enérgico, poderoso. Gunnar va marcando con entusiasmo los acordes hasta llegar a un cenit emocionante y sorprendente, lleno de coraje que va perdiendo fuerza para volver al desconcierto del principio. Es asombrosa!. Wow!.

Un bello contraste con respecto a la pieza anterior. "Ockeghem's Turn" es delicada y alegre, con un un toque ligeramente rápido y de carácter infantil, la mano derecha reproduce una repetitiva melodía en la zona alta del piano, mientras la izquierda acompaña con suaves acordes, que en ocasiones se muestran fuertes.

En "Oak Sky", con sólo dos acordes, Gunnar colma de sentimientos a este tema. La delicadeza en el toque es extraordinaria, la pasión sobrecogedora y las sensaciones de bienestar y libertad son perfectas, todo ello, encerrado en una simple melodía de curso lento. Increíble!.

"3 South Trail" posee una melodía libre, parece ser improvisada, con silencios. Dedicada a su profesor John y a su pareja Kate, esta pieza es desconcertante, pues a menudo, las notas aparecen de forma libre, sin seguir un determinado patrón.

El CD concluye con "Red Bird", la última aparición Irene Sazer, que dibuja una frenética melodía al violín, mientras Gunnar acompaña con un fondo entrecortado de piano. De nuevo, el tándem formado entre el piano y el violín dan vida a un pieza expresiva y emocionante!.

Two Hands es asombroso en todos los sentidos. Las ricas y pegadizas composiciones de Gunnar Madsen sonarán una y otra vez en la mente del oyente una vez finalizada su escucha. Destacando aquellas obras en las que el violín de Irene resalta, aún más, toda la belleza de la pieza, este trabajo es sublime, fascinante y perfecto para estar en contacto con la música en su estado más puro. Muy recomendable!.

Charlie Obert

Beautiful and lyrical
This is wonderful, contemplative music, with some of the quiet and touching, introspective lyricism of early Eric Satie. I think this CD and "Spinning World" are my favorite music by Gunnar. Very highly recommended.

Raj Manoharan (

The RajMan Review
Gunnar Madsen is quite the performing arts renaissance man, if ever there was one. Actor, singer, filmmaker, children’s songwriter, Grammy-nominated musician, author, playwright, and soundtrack composer, to name just a few.

At the moment, he returns to one of his first and most basic muses – the piano. And it is on this recording that we hear Madsen at his most pure – just him, the keyboard, and his Two Hands.

The selections on this CD comprise a range of musical thoughts and emotions that stem from the deep recesses of Madsen’s psyche – everything from penetrating illness and personal loss to fond childhood memories and beloved artistic influences.

Musically, the album represents a variety of styles, including jazz, new age, classical, and easy listening. And yet the CD is unified in its overall sense of quietude and tranquility. As a result, the album satisfies on several levels – as an artistically fulfilling collection of beautiful arrangements and melodies, as a fitting soundtrack for perfect relaxation and reflection, and as sonic therapy for personal healing.

Two Hands is a very personal album for Gunnar Madsen, and it is a very personal album for the listener as well. This is perhaps the CD’s greatest strength and value – the personal connection between the artist and the audience.

Kathy Parsons

From MainlyPiano
It’s a daunting task to adequately introduce an artist with Gunnar Madsen’s experience and diverse background in a few short sentences. He is an award-winning composer, singer (The Bobs a capella group), pianist, writer, sound designer, filmmaker, and actor. He has composed and written music and books for all age groups, acted in stage plays and musicals as well as films; he has received commissions from Lincoln Center, the Los Angeles Theater Center, the Minnesota Opera, Oberlin Dance Collective, and on and on. "Two Hands" is Madsen’s eighteenth album to date, and is comprised of fifteen original solo piano compositions and three pieces for piano and violin. (Violinist Irene Sazer of The Turtle Island String Quartet appears as a guest artist.) While the album is very cohesive as an entity, there is variety in the music that reflects Madsen’s wide range of life and artistic experience. Deeply personal and often cinematic, the music conveys an abundance of emotions without becoming overly complicated or flamboyant. This is the music of a very accomplished artist speaking from his heart via the piano. Recorded on the much-loved piano at Skywalker Sound, the audio quality is stellar. "Two Hands" is certainly in the running to be one of my favorite albums of 2010.

"Two Hands" begins with “Break Into Blossom,” a soft-spoken piece that suggests hope and optimism. “In These Lonely Regions” was inspired by a line from a poem by Neruda as well as the passing of a favorite uncle. Very spare and open, strong emotions are expressed with a minimum of notes. “Kerenyi” was adapted from a play Madsen wrote in 1981. Dark and mysterious as a piano solo, the violin enters about 1/3 of the way into the piece and casts an even more haunting spell. “Nino and Me” is a lovely romantic waltz with a tender and graceful melody - very visual. “The Blackbird Whistling” is one of my favorites. Inspired by Wallace Stevens’ poem, “13 Ways of Looking At a Blackbird,” it more than hints of Erik Satie. The title could also be a nod to Satie’s odd titles and playing instructions. Most of the piece is very slow, spare, and flowing, trailing off at the end - exceptional! “Bandon” refers to a town on the Oregon Coast where Madsen’s great aunt and uncle had a cranberry farm that he visited one summer as a young boy. It’s the music of memories - simple and uncluttered. “For Wendy” was Madsen’s first composition, written for a girlfriend years ago. The heartfelt emotions convey the unbridled passions of youth. “Down Moon” gets me every time I hear it and is my favorite piece on this excellent album. Very dark and melancholy with occasional flickers of hope, it really makes my fingers itch (sheet music???)! I also really love “Oak Sky.” Simple yet incredibly moody, it says so much with so little. “Red Bird” ends the album with a gorgeous piano/violin duet that is perhaps the most cinematic piece of the album. Dark and expressive, it’s an evocative musical dialog between two artists.

"Two Hands" is an incredible musical experience that I very highly recommend. Check it out!