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Conlon Nancarrow, one of the most fascinating and least hidebound of contemporary composers, took up writing for the player piano early in his career because he felt mere mortals could not master the odd, dauntingly intricate textures and rhythms of his music. So it was a measure of his confidence in Ursula Oppens that this 76-year-old reclusive expatriate–who’s lived in Mexico City since 1940–composed 2 Canons for Ursula. When the piece premiered in New York City two seasons ago, reviewers marveled at her precision and the breathtaking, effortless way her fingers glided up and down the keyboard. We’ll get a chance to hear this piece–praised for its shimmering, seductive sound–in Oppens’s Orchestra Hall debut, alongside similarly challenging and dazzling works by Stravinsky (Sonata no. 2 and Etudes op. 7), Brahms (Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel), and Rachmaninoff. The 20th-century-heavy program is typical for this high priestess of new music, who said in a recent interview that her two missions are “getting to know the wonderful new music of our time” and “integrating it into regular concert life.” Sunday, 3 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-6666 or 435-8122.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Erich Hartmann–Magnum.