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Alice Sara Ott: Tiny Desk Concert

Elizabeth Gillis

When Alice Sara Ott walked into our Tiny Desk office space she was fascinated by all the knickknacks and doodads musicians have left on the shelves over the years. She immediately got to work, folding an origami swan, which would be her own contribution. But first, it was given pride of place atop our trusty Yamaha upright — a talisman of good things to come.

"Music is timeless," the 34-year-old German-born pianist told the audience. And to prove it she served up nearly 200-year-old music by Chopin mixed with a contemporary work that looks back in time by the Canadian composer, pianist and genre-buster Chilly Gonzales. "If we perceive music as old, dusty and elite, or if it feels modern, relevant and inclusive to us, depends so much on the context," Ott added.

Chopin, whose cycle of Opus 28 Preludes dominate the set list, still sounds remarkably relevant today. Ott opens with a hurricane of passionate anguish in the Prelude No. 24 in D minor. She stabs at the music's final inky black notes, like pounding nails in a coffin. What follows couldn't be more contrary: the Prelude No. 7 in A major Ott describes as charming and innocent, like a "fragment of a memory." Gonzales' own Prelude in C sharp major has Bach in the rearview mirror and yet looks out ahead toward ambient music and minimalism. Without pause, Chopin's famous "Raindrop" Prelude, with those insistent, nervous droplets, caps off a concert by a thoughtful pianist willing to inject a full measure of emotion into music that demands it.


  • Chopin: Prelude Op. 28, No. 24
  • Chopin: Prelude Op. 28, No. 7
  • Chilly Gonzales: Prelude in C-Sharp Major
  • Chopin: Prelude Op. 28, No. 15 "Raindrop"

  • Alice Sara Ott: piano

  • Producer: Tom Huizenga
  • Director/Editor: Kara Frame
  • Audio Engineer: Neil Tevault
  • Creative Director: Bob Boilen 
  • Series Producer: Bobby Carter
  • Videographers: Kara Frame, Sofia Seidel
  • Audio Assistant: Jay Czys
  • Production Assistant: Alanté Serene
  • Photographer: Elizabeth Gillis
  • Tiny Desk Team: Suraya Mohamed, Josh Rogosin, Maia Stern, Joshua Bryant, Hazel Cills, Ashley Pointer
  • VP, Visuals and Music: Keith Jenkins
  • Senior VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Tom Huizenga
    Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.

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