Amanda Palmer Discovers Berklee Summer Student Tristan Allen

By 
Nick Balkin
November 8, 2010
Amanda Palmer (right) and Berklee summer student Tristan Allen
Palmer practices with Allen.
A high school senior, Allen plans to study piano and electronic music in college.

A chance meeting with Amanda Palmer has led to the chance of a lifetime for Berklee summer student and Saratoga Springs, New York–based pianist Tristan Allen. Walking home from a rehearsal in late August, Palmer met a group of Berklee summer students on the last day of the college's Five-Week Summer Performance Program. She decided to take a picture of three teens who were hugging on a bench. They obliged, and as she walked away, one of the teens, Allen, ran up after her, having been told "she plays cabaret piano music." When Palmer informed him she was in the Dresden Dolls, Allen was shocked—he had been a fan of the band for ages—and asked if she'd be interested in hearing his original piano music.

With no practice spaces available, Palmer said, "My house is six blocks away. I have a piano. Let's go there." So they did. Allen performed, and his music so impressed Palmer that she asked him if she could webcast to her fans on the spot. For the next hour, he played original compositions and improvisations for Palmer's online fanbase (including over 450,000 Twitter followers), ensuring that many would witness the event.

"The minute I saw him play the piano, I was mesmerized," said Palmer. "He reminded me a lot of myself when I was younger. The fact that he had the guts to ask me if he could play his music for me, right there on the street, was what sold me. I thought: 'This kid totally has what it takes to make it.'"

The response was ecstatic, and demand for Allen's music was such that Palmer invited him to a studio a few weeks later to record a five-song self-titled EP. It was funded directly from her fanbase using Kickstarter, generating over $8,000 in 48 hours. The EP, recorded in September in Boston with engineer Owen Curtin, includes four of Allen's compositions and one four-handed piano duet, "János vs. Wonderland," that Palmer and Allen wrote together and recorded exclusively for the album.

The CD release concert, An Evening with Amanda Palmer and Tristan Allen, takes place on Sunday, December 12 at 7:00 p.m. (doors at 6:30), at the Berklee Performance Center (BPC), 136 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston. General admission tickets are $10 and are available now at the BPC box office and through Ticketmaster (800 745-3000 or ticketmaster.com). A limited number of free tickets will be available for Berklee students, faculty, staff, and alumni. For more information, visit berkleebpc.com or call 617 747-2261. The venue is wheelchair-accessible.

The concert will be streamed live via Ustream at partyontheinternet.com. Ticket proceeds will fund a Berklee Five-Week Summer Performance Program scholarship. Order the EP on CD or digital download on kickstarter.com

Tristan Allen's music is solo piano, blending heartful passages of improvisational rhythm and textural, cinematic drama, and inviting comparisons to his heroes Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Eric Satie, and Yann Tiersen. His upbringing added to his artistic coffers: His Montreal-native mother is a dance professor at a university, and his father is a top scenic designer. The family lived in Japan for several years. Allen, currently a senior at Saratoga Springs High School, plans to study piano performance and electronic music in college. 

Amanda Palmer is a performer, director, composer, and musician who is best known for her role as frontwoman and keyboardist for the groundbreaking punk/cabaret duo the Dresden Dolls. In 2008, Palmer released Who Killed Amanda Palmer, her debut solo album, which was produced by Ben Folds. Palmer is currently on a reunion tour with the Dresden Dolls, and recently ended a sold-out run of 43 shows in which she starred as the emcee in the American Repertory Theater's production of Cabaret in her native Boston.