Jeremy Denk Is to Receive the Avery Fisher Prize

String of High Notes for Pianist

By MICHAEL COOPER

BOSTON — Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven are playing Scrabble in heaven. No, it is not the setup of a joke — well, not exactly. It is the first scene of the highly improbable comic opera being written by the pianist Jeremy Denk and the composer Steven Stucky, based on one of the most influential scholarly music books of recent decades: Charles Rosen’s “The Classical Style.”

“Weltanschauung! Triple word score … 183 points!” the know-it-all Beethoven sang at a recent workshop run-through here, as he played the German word for “worldview.” The opera’s Mozart — sung by a soprano, in a nod to the kind of trouser roles that the real Mozart sometimes wrote for women playing men — responded gleefully with a 28-point German word that, if translated into English, would be of the four-letter variety.

“You’re that kind of person in Scrabble,” Mr. Denk coached his Mozart during a break, “who only plays dirty words.”

Jeremy Denk is working on a comic opera, reflecting an approach to music that is thoughtful, respectful and irreverent.

Jeremy Denk is working on a comic opera, reflecting an approach to music that is thoughtful, respectful and irreverent.

The news that Mr. Denk had come up with the idea of writing a comic opera based on “The Classical Style,” a work of rigorous analysis with its own chapter on comic opera, was greeted in musical circles with amused curiosity and a little disbelief. It was as if a well-known author had decided to write a novel based on Strunk and White’s seminal writing guide, “The Elements of Style,” or an artist had decided to paint a fresco of H. W. Janson’s “History of Art.”

Mr. Denk was frank about the genesis of the idea. “I think it involved a little alcohol, originally,” he said with a laugh.

The madcap project — which Mr. Denk conceived and wrote the libretto for — is very much in keeping with the kind of unusual, deeply thought out and simultaneously respectful and irreverent approach to music that has helped make this Mr. Denk’s moment. During the past year, he has gotten a contract from Random House to expand a piece he wrote for The New Yorker into a memoir; been named a MacArthur Fellow (referred to colloquially as winning a genius award); and been designated Musical America’s “instrumentalist of the year.”

Mr. Denk will receive his next accolade on Tuesday when he is awarded the Avery Fisher Prize, a $75,000 prize established 40 years ago to recognize both musicianship and, more broadly, contributions to the musical world. (The pianist Charlie Albright, the violist Dimitri Murrath and the Calder Quartet will each get $25,000 career grants.)

“The Classical Style,” which will have its premiere this June at the Ojai Music Festival in California and will be performed at Zankel Hall in New York in December, teems with musical jokes and quotations from notable pieces. In one scene, three characters playing the building blocks of tonality — Tonic, Dominant and Subdominant — walk into a bar, only to be frightened by the Tristan Chord. In another, a symposium on sonata form is written in, well, you can guess. There are in-jokes, but listeners will not need Ph.D.s to get them all. Besides looking for laughs, Mr. Denk and Mr. Stucky said they hoped the opera would illuminate some of Mr. Rosen’s insights on classical music, and inspire people to think about its place in the modern world.

 

In recent years, Mr. Denk, 43, has become well known not only as a concert musician but also as a writer and explainer of classical music, from his blog, Think Denk (jeremydenk.net/blog), to the liner notes of him speaking and playing the piano on a DVD, which was included with his recording of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.” Mr. Denk became friends with Mr. Rosen, who was himself a well-regarded pianist and a scholar, in the years before his death in 2012 at 85. He said he hoped that the opera would be seen as “deeply respectful” of Mr. Rosen.

Mr. Denk recalled feeling nervous before asking Mr. Rosen if he could turn the book into an opera.

“He laughed, and he thought it was ridiculous, but he gave his permission,” Mr. Denk recalled. “It was a big thing building up to it, because I wanted to ask him, and didn’t want him to feel that it was a jape. So I asked him over dinner. I’m sure he never really believed that it would actually come to pass.”

It came to pass largely because of Thomas W. Morris, artistic director of the Ojai Music Festival, who asked Mr. Denk in 2009 if he would take on the rotating post of music director for this spring’s festival.

“Jeremy said, ‘Well, I’ve had a very mad idea for an opera, and when I tell you what it’s on, you’ll laugh,’ ” Mr. Morris recalled. But Mr. Morris signed on, seeing it as in keeping with Ojai’s mission of letting artists take risks. “It’s not a place where you trot out your party pieces,” he said.

Mr. Morris helped line up Mr. Stucky, a composer with a background in academia who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for his Second Concerto for Orchestra, which weaves allusions to past composers into a contemporary setting.

“Tom attempted a shotgun marriage,” Mr. Stucky said, recalling that he initially thought it was a brilliant but impossible idea. “But the more I talked to Jeremy, and the more samples of libretto that I saw, the more impossible it became for me to get out of it.”

Mr. Denk’s sudden burst of attention has been a big change. Now, just a few years after he was little known outside of piano circles, offers are pouring in. On Tuesday the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will name him an artistic partner, beginning next season.

“It’s insane,” he said during an interview after a run-through of “The Classical Style” here at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where he is an artist in residence. “It’s wild, and I’m a little bit in shock, kind of. It’s a great shock.

“My dad wrote me an email after the MacArthur: ‘Keep it up!’ ” he recalled. “And I thought, ‘I can’t keep this up, this is pretty much as good as it’s going to get.’ ”

© The New York Times 2014

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REVIEW: Pianist Edmund Battersby

By Peter Jacobi

 

In Auer Hall on Saturday evening, Edmund Battersby was reminding another audience of his talents as he played on a new piano, a handmade Yamaha CFX Concert Grand that’s on loan to the Jacobs School for this semester.

I’m not sure about Edmund Battersby’s reaction; however, he seemed perfectly comfortable with the Yamaha, and the Yamaha should certainly have been pleased to be animated by him. What he played sounded awfully good. Of course, whenever this pianist gives a recital, what he plays and on whatever instrument he chooses always sounds good.

One heard repertoire the pianist loves and thrives on, starting with a more dramatic than usual Sonata of Haydn, the C Minor, Hob.XVI:20, at times romantic, at other times tragic or angry, the whole of it played ever so passionately.

Music of Schumann and Schubert followed; call it emotional red meat for Professor Battersby. The weather on Saturday may not as yet been springlike, but his pianism for “Waldszenen” (“Forest Scenes”) had the spring of spring. So did the Schumann Novelette in D Major, with its bravura rhythms.

From Schubert he took a pair of Klavierstucke, the sweetly charming E-Flat Minor and Major, warm-ups for the concert’s final piece, the magnificent Fantasy in C Major, usually referred to as the “Wanderer Fantasy,” during which a pianist stellar as is Battersby can give the piano the resonance almost of an orchestra. Edmund Battersby did.

 

© Herald Times 2014

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Michael Sikich named Gershwin Concerto Competition Winner

Gershwin Concerto Competition winner, Michael Sikich

Gershwin Concerto Competition winner, Michael Sikich

IU sophomore, Michael Sikich, was recently named winner of the Gershwin concerto competition that took place in Auer Hall on January 14, 2014. Michael is a student of Edward Auer and is pursuing a bachelor of music degree in piano performance. The runner up for the competition is Mark De Zwaan, a doctoral student of Karen Shaw.

The concerto competitions are held by the Jacobs School piano department three times per year and competitors are drawn from both undergraduate and graduate degree and diploma programs. The winners are awarded the opportunity to play with one of the IU orchestras in a concert given on the main stage at the Musical Arts Center. This year, Michael is very excited to perform Gershwin’s Concerto in F with the Concert Orchestra directed by Arthur Fagen on Wednesday, February 12, at 8 pm. Michael adds that “it is a privilege to work with Mr. Fagen. In this purely American masterpiece, the orchestra is of equal importance as the piano and the interplay between the two ranges from intimate to exhilarating.”

Biography:
Michael Sikich, age 20, is a native of Santa Barbara, CA, and is currently a sophomore at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music under the instruction of Edward Auer. A recipient of the Premier Young Artist Award, he is pursuing a bachelor of music degree in

piano performance, a minor in conducting, and a certificate in arts administration. He is a member of NOTUS: IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, which will travel to New York City this spring for a performance at Carnegie Hall.

He has been the recipient of awards through the Santa Barbara Foundation, the Performing Arts Scholarship Foundation Competition, and the Santa Barbara Music Club, which presented him with the Sergej Rakhmaninov Award for Outstanding Piano Virtuosity. He was a four-time winner of the Young Soloist Showcase Competition, performing concerti of Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, and Gershwin under Gary Sheldon (Miami City Ballet) and Avlana Eisenberg (Boston Chamber Symphony).

He studied with Lana Bodnar and was coached extensively in chamber repertoire by Nina Bodnar, former concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony under Slatkin. He attended the CCM Prague International Piano Institute and this past summer studied intensively with Peter Bithell, professor of piano at the Guildhall School of Music in London.

Venturing outside the realm of classical music, Michael was the bandleader/pianist for the jazz combo, Cut Time, which performed throughout Southern California. He studied advanced jazz theory and composition with trumpeter Dr. Chuck Wood and premiered and professionally recorded his original composition, Standing Up, for 8-piece jazz combo.

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Distinguished Professor Menahem Pressler releases CD of Jacobs Recital

pressler cdDistinguished Professor of Piano at Indiana University Menahem Pressler brings poetry and dance to us in the music of three Vienna masters.

SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata No. 18 in G Major, D. 894; MOZART: Rondo in A Minor, K. 511; BEETHOVEN: Bagatelles, Op. 126 – Menahem Pressler, p. – La Dolce Volta LDV 12, 74:56 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi](12/10/13) ****:

Menahem Pressler (b. 1923) recorded this recital at the Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, 20-22 May 2013. Pressler has become, by sheer longevity and unceasing activity, among the revered icons of keyboard artistry, occupying a position exactly that of the late Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993). The major work in this program, Schubert’s 1826 G Major Sonata (“Fantasia”) provides an eminently lyrical vehicle for Pressler and his Hambourg Steinway, especially in its first movement, Molto moderato e cantabile. Expansively broad, relaxed in a spiritual serenity of its own, this music glides in 12/8 periods that often exploit degrees of subtle pianissimo. The entire contour of this movement defies “drama” in the usual sense of sonata-form, relying on dance figuration and variations on selected fragments. The modulation to G Minor promises conflict, but the temperament relaxes and resolves itself into a dew.

Pressler extends his non-bravura approach to the 3/8 Andante in D Major, shaped as a rondo that increasingly becomes ornate as it evolves. Pressler does not play down the darker moments, but they never interfere with the luminous sense of repose that dominates this score. And Pressler colors his chords most attractively, still capable of jeu perle when he wants it. The B Minor Menuetto requires some more potent staccato figures from Pressler, but the rustic aggression cedes to the molto legato Trio section in B Major. Some may find the degree of marcato and retard in the outer sections mannered, but the Trio glistens in a most jeweled music-box. Pressler retains the long finale as essentially dance music – not dramatic but soberly gay – a rondo in moderate Allegretto tempo. Schubert colors the rondo theme by assigning it to varying registers, high and bright or low and fateful. The brief sense of tragedy emerges, espessivo, in C Minor, but Schubert transforms it all too quickly into the major mode. The bouncy fragments of melody and rustic rhythms continue to wend their modest, meandering ways, leaving us with a song that the Mississippi may have sung to the perpetually young Huck Finn.

Mozart’s 1787 Rondo in A Minor, K. 511 remains one of the few solo works by the composer ever recorded by Artur Rubinstein. Perhaps Rubinstein sensed the various ways the piece anticipates aspects of Chopin, fusing introspection and sadness in a form generally associated with light and dance. Each appearance of this simple theme, with an obligatory ornament and the A in the left hand, jars us with some subtle variation, especially in a temporary move to C Major. At measure 31, Mozart invokes the spirit of J.S. Bach, exercising chromatic counterpoint. Pressler’s studied evolution of the piece emphasizes its emotional hues that draw on the temperament of D major happiness desolated by dark runs and diminished seventh chords. In its late bars, the figures might have inspired Chopin’s equally “baroque” Berceuse in D-flat. A sad elegy, this noble, elastically mournful work, rare in spirit and immensely difficult to bring off, unless one’s brow has been touched by Melpomene.

Pressler concludes with the set of six late Bagatelles, Op. 126 (1825). The lyric mode of No. 1 (Andante con moto) finds an icy foil in No. 2, set as a Bach invention with a dark bass line. Pressler’s touch has become more granite-like, shades of Sviatoslav Richter, except for the rubato. The Andante proffers a slow movement in triple time, a combination of Handelian devices and his own Hammerklavier Sonata third movement. For condensation of witty, even savage, drama, the B Minor No. 4 has few peers. The Quasi allegretto reverses the usual conceit and makes Beethoven sound like Schubert! The gentle sparkle of Pressler’s rendition rings true long after the last chord. The Presto begins with a “finale” that reverses itself and becomes a dance of noble gait. The upward scale becomes a motto over plangent bass chords that soon resound (ostinato) in a manner Liszt will find attractive. The last bars sound with authority and defiance, the lion in winter.

The entire La Dolce Volta production, by the way, means to make a CD package a luxury item.

—Gary Lemco

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REVIEW (HT): Pressler celebrates 90th birthday on stage with friends

©2004-Marco-Borgreve-2By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer | pjacobi@heraldt.com | Posted: Monday, December 16, 2013 12:00 am       

The party began with birthday wishes from President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama and U.S. Rep. Todd Young, followed by bestowal of the rarely awarded University Medal, IU’s highest distinction. It ended with the unfurling of a banner stating “Happy Birthday, Mr. Pressler,” and the audience singing “Happy Birthday.”

Between start and finish in Indiana University’s Musical Arts Center on Friday evening, there was a treasure of glorious music played by the birthday celebrant himself, pianist Menahem Pressler, along with friends: his former co-member in the Beaux Arts Trio, violinist Daniel Hope; two concert colleagues, pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel, a couple that serve as artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the renowned Emerson Quartet, with whom Pressler has played many a concert and also recorded.

The birthday bash came a bit early, three days to be exact. His actual date of birth came 90 years ago today, the 16th of December, the same day and month as that of a musical giant Menahem Pressler idolizes, Ludwig van Beethoven.

There was no Beethoven on the list of works for Friday’s “Menahem Pressler 90th Birthday Celebration,” but there was Schubert and there was Dvorak, two other composers he much admires and has made specialties in his repertoire.

Leave it to the indefatigable and generous Pressler to not spend his birthday concert in the audience listening to others serenade him. No, it was he who serenaded, participating in all three works on the program: Schubert’s Fantasia in F Minor for Piano Four Hands, Dvorak’s Trio in E Minor, Opus 90 (“Dumky”), and a second Dvorak composition, the Piano Quintet in A Major, Opus 81.

What to single out? Well, that’s virtually impossible, considering that all three pieces contain felicities and were played with nobility of spirit and a rare blend of abandon and utmost care, a mix only great musicians can make happen. Take the opening Schubert, the Fantasia that asks two pianists, Han and Pressler on this occasion, to sit alongside each other at a single keyboard. The piece starts with a genial and evanescent passage that Schubert repeats as the Fantasia unfolds, but each time with subtle shifts in key and character. It continues with a flurry of attractive developments. Written in the last year of Schubert’s brief life, the Fantasia contains abundant themes, from the lyrical to the somber and the turbulent, that manifest themselves in all sorts of rhythmic and harmonic patterns. Friday’s performance was stylish, high-spirited and pristine.

For Dvorak’s “Dumky” Trio, a signature work for the disbanded Beaux Arts Trio, which Pressler served for its entire 53-year existence, the pianist teamed with Hope, who was the Beaux Arts’ violinist in its final years, and cellist Finckel. The three had the full measure of this hard to resist, Slavic-flavored score, the last of five trios Dvorak would write. Pressler and company seemed to cherish the opportunity to play the “Dumky,” its diverse elements: the melancholy and the joyous, the gentle folk tunes and the rambunctious dances. Like the Schubert, it received a cheers-filled standing ovation.

But, of course, the longest and loudest applause was saved for the end, after an intensely beautiful reading of the Dvorak A Major Piano Quintet. The reading itself was highly deserving, what with the quintet’s opulence of musical ideas having been treated so warmly and exuberantly by Pressler and the Emerson. But the absolute silence maintained by the audience during the performance presaged an eruption at its conclusion. Erupt the audience did, this for all the performers but mostly for the remarkable Menahem Pressler who has given so generously of himself to his students and the university for 58 years and counting.

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President Obama sends birthday wishes to Menahem Pressler

prez letterobama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Menahem Pressler to Receive New Award From Chamber Society

Pianist to Receive New Award From Chamber Society

 

By MICHAEL COOPER

 

What to give a beloved 90-year-old pianist? How about a fairly demanding international tour of birthday concerts and a new award from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center? Menahem Pressler, who helped found the Beaux Arts Trio in 1955, will turn 90 on Dec. 16 — and he has been marking the milestone with a series of concerts in France and Germany.

His tour continues this month with several concerts in Amsterdam with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. On Friday he is to perform at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he has taught for more than half a century, and on Saturday he is set to play in New York at Alice Tully Hall, where he will be the first recipient of an award “for extraordinary service to chamber music” from the society.

 

© The New York Times 2013

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Birthday celebration concert this week for Menahem Pressler

Menahem Pressler rehearses Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K.453, which was performed during the Festival Orchestra concert in June in the Musical Arts Center. Arthur Fagen is the conductor.

Menahem Pressler rehearses Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K.453, which was performed during the Festival Orchestra concert in June in the Musical Arts Center. Arthur Fagen is the conductor.

90 years old and playing with love

By Peter Jacobi

The big surprise was that I was to call him in his studio. That meant he, pianist Menahem Pressler, was home during Thanksgiving week, at least for most of it.

When we connected by phone, I mentioned my surprise, in that on former occasions, often I reached him in a hotel room somewhere or other on this planet, but not in Bloomington.

“I’m surprised, too,” he said. “But here I am. Of course, I’ve just returned from Toronto, where I had a wonderful evening with Schubert, for which I received a fantastic write-up. And I leave Sunday for Toulouse, where I’ll play Beethoven’s Fourth. Then I come back home for my birthday party, and then it’s on to New York, to Amsterdam, where I’ll play with the Concertgebouw, and to St. Petersburg. It’s back to Bloomington for 10 days, and then to Berlin for concerts with the Philharmonic.” All that, and he finds the time to teach his 15 students as distinguished professor of music in the Jacobs School.

“It’s a present from God to be able to do it,” he tells me, “to have the desire to do it and to follow through on that desire. At 90, I still have that desire.” At 90: that’s what “I come back home for my birthday party” is all about. Next Friday evening in the Musical Arts Center, Menahem Pressler will be honored with a 90th birthday celebration.

Now, that doesn’t mean he’ll sit in the audience to be entertained. That means, as I put it to him, “As always, you’ll be working for your supper.” “I love working for my supper that way,” says Pressler.

Menahem Pressler

Menahem Pressler

He’ll be up there on stage with invited friends, right in the middle of the action. And who will be his friends on this occasion? Violinist Daniel Hope, “Dear Daniel,” his colleague during the late years of the Beaux Arts Trio and now a soloist with a burgeoning career; cellist David Finckel, until recently a member of the Emerson String Quartet and currently co-artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; pianist Wu Han, a former Pressler student, prominent recitalist, teacher, and wife of David Finckel and the whole of the Emerson String Quartet, with whom Pressler has played on countless occasions.

What attendees will hear are the Schubert Sonata in C Major, “Grand Duo,” the one for four hands, along with Dvorak’s Piano Trio in E Minor, “Dumky,” a Beaux Arts Trio signature piece, and the Dvorak Piano Quintet in A Major.

The Bloomington birthday concert will not be the first; the indefatigable Mr. Pressler has already participated in a Paris celebration before 2,000 cheering fans. There’ll be a New York event the next day to follow our local tribute.

“I’m particularly thrilled about the concert here,” he says. “This is my home. I love Bloomington. I love Indiana University. I love my students. This is a kind of celebration of love, and I want to return the feeling by doing what I love, doing music. I feel really wanted here, and, you know, I really want to be wanted. Not that I ever did, but I don’t play at this time of my life to make a career. I am playing to fulfill my fondest wish: to make music. All of this is like a dream I couldn’t have imagined.”

Dec. 16 is the exact date in 1923 when Menahem Pressler was born in Magdeburg, Germany. Because of Nazi persecution of the Jews, he fled his homeland in 1939 and emigrated to Israel, all the while studying the piano. In 1945, he won the Debussy International Piano Competition. That launched his career, at first as soloist, then starting in 1955, as both chamber musician and teacher. 1955 was a big year. He became a founding member of the Beaux Arts Trio and its only pianist for the 55 years of its existence. He also joined the faculty of IU’s School of Music, an association that spans nearly 60 years. With the end of the trio, Menahem Pressler turned very active soloist once again.

Along the way, he’s appeared with major orchestras and at festivals worldwide. He’s won honorary doctorates and lifetime achievement awards. His recordings include virtually all of the piano chamber repertoire, these with the Beaux Arts Trio, and close to three dozen discs as soloist. A couple, holding music of Beethoven and Schubert, have just recently been released.

pressler 3After all these years, I ask, “Has your enthusiasm diminished in any way?” I ask the question, knowing full well the answer I’ll receive: “Oh, no. Of course not,” he says with a chuckle. “To play at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, where Brahms and Liszt and Mendelssohn performed, to play a Schubert evening there: How can anything be more exciting? To play music I adore with chosen friends here in Bloomington: Could anything be better? To work with my students, all talented and lovely people: That’s a heavenly gift for me.”

The ebullient Mr. Pressler notes that a reporter for the German magazine, Der Spiegel, asked the above question and whether age has become a factor in his still-so-active life. “I answered, ‘When I play in concert, I feel 50. When I teach, I feel 40. When I go up the stairs, I feel my age.’ But, really, nothing has changed. I’m still as excited as ever. Music is a wonderful reason to be alive.”

The combination of Menahem Pressler and music, I say, is a terrific reason to be at the Musical Arts Center come Friday night.

© Herald Times 2013

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Update on alumna Dr. E.J. Choe (DM ’08)

Dr EJ ChoeDr. E.J. Choe (DM 2008, Piano Pedagogy) joined IUPUI in 2008 as Assistant Professor of Music in the Department of Music and Arts Technology after serving as Coordinator of Piano at University of Colorado in Denver. Dr. Choe was a recently invited as a keynote speaker at The Korean Society of Music Educational Technology Conference in addition to her article “Power up Pedagogy with Technology : iPads in Music” published in the KSMET Journal. Dr. Choe was also selected by the National Research Foundation of Korea, Ministry of Education: Science and Technology in the joint research project entitled”Design and Implementation of Mobile App based on the Smart Learning for Music Education” for 2013-14.

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MUSIC REVIEW: CHIU RECITAL

Chiu recital and master class welcome last-minute additions

By Peter Jacobi

Tuesday evening’s concert by pianist Frederick Chiu in Recital Hall was a last-minute addition. The distinguished Indiana University alum was in the area, realized he had a day in his busy schedule, decided he’d like to see the new IU Jacobs School of Music building, called his former teacher Karen Shaw, and the two worked out a schedule that included not only the concert but a Wednesday morning master class.

Lucky break undoubtedly for the students chosen to work with him in the master class, which I did not see. Lucky break without doubt for those of us who attended the concert. His prodigious pianism stuns not only for technique but for what Chiu locates and draws out of a score artistically. What’s more, he always seems to have an extra purpose in mind, a theme that allows him to explore a musical idea.

For Tuesday’s recital, he had prepared a “Classical Smackdown: Sergei Prokofiev vs. Claude Debussy,” focusing on two composers whose lives at least partially intersected chronologically and who contributed significantly to the directions music followed in the 20th century. Most of the works he chose to play were written in years when both men were active composers, from the later years of Debussy, the earlier of Prokofiev.

Chiu spoke about the repertoire before he first sat at the piano and between periods of music, which he called rounds in support of his ”smackdown” wrestling/boxing theme. He had cogent things to say, but that aspect of the program, which included a request for listeners to fill out a ballot to record favorites, would have made for better listening had he used a microphone.

The music heard proved a Chiu point: that although Debussy’s works, for the most part, stressed imagery and subtlety while Prokofiev’s aimed for modernity and propulsion, each man could and sometimes did cross stylistic lines.

Sorry to admit, I didn’t fill out my ballot, choosing instead just to watch and listen. Watch because Chiu sits not on a piano bench but an armless chair, almost in a slouch, appearing totally relaxed as he draws fire and magic from the Steinway. Listen because of an amazing flow of that fire and magic.

Debussy was represented by his evocative and multi-hued “Suite Bergamesque”; the transparently textured “Cloches a travers les feuilles” (“Bells through the leaves”) from “Images II,” with its pronounced chime effect; “Jardins sous la pluie” (“Gardens in the rain”) from “Estampes,” rich in competing melodies, and the dreamy “Reverie.”

The case for Prokofiev was made with Chiu’s arrangement for piano of excerpts from the ballet “Romeo and Juliet,” volatile in essence; a sprinkling of short exercises, mostly tempestuous (“Sarcasms,” “Two Fugitive Visions,” and “Diabolic Suggestions”), and the breathtaking, show-stopping “Toccata.”

Chiu played them all from memory and exceedingly well. Whose music did I prefer? I can’t say. I can say I’d hate to be deprived of either genius. And I’m grateful Frederick Chiu stopped by once again, this time to share his fascinating take on Debussy and Prokofiev, compositional giants both.

© Herald Times 2013

 

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