Bach to Bacewicz: First Piano Concert at AMF
For the past few years, I’ve served as the director of the Atlantic Music Festival‘s Piano Institute and Seminar: a wonderful opportunity for budding pianists to take private lessons from renowned teachers and performers, as well as for the chance to attend both inspiring chamber and orchestral performances, free of charge, by famous conductors and other artists. On Tuesday, July 19, we kicked off our 2011 performing season with the first piano institute concert of the season, introducing our piano students and fellows to the general public with an eclectic program of music.
The program featured the “usual” Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Scarlatti; to Gershwin song transcriptions and a piece by Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz. For this concert, out of ten total students and fellows, six performed. Two of these were from our fellowship program, which allows young musicians to have a four-week residency at AMF while they develop skills they need to enter the world of professional concert artists. The rest were students in undergrad and grad schools from all over the country, many of them international.
Opening our concert was Justin Jaramillo, the youngest member of our program, with the C# Major Prelude and Fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier, Book I. He’s still in high school, going into his senior year in the fall. I first met him at a master class I held at the Eastman Community Division back in February, and I invited him to the festival. One of his major interests in composition, and since AMF also has an excellent composition program, he is hoping to meet other composers who will help him on his journey as a composer as well as a pianist. He performed his Bach piece sprightly and confidently, with assurance ringing through up until the final chord of the fugue.
Monica Schultz was the second performer, hailing from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Music in piano performance. Currently, Monica is a rising senior, which means she will be applying to graduate schools within the next few months. She played Beethoven’s Op. 2 No. 3 piano sonata in C Major, first movement. The movement was extremely well-thought out and very deliberate. Monica had lived with this piece for a while, and it shows in her execution of the piece. She also had done some changes with the fingering not long before the performance, which I and the other faculty were a bit nervous about. However, I am proud to say that she pulled it off quite well.
Following this, our piano fellow Anna Starzec performed the lesser-known, Sonata by Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz, a contemporary piece that is unfamiliar even to me. Anna actually also hails from Poland, but for the past few years, she has been in the United States, pursuing advanced degrees in musical performance. Currently, she is pursuing her DMA in piano performance at Stony Brook. This was the first time I had heard Anna play, with the exception of some accompanying in performance classes, but I was happy to find that she is a brilliant performer. Her performance was commanding. The first movement was virtuosic and dramatic, catching the listener’s attention from the outset, while the second movement was more contemplative in nature. The third movement, the “Toccata,” in contrast, was playful and fun. The applause, rightly deserved, after she concluded the sonata was so great that she had to come out a second time.
Another of our piano fellows, Carlos Avila, who hails from Juilliard, played the more familiar Scarlatti Sonata in E Major, perhaps an unusual choice to follow the highly virtuosic and dramatic Bacewicz. However, it served as an excellent contrast. The piece itself seems simple, even easy. It’s not what one would call a “virtousic” piece. However, Carlos’s playing showed that an excellent pianist may take a piece that may be perceived as simple and basic and bring out the nuances in the work. The ability to keep such a simple piece from ever seeming dull or boring, to me, shows great maturity in a pianist, and is sometimes the hardest thing to work at. This work was delicately played, and Carlos had his listeners riveted. After this, he played Rachmaninoff Etude-Tableau and song transcriptions of Gershwin songs by Earl Wild. I Got Rhythm, in particular, a piece with many surprises, was very much enjoyed by myself as well as the audience. Another audience favorite, Carlos had to come out twice.
William Kelley, who is pursuing his undergraduate degree in piano performance at the University of North Carolina as a rising sophomore, played the first movement of Beethoven’s “Appassionata” sonata. This piano sonata is considered one of Beethoven’s greatest and most mature sonatas, perhaps an ambitious undertaking for many young pianists because of the technical difficulty as well as the emotional punches packed into the piece. However, though this piece is perhaps still a work in progress in some areas, William was able to interpret it quite passionately, and the audience enjoyed it immensely.
Croatian pianist Ivan Horvatic, who has just finished his second masters’ degree in Switzerland at the age of 23, concluded the program with Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, a massive half-hour long set of twelve shorter piano pieces in theme and variation format. This is a piece which obviously demands a lot of stamina from the performer, as well as the audience, which Ivan had. His performance was fantastic, keeping the pieces lively and interesting with plenty of character. Despite the length, I noticed the audience nodding along to the beat throughout the piece, and it seemed as if they certainly enjoyed it a lot. I might also add that Ivan is the winner of this year’s concerto competition, and will be playing Beethoven’s first piano concerto with the AMF orchestra at the end of the festival.
All-in-all, a successful and extremely well-played concert for the third year of our piano program.
The second concert of the Piano Institute and Seminar will be held on August 2nd, Tuesday, at 7 PM. For program information, a list of featured performers, and to reserve your tickets, please click here.