Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Chopin Project

Last night, my husband and I heard a recital by the pianist Brian Ganz at Strathmore. Brian is doing a series of concerts over 10 years in which he will perform all of Chopin's works. The first concert was last year, and I was not on the ball enough to get tickets ahead of time, so I made sure to acquire some well in advance this time.

As I mentioned in some posts from 2010, I knew Brian way back when he was accompanying students at the University of Maryland 30 years ago. I was remembering last night that I actually had heard him a few years before that, when he must have been around 16. I briefly took lessons from his teacher, and she invited me to play at one of her "at homes," when she had all her students play for each other at her house. I was far and away the very worst player; Brian was the biggest star. I think he played Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."

Anyway, he has always been an amazing pianist and musician, full of intelligence and warmth but also seeming to have whatever technique was needed to convey the piece he was playing. My husband asked me what I thought made him special as a pianist, and I replied, "His emotional connection -- to the music and to the audience."

All of this was on display last night, when he not only played, brilliantly, some of Chopin's powerhouse pieces (including the two Op. 40 Polonaises, the Op. 49 F minor Fantaisie, and the Op. 61 Polonaise-Fantaisie, among others) but spoke to the audience between works with both thoughtfulness and humor. The theme of this particular concert was "Dances and Fantasies," and he covered some interesting material in his speeches in a way completely accessible to anyone. (He also stayed poised and relaxed even after someone decided it was a good idea to applaud in the middle of Op. 49, leading a good portion of the packed house to applaud as well; Brian just kept his hands on the keyboard and waited until they were done before proceeding.)

During one of his addresses to the audience, Brian mentioned an article from c. 1982 about Chopin by the academic Douglas R. Hofstadter. The article was an attempt to explore the secrets of Chopin's music by examining its structure and other elements. Yet its mysterious allure remains -- mysterious. Hofstadter closed with the following:

What is the secret magic of Chopin? I know of no more burning question.
--Metamagical Themas

As Brian pointed out, quite a statement for a scientist to make.

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