Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Heads up: Don't miss Paul Lewis and Joyce DiDonato

I've been on hiatus with the blog during the holidays and am actually posting this entry from New York, where I'm attending two conferences and meeting with artist managers to put the finishing touches to Spivey Hall's 2007/08 season. Good things are in store for us! We plan to announce the details of next season in April (subscribers and Friends of Spivey Hall will receive invitations to this event in March). Before then, there's a tremendous wealth of concerts still to come. We had such a terrific fall with vocalists Rolando Villazon and Angelika Kirchschlager and the triumphant return of Chanticleer. The great singing continues with American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who had a huge success in Santa Fe this summer in the title role of Massenet's Cendrillon (Cinderella) and enjoys a career that's strongly on the rise, especially in the opera houses of Europe. In addition to a beautiful voice and excellent musicality, she has a very lively personality. I eagerly await her recital, for I know she will infuse it with tremendous character -- the sort of music making that make songs truly come alive. We're now coming into a great line-up of pianists at Spivey Hall. Richard Goode and Ivan Moravec will be with us again; Richard's program has changed a bit since we first announced the season (be sure to see his revised program, which now features Fantasies by Brahms, and a second half of Chopin). I look forward to every note of both programs, for both of these musicians are undisputed masters who as artists have much, much, much to say. Both are major artists we're extremely proud to present. I am no less excited about the debut of British pianist Paul Lewis. Not infrequently, Spivey Hall patrons will tell me they were sorry to miss a concert that friends who had attended said was really marvelous -- and why I had not told them it was going to be so great? Well, this is one of those concerts you should not miss. Come hear Paul Lewis. He's new to this part of the world but is celebrated in Europe and rightly so. Other leading presenters and their audiences in the United States have discovered the magnificence of Paul's playing, and I'm delighted that metro-Atlanta music lovers finally have the chance to hear Paul at Spivey Hall. Paul is the midst of what is for pianists the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest: playing and recording all 32 of the Beethoven piano sonatas. This is a major, life-changing experience for a pianist, for these works are central pillars of the repertoire, some of Beethoven's most profound musical statements; they pose great intellectual and interpretative challenges in addition to testing the pianist's fortitude and stamina. Each generation must rediscover them anew. Transversing the Beethoven sonatas as a cycle is a transformational experience, and to witness a pianist undertaking this journey of the soul (even just one program of it) is a rare privilege. Some patrons may know Paul's playing from BBC Music Magazine, which has featured him on several occasions and included excerpts of his recordings on the free CD that accompanies the magazine. I actually first heard his Beethoven on a harmonia mundi release -- one of the earlier releases of his cycle. The "Moonlight" Sonata, which is part of his all-Beethoven program, is certainly one of the most popular of Beethoven's piano sonatas. Some people consider it a "warhorse" -- a well-known piece that rarely fails to please and which (in the minds of some) perhaps gets played too often. Sometimes Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" are labeled as warhorses, but I've never come away from a performance of either without learning something new about them. And that, to me, is a measure of a great work. I am of the opinion that warhorses are warhorses for a reason: they have an enduring power not only to move listeners, but also to inspire performers. Yes, the opening movement of the "Moonlight" is extremely familiar to our ears; but it's the final movement that I most yearn to hear these days. Thus I'm keen to experience what Paul will do with this piece, and I'm extremely curious to hear the rest of his program as well. Initially I was enthused and pleased that Paul would be on the series, and I must give credit to Sherryl Nelson for booking him -- he was one of the first artists early on in our 2006/07 season planning. Since that time, I'd sought out other recordings by Paul Lewis, to learn more about him as a musician, and found a copy of his Liszt B-minor Sonata at Tower Records in New York about a year ago now. (Sadly, very very sadly, Tower Records stores are no more. This was not news to me and is probably not news to you either, but still, it hadn't really sunk in until I saw the old store near Lincoln Center empty tonight as I walked by, following a reception in honor of the new President and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center, Joseph Bankoff; Atlantans may consider themselves extremely fortunate indeed that he is at the helm of this most important organization. But the pleasure I was feeling after the reception was abruptly diminished when I saw Tower Records dark and abandoned; it really made my heart sink, for I'd spent so many happy hours there, finding new recordings, and discovering artists and repertoire through them. It has always been, for me, a favorite haunt, and dangerous place to be with a credit card.) Anyway -- for those who love the piano repertoire, the Liszt Sonata is an important measure of any pianist -- one of the truly transcendental works of the Romantic literature, and vastly revealing. I think my collection of recordings has at various times included some 20 versions by different pianists of this piece, and right now, I have about a dozen, with a very short list of favorites. Well... I put Paul Lewis's recording in the CD player one night late at the office, and was totally thunderstruck. The passion, the extraordinarily expressive nuance, the remarkable phrasing and "control of the moment," the imagination (!!!!), the power, and the architectural grasp of the piece his interpretation conveyed knocked me sideways! Paul's recording went straight to my shortlist. I was captivated. Through his recording, the sonata had been revealed to me once again, fresh and new. I was excited in so many ways. For someone who hears as much music as I do, it is such a pleasure to make a discovery of this nature! So... you can now see why I implore any of you reading this who haven't got a ticket yet, love Beethoven, love the piano, and want a "big experience" listening to these masterworks performed by a compelling artist, hear ye, hear ye: you do not want to miss this concert! I have very high expectations and feel quite confident they will be more than met. And of course I will be very interested to hear the opinions of patrons who hear this recital, and encourage you to post your comments.


Blogger MapleMama said...

Hi Sam,

I hope your recital by Paul Lewis went stunningly! Well worth the wait, I'm sure.

We were thrilled to have him in Vermont again, and look forward to his return in March and May to complete the Beethoven cycle.

Best wishes to all at Spivey.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Spivey Hall said...

Thanks for your comment! Paul Lewis gave a beautiful, beautiful recital -- I had several long-time Spivey Hall pianophiles speak in glowing terms of how much they enjoyed his interpretation of the four Beethoven sonatas he performed with such clarity, power and engaging character. *Absolutely* worth the wait, and I look forward to his return in a future season. Vermonters are lucky to hear his entire Beethoven cycle, and even more fortunate to have an extraordinary artistic leader in Paul Nelson, who directs Middlebury College's outstanding concert series -- truly one of the best in the nation. We spoke just before Paul Lewis's arrival (there was a momentary passport/visa drama that thankfully was resolved just in the nick of time!). I had the great pleasure of meeting Paul Nelson a few years ago in Vermont; we share strong enthusiasms for artists who will be appearing both in Middlebury and Morrow. Come visit us sometime!

5:10 PM  

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