Monday, February 19, 2007

Pianists making headlines: Richard Goode and Angela Hewitt

Richard Goode, one of America's most distinguished pianists, renowned world-wide for the beauty of his playing and the expressive depths of his interpretations, makes a welcome return to Spivey Hall this Sunday, February 25th, at 3:00 pm, for the Spivey Memorial Concert (a concert given annually in memory of the founders of Spivey Hall, Walter & Emilie Spivey). Richard's recent performances have really hit the mark with music critics. Here's a preview of what we can expect to hear:

Even when he plays Brahms, the passion is always controlled. Somehow, though, it gets you. What Goode does at the piano is warm, engaging and marvelously subtle -- mesmerizing. Talking about him at intermission, a bunch of us found ourselves using words you'd normally never use to describe piano playing. Words like "fluid" and "liquid." One listening, struggling, came out with: "He plays as if the piano isn't there." Which made weird sense. Goode knows so thoroughly how to get what he wants from the piano that you almost feel the music goes directly from his head to the audience. . . .

This was Bach [the G-major Partita] to make you smile. Goode brought out not only the intricacy of the music but also the charm. And the seven pieces by Brahms, Op. 116, were a highlight because they showed a more robust side of Goode's artistry than the other music did. Lost in concentration, the pianist seemed to enjoy every rich chord, every transition. In the G-minor Capriccio, the passionate middle section never sounded lovelier or dreamier. Goode lingered on the ravishing harmonies and gave the music a wonderful romantic sweep.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman, The Buffalo News (2/14/07)

Richard will perform this same program -- Bach Partita No. 2, Mozart A-minor Rondo K.511, Debussy Preludes Book II, Brahms Fantasies Op. 116 -- this Sunday. Already well-sold, this concert has a few tickets still available. Courtesy of the Spivey Foundation, we'll all enjoy a reception in the lobby following the concert...and most likely we, too, will be groping for words to communicate the wonders of what we've just heard.

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In anticipation of Saturday, April 14 at 8:15 pm, when the extraordinary Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt performs the complete "Goldberg" Variations at Spivey Hall, I was glad to see the feature interview by Vivien Schweitzer that ran in The New York Times last week. A few highlights:

Her approach to Bach, which focuses on crystalline articulation, minimal pedal, singing lines and rhythmic vitality, is the same as her interpretations of other repertory. She explained that if played with extra clarity, Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata (which she has recorded) becomes more exciting and intelligible.

“Pianists are trained in romantic repertory and unfortunately apply that to Beethoven,” she said. “So many of his markings are disregarded that the performance tradition becomes deformed.”

Her recent recording of Chopin Nocturnes is also notable for its crystalline articulation, as well as its passion and dignity. Chopin, who also loved Bach, hated affectation, artifice and sentimentality, she said in her liner notes.

Ms. Hewitt, whose father was the organist at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa, began playing the piano at 3 and learned early on how to produce legato with the fingers and to use the pedal sparingly. She also studied ballet, which contributed to her understanding of the dance element in Bach’s music.

But while giving master classes, she has been distressed that students (and their teachers) often seem to have so little idea how to study Bach, so she made an instructional Bach DVD (to be released this year by Hyperion). In it she explains her methodology, stressing that you must adhere to period conventions.

Angela will be giving a master class on performing Bach on the piano as part of her visit to Atlanta for Spivey Hall's 2007 Spring Bach Festival. The master class will take place at Spivey Hall on Friday night, April 13, at 7:00 pm. Pianists who wish to apply to participate in the class, as well as music-lovers who just wish to attend and soak up Angela's insights on how she brings Bach to life at the piano, should call Spivey Hall Education Manager Amber Dimkoff at (678) 466-4481 or email her at Tickets to Angela's Saturday recital are available from the Spivey Hall Box Office (678) 466-4200 or online at

And this past Saturday (February 17), Bernard Holland in The New York Times glows with enthusiasm over Angela's Metropolitan Museum of Art recital last Thursday:

Ms. Hewitt is one of those rare musicians who seem to get something into their heads and hearts and find it at their fingertips instantaneously. To fuel this leap must require a fund of psychic energy beyond the average capacity. Good musicians are good athletes, not in the muscular sense but in the staying power of their imaginations. This pianist’s resolve to imbue every musical moment with an unrelenting sense of theater would exhaust most of us in 10 minutes.

Amazing musical minds, hearts and souls at work. Angela Hewitt and Richard Goode are both fantastic artists and astounding pianists. Don't miss them!