Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Spivey Hall's 23rd Season: We open with Imogen Cooper and Schubert

Celebrated British pianist Imogen Cooper will give us the joyful experience of hearing Franz Schubert's final three piano sonatas this Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 3 PM, to open Spivey Hall's 2013-2014 concert season.  The inception of this event dates from Imogen's second Spivey Hall recital, in February 2011. In the warm afterglow of her performance (in which she drew the some of the grandest and most noble sounds I've yet to hear from our New York Steinway that was Emilie Spivey's, an instrument known to Spivey Hall fans as "Emilie"), she quietly mentioned to me that she would love to bring these three masterworks to us.  Of course I immediately said yes. 

And now, at last, the moment arrives.  Imogen has recorded these sonatas in live performance, CD releases which only expanded and reinforced her reputation as one the piano world's leading interpreters of Schubert.  They are richly rewarding -- but of course every live performance is unique, and there's always the element of surprise and serendipitous insight to be had from what happens "in the moment" -- thus I'm keenly curious about what her journey through the sonatas will tell us on this occasion.

Her US tour this fall has included a recital for the Chopin Society in St. Paul, Minnesota, and at Middlebury College in Vermont.  Shortly after her Spivey Hall recital, she'll be back at London's Wigmore Hall, playing to an already sold-out audience of the highly knowledgeable and passionate listeners that throng this distinguished venue.  (I printed Wigmore's entire 2013-2014 season and almost passed out reading it -- the scope and detail of its programming, and the number of artists and performances, are simply staggering.)   We may be proud, and consider ourselves fortunate indeed, that Atlanta-area listeners will have the pleasure of hearing this glorious music in the superb acoustics of Spivey Hall.

Imogen is also meeting, for the first time, "Clara," Spivey Hall's magnificent Hamburg Steinway.  Imogen was centrally involved in the piano search that brought "Clara" to us.  Fellow British pianist (and good friend) Paul Lewis selected "Clara" in December 2011.  "Clara" made her Spivey Hall debut in Leif Ove Andsnes' recital the day after she arrived (read that story here)

"Clara" thus has several godparents. Of course Paul is among them, and he will return in November for his first recital with "Clara" since he heard her on his second encounter with her, in January 2012, at the Steinway factory in Hamburg -- so there's a happy homecoming of sorts in the making.

It was through Imogen's kindness and timely encouragement, at a pivotal stage in our multi-year international search for a new concert grand, that she referred me to Ulrich Gerhartz, Director of Concert & Artists Service at Steinway & Sons in London.  Ulrich is among the world's most sought-after piano technicians (see "Get Me Gerhartz!" in The Financial Times) and trained at the Steinway factory in Hamburg. He knows these pianos inside and out, and (what's more) he has a profound knowledge of what professional pianists need from Steinways to perform at their best.  Appreciating the nature of our "piano quest," he graciously agreed to advise us in our extended search for just the right Hamburg Steinway to suit Spivey Hall's acoustics.  Not surprisingly, Imogen's schedule was packed with performances that fall, and, sadly, she couldn't be in Hamburg for the long-awaited selection appointment we were given at the factory.  Thankfully, through some miracle of scheduling, Paul Lewis was available, and as a trusted colleague of Paul's, Imogen now will experience first-hand what her beneficent and far-reaching influence has wrought (rather like a wise protagonist in a Henry James novel, but with a plot slightly less complex!).  

Ulrich's assessment and characterization of "Clara" as an exceptionally good and promising Hamburg Steinway concert grand, paired with Paul's thoughtful gravitation towards "Clara" and his estimation of how her personality would likely blossom in the acoustics of Spivey Hall, were of critical importance and guidance in our choice of this piano. Thus Imogen and Ulrich are also warmly regarded among the several godparents of "Clara" -- and for this, Spivey Hall pianists and audiences may be lastingly grateful.

Ulrich will be arriving in Atlanta shortly to prepare "Clara" for her second complete Spivey Hall concert season. As quite a young piano still, "Clara" is in excellent condition, but all pianos need regular maintenance, and "Clara" continues to evolve as she is played by various pianists.  She receives regular tunings to help her settle into her Spivey Hall home (just as new babies need frequent feedings, new pianos need frequent tunings).  The character of her sound continues to be revealed to us.  Just yesterday (October 7, 2013) in a nationwide radio broadcast of American Pubic Media's Performance Today (which is available for a limited time in PT's program archive), listeners heard Angela Hewitt's performance on "Clara" of Bach's French Suite No. 5 from April 2012.  This gave me a chance to hear and compare "Clara" "then" and "now." True to her name, "Clara" (in Angela's expert hands) gave forth a tone that was direct and clear; the textures were transparent, and the inflections and embellishments were highly expressive -- all very pleasing and encouraging. Since that time, I've noticed that "Clara's" bass has opened up quite a bit, and certainly she's had some very vigorous workouts that have exposed contrasting dimensions of her personality (among them Yefim Bronfman's astonishing and powerful Prokofiev Sonata No. 8 performance).

Ulrich will evaluate "Clara's" development and make adjustments to enhance her sound throughout her range, "voicing" her meticulously so that each note sounds as it should when the key is depressed and the hammer strikes the string -- both individually and in the context of all the other 87 notes, at all levels of volume, with and without the una corda pedal.  It's mind-bogglingly detailed work and requires tremendous technical skill, patience, and aural acuity. With this work achieved, and with a piano of this quality, an artist like Imogen Cooper can immerse herself in music-making to summon the spirit of Schubert without having to think too much about the piano or to "manage" it in the course of her performance -- all to the greater benefit of the music, which is why we at Spivey Hall are all here.  As the quote attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche goes, "Without music, life would be a mistake." Right?

I'm excited about our season-opening concert, with the expectation that Imogen Cooper, "Clara," Schubert, and the audience will unite in a memorable experience that will enthrall and delight. I for one am particularly eager to hear once again the slow movement of the A-major Sonata, D.959, which pulls at my heart with its stark beauty, and lingers with wistful, other-worldly melancholy in my spirit for days afterwards. In deeply intimate ways, this (for me) reflects the genius of Schubert.  (Friends of Spivey Hall traveling to the 2013 Schubertiade Schwarzenberg in Austria had the pleasure of hearing several Schubert piano sonatas in the course of a week, notably from Paul Lewis and Andras Schiff, who both performed the last sonata, D.960.  A month later, I was still waking up with Schubert sonata tunes in my head.)

I owe sincere thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Nicolas I. Quintana for their generosity in being the Friends of Spivey Hall sponsors of Imogen's recital, which is our Season Opening Celebration. Our festivities include complimentary refreshments in the lobby for the entire audience (made possible through the support of Friends of Spivey Hall) during the two intermissions of this recital (savory bites at the first, sweet at the second, and beverages to match).  Unlike at Wigmore Hall (which enjoys a size and density of population in London exceeding those of Atlanta), this magnificent recital is not yet sold out -- so if you don't have your tickets yet, don't hesitate, good seats are available, call the Box Office or go online now. 

Soon Spivey Hall will again resound with great music, which is cause for rejoicing. I'm looking forward to seeing faces both familiar and new after our summer break. And once again, I have resolved to blog more regularly.  This likely will not be achieved with blog posts of this length.  I will endeavor to blog more often with fewer words.


Blogger coleman said...

I hope she plays "Claire de Lune" as an encore.

4:55 AM  
Blogger Spivey Hall said...

Always nice to hear "Claire de Lune." I imagine she might linger a bit longer in Schubert's world, and that if she plays any encore at all, it might be a short Schubert piece, such as one of the Moments Musicaux. This is just a hunch!

6:22 AM  

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