Piano Institute has opening with virtuosity of twins
June 13, 2007
Ian Hobson and
his fellow pianists have decided to do something about that peculiar
silence of classical music in our towns from Graduation Day to about
Labor Day. Hobson's solution was a Summer Piano Institute which
offered its opening concert Monday night with the famous piano duo
of Richard and John Contiguglia.
On Tuesday night, William Heiles,
head of the University of Illinois Piano Division, performed Johann
Sebastian Bach on the harpsichord and Gyorgy Ligeti on the piano.
artist Jeanne Stark-Iochman is scheduled to perform the complete
Book I of Claude Debussy's Preludes and music of Franz Schubert and
night, Hobson, the organizer of this pianistic feast, will take to
the keyboard with a program of music by Maurice Ravel and Chopin.
The major purpose
of this institute is the teaching of pianists, and on Friday night,
at a free concert, all the student participants at the institute
will play at a closing gala concert. Admission will be free.
The piano duo of
the identical Contiguglia twins is one of the most famous exemplars
of this branch of the piano field. They have shown their superb
discipline and fine musicianship here in years past as guest artists
with Hobson's Sinfonia da Camera. On Monday night, they aroused to a
high level of enthusiasm the members of a moderate-sized audience in
Smith Music Hall.
beginning with Franz Liszt's own two-piano version of his tone poem
"Orpheus," managed in fine form the opening glissandos and the
surging emotional climaxes of this piece. Their playing demonstrated
to me forcefully how close Liszt's music is to Richard Wagner. We
might almost have been listening to the Prelude to "Tristan."
Liszt's idealized evocation of the power of music was followed by
Debussy's Suite "En Blanc et Noir" ("In Black and White"). Richard
Contiguglia explained how this suite was Debussy's gesture toward
the war effort in 1915 during World War I.
The piano duo
brought out Debussy's characteristic wit and coloristic sparkle, but
in the second movement, the composer slyly counterpointed Martin
Luther's chorale "Ein Feste Burg" with some French-sounding
liturgical sequences. And the Germans lost that skirmish. Even
subtle flag-waving seems an odd function for Debussy, but he did
usually sign after his name "musicien francais" (meaning French
musician). Stronger meat was offered in Schubert's "Variations on an
Original Theme in A-Flat major." This was the only piece of the
evening played by the Contiguglias four-handed, on the same
keyboard, with Hobson, no less, turning the pages. The duo played
forcefully the livelier variations, but my favorite sections were
the songful fifth and seventh variations, played with subtle inner
intermission came only one work, but what a work! It was Wolfgang
Amadeus Mozart's Sonata in D Major, KV 448. This work acquired a
peculiar reputation a few years ago when it was claimed that
listening to this sonata enabled schoolchildren to perform better on
math tests. I did not try to balance my checkbook right after the
concert. My reaction was emotional; what a wonderful piece! The
Contiguglia brothers built fine climaxes in the outer movements, and
the gem of the piece, the "andante" movement, was played with
splendid singing tone.
outburst of applause which followed the Mozart sonata, the duo
played as encore Anton Arensky's famous waltz movement from his
"Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos."
piece by this friend of Peter Tchaikovsky brought back fond
memories. Years ago, the pianist Abram Chasins used it as a theme
song for his program "Piano Personalities" on radio station WQXR in
New York City. I believe Chasins played it with his piano duo
partner Constance Keene.
Smith Music Hall should be an oasis for the musically desiccated