. Interchanging Idioms: “Sensational” Jeremy Denk Plays Stravinsky under John Adams

Monday, March 8, 2010

“Sensational” Jeremy Denk Plays Stravinsky under John Adams

Last year, Jeremy Denk’s Carnegie Hall recital came in at number two in New York magazine’s “Top Ten Classical Events of 2008,” second only to a John Adams premiere. This spring, the pianist and the composer/conductor present a united front, teaming up for performances on both sides of the Atlantic of Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Winds. Together they are set to make high-profile appearances, first for Denk’s debut with the London Symphony Orchestra, at London’s Barbican Hall (March 11) and Paris’s Salle Pleyel (March 16), and then with Ensemble ACJW at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center (May 9) and New York’s Carnegie Hall (May 10). For two dates with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Denk couples the Stravinsky concerto with Mozart’s Concert Rondo in D (April 17-18), after returning to the New World Symphony for Copland’s Piano Concerto (April 10-11). The versatile pianist’s spring season also features a full line-up of solo and chamber recitals, master classes, and a U.S. tour with Joshua Bell, including performances in Carnegie and Walt Disney Concert Halls.

The Concerto for Piano and Winds (1923-24, rev. 1950) is one of the mainstays of Stravinsky’s neoclassical output. Having composed the concerto for his own use, he performed it more than 40 times in the five years after its premiere under Serge Koussevitzky. Of the innovative scoring, Stravinsky wrote: “The short, crisp dance character of the [first movement], engendered by the percussion of the piano, led to the idea that a wind ensemble would suit the piano better than any other combination. In contrast to the percussiveness of the piano, the winds prolong the piano’s sound as well as providing the human element of respiration.” The concerto influenced many later works, notably Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto, in which the New York Times’s Anthony Tommasini considered Denk a “brilliant soloist,” commenting:

“Hearing Mr. Denk’s bracing, effortlessly virtuosic and utterly joyous performance, one would never guess how phenomenally difficult the piano part is.”

Like Stravinsky before him, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams is also a “skilled and dynamic conductor” (New York Times), and Denk’s first spring performances of the Concerto for Piano and Winds are under Adams’s direction. As performers, both Adams and Denk consistently win praise for their facility with a broad range of repertoire; the New York Times admired Adams’s “versatility on the podium,” while the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns wrote of Denk:

“With a supreme command of the piano allowing endlessly varied color, touch, and chord voicing, all possibilities are seemingly open to him. And all possibilities are imaginable, thanks to a fine intellect.”

The two first come together when Denk makes his debut with the London Symphony, adding the ensemble described as “scarily impressive” (London’s Independent) to the roster of world-class orchestras with which he has appeared. They perform the Stravinsky twice, first at the orchestra’s home in Barbican Hall (March 11), and then on tour in Paris, at the city’s landmark Salle Pleyel (March 16). For a complete listing of concert dates click here.

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