“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. – David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer
Jeremy Denk’s summer reaches its acme in mid-August, when he appears at three of the season’s most prestigious U.S. festivals – Bard (Aug 13-15), Mostly Mozart (Aug 17-19), and Tanglewood (Aug 21) – to give six prominent performances in little over a week. In repertoire ranging from solo and chamber to orchestral, and from composers of the First Viennese School to those of the Second, the versatile pianist collaborates with leading artists including Joshua Bell and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The first of these appearances is at Annandale-on-Hudson’s Bard Music Festival, which has won international acclaim for its unrivaled, in-depth exploration of the life and works of a single composer and his contemporaries, offering, in the words of the New York Times, a “rich web of context” for a full appreciation of that composer’s inspirations and significance. A veteran of the festival, last season Denk impressed the New York Times’s Steve Smith with playing that juxtaposed “tenderness personified” with his “more athletic side.” At this year’s celebration of “Berg and His World,” the pianist performs two important chamber works by the groundbreaking Austrian composer: the Piano Sonata, Op. 1, for Bard’s opening-night concert on August 13, and – with Paganini Competition-winner Soovin Kim and members of the resident American Symphony Orchestra – the Kammerkonzert for piano, violin, and 13 wind instruments, Op. 8, for the close of the festival’s first weekend on August 15.
As Denk once confided on his humorous and engaging blog, Think Denk, despite knowing Berg’s Kammerkonzert to be “one amazing piece,” he fears that others will hear in it only “disturbed waltz-tunes.” When he performed the work with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, however, he need not have worried. In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Peter Dobrin declared that “if audience size were commensurate with artistic value, Berg’s Chamber Concerto…would have been enough to fill the house all by itself. In fact, it’s a work so overcrowded with genius, it should have been played twice.” Dobrin went on to applaud Denk’s “heroism,” skill as a “fastidious detail worker,” and ability to make “manipulation of tone as emotional a variant as the pitch of an actor’s voice.”
After taking his Berg interpretations to Bard, Denk returns for to New York City’s Mostly Mozart Festival, where he joins Joshua Bell and the Festival Orchestra under Louis Langrée for two performances of Mendelssohn’s Double Concerto in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. Written for violin, piano, and strings in 1823, the work reveals its youthful composer’s delight in lyrical invention and virtuosity, lending itself perfectly to the winning partnership of Denk and Bell, themselves dubbed “young, gifted, and energetic” by the New York Times. As Vivien Schweitzer remarked in the same paper, “These two musicians are an ideally matched duo, with Mr. Denk’s fiery playing complementing Mr. Bell’s luxuriant singing tone.”