December 9, 2007 - Hume Concert Hall

This concert is one of my better ones, helped immensely by a really first-rate recording from Jason McConnell, the Conservatory's new recording engineer (as of the date of this recording.) The main concert hall at SFCM is a bit too large for a solo piano recital, but the acoustic is wonderful, and the Hamburg Steinway is a fine, fine instrument.

Haydn: Sonata in C Major, HXVI:48

I stand in awe of Haydn’s inexhaustible vitality. The man never stopped experimenting or growing. This sonata, product of a composer approaching his sixtieth birthday, takes full advantage of the new possibilities offered by the emergent pianoforte; Haydn was right on the cutting edge, as usual. Several of Haydn’s late-period preoccupations are on full display here: both movements are monothematic (i.e., mined out of one single theme), and both explore the endless permutations possible in rondo forms.

I - Allegro and II - Presto

Mendelssohn: Six Songs without Words, Op. 38

Of late I’ve begun exploring Mendelssohn’s familiar Lieder ohne worte for myself, rather than thinking of them primarily as jim-dandy teaching pieces. The upshot has been revelation piled upon discovery piled upon surprise — I’ll never take them for granted again.

1. Con moto

2. Allegro non troppo

3. Presto e molto vivace

4. Andante

5. Agitato

6. Duetto: Andante sostenuto

Roberto Kalb: Piano Sonata in C Minor (2007)

Mr. Kalb is a composition major at the Conservatory; his impressive accomplishments moved me to request this new piece, which receives its first complete performance on this concert. (I was happy to present a “beta” of the work last year, but now you’re hearing the final release version.)

As a survivor of the serialist/avant-garde era, I’m delighted (and relieved!) to be so privileged as to première such a splashy, heartfelt, virtuoso sonata by a young composer; I’ve had more than enough of random bips and boops for this lifetime.

I - Presto

II - Adagio

III - Prestissimo

Max Stoffregen: Cut & Paste (2007)

Mr. Stoffregen is also a composition major here at SFCM, and like Roberto Kalb, his compositions have inspired me to request a work from him. The result is this extraordinary piano piece, quite unlike anything I’ve ever played before. Some of the influences are clear enough — Ligeti certainly, and I have detected more than a whiff of legendary jazz virtuosi like Art Tatum. But that’s all just academic twitter; the piece is bracingly original and exhilarating.

David Conte: Piano Fantasy (1987)

My friend and colleague David Conte wrote this exquisite jewel for me not too long after he joined the Conservatory faculty. It was my honor to première it out in our former digs on Ortega Street. Since then I’ve played it several more times, and this year I’m especially happy to trot it out again for its twentieth anniversary. The Fantasy went a long way towards curing a pianist who, having become thoroughly fed up with sado-masochistic slugfests masquerading as “new music”, was seriously considering limiting his repertoire to music written before 1900. Thanks to pieces like this, I didn’t give up on the music of my own time.

Debussy: From the Etudes (1915)

Monsieur Claude is the grandfather of every modern composer; he was there first with just about everything except the twelve-tonal idiom. Debussy’s late Etudes (twelve in all) are a far cry from his cuddly early numbers like Clair de lune and other easy-listening delights. The Etudes can come across as downright icy, in fact, and occasionally veer to the very edge of coherence. I’ve never really thought of them as piano etudes, per se; to me they’ve always been experimental studies in compositional idioms.

Be that as it may, I had my reasons to chose this particular set of five out of the twelve. First, they seem to work pretty well together. Second, I like them all. Third — I’m being perhaps a bit too candid here — one of them really, really scares me.

Pour les cinq doigts (for the five fingers)

Pour les tierces (for thirds)

Pour les agréments (for ornaments)

Pour les octaves (for octaves)

Pour les huit doigts (for the eight fingers)


Brahms: Intermezzo in E-flat Major, Op. 117 No. 1