Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Garrick Ohlsson at People’s Symphony

Last week we told you about People’s Symphony Concerts – which have been in existence since 1900, when they were founded by conductor Franz Arens.  World class musicians – both emerging talents and old masters – have been the mainstay of People’s Symphony, and each and every year the lineup grows more impressive.

So, I was greatly excited when an amateur musician friend told me of a concert he heard in San Francisco where Garrick Ohlsson (born 1948) played.  That same concert was in the offering at People’s Symphony and the early verdict was … it was not to be missed.

Nor did Ohlsson disappoint.  The concert at Washington Irving in Gramercy Park last Saturday evening was simply splendid.  Dressed in impeccable tie and tails, Ohlsson is showman enough to command the stage in any venue, and once he sat behind the Steinway piano, he held the audience spellbound for more than two hours.

Ohlsson opened with the very familiar Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79 (1879) by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).  This warhorse is a mainstay of classical music stations, and one would expect its allure to dim with over-familiarity.  Not so under Ohlsson’s skillful playing; it was fresh and alive and the line of Brahms’ music clean and clear.

Ohlsson followed with Fantasia on Ad Nos, ad salutarem undam, S. 259 (1850) by Franz Liszt (1811-1886), easily my favorite piece of the evening.  This is Liszt at his most ornate and outlandish, and Ohlsson played the Adagio with tremendous gusto and the Fuga with deep sensitivity.  If you are not an aficionado of Liszt or his music, this piece may well change your mind.  It demands quite technical virtuosity, and Ohlsson plays it with brio.

The program continued with Selection from Etude for Piano (1915) by Claude Debussy (1862-1918), which I found amusing, but undemanding.  Debussy has never been wholly to our taste, but the Pour les sixtes was quite wonderful and almost enough to make me reconsider my opinion on this polarizing composer.

Ohlsson ended with Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49 (1841), by Frederic Chopin (1810-1849).  It is a work of deep, emotional tenderness, and it was beautifully rendered by the pianist.

Garrick Ohlsson has a worldwide reputation for his Olympian interpretive and technical prowess.  He was born in White Plains, NY, and began his piano studies at age 8.  He has won too many awards to be fully chronicled here, but they include the Chopin Competition in Warsaw and the Avery Fisher Prize.  His 2013-14 season will include recitals in Montreal, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angles, Seattle and Kansas City, culminating in February at Carnegie Hall.  In January, with the Boston Symphony, he will present the world premier of a concerto commissioned for him from Justin Dello Joio; he will also play, this year, works by Beethoven, Schubert and Charles Tomlinson Griffes.  If you have even the remotest interest in virtuoso piano playing, be sure to see out Garrick Ohlsson this year.

One parting word about People’s Symphony.  There are still some tickets let for their three, concurrent series, but numbers are limited.  It remains the best deal for New Yorkers passionate about music that I have ever come across, and subscriptions will not be regretted.  The can be found at:  http://pscny.org/.

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