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Concert Recap: Weekend at Bach Festival and Competition at Hesston College

It was a busy weekend full of wonderful activities that included performing, judging, and learning from my distinguished colleagues about J.S. Bach.

Firstly, I love performing at Festivals. It is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, hear about other creative endeavors, and learn from other colleagues. I always stress to my students to be curious and possess the burning desire to always learn more. Last weekend was a great opportunity to do just that.

On Friday night, I opened the Festival with a solo recital on a beautifully restored Steinway D. I have to be honest: I braced myself when I was told that the piano was reworked recently. From my past experiences, when performing on such pianos, I would find that the sound of the instrument would be far too mellow and "dead" to my ears. I remember it would be a mighty challenge to produce a sustaining and warm tone.

This piano, however, was one of the most beautiful instruments that I have played in a very long time. I was able to easily produce a nice variety of tone color and get a rather warm and brilliant sound, yet never crossing the line of it being brittle. With such an instrument, I felt that I had an added source of inspiration in performing that evening!

I opened the program with a serene movement from Messiaen's Vingt Regards sur l'enfant-Jésus (Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus). If you don't know this masterpiece, listen to my recording of it from an earlier performance last year. Lately, I have been opening my recitals with this monumental work and have found it to be quite an effective program opener. This particular decision was inspired by one of my piano idols, Radu Lupu, who would open his recitals with Ravel's Pavanne for a Dead Princess. You might notice some aesthetic similarities between the two works. Keep your eyes peeled for a future post in which I discuss my method in constructing a varied, balanced, and intriguing recital program.

Following the Messiaen, I performed a number of Fairy Tales by Medtner for the first time, Bach Capriccio on the Departure of the Beloved Brother, a couple pieces from Liszt's Years of Pilgrimage, and ended with Rzewski's Winnsboro Cottonmill Blues. To me, it was very rewarding to share these lesser-known gems to a supportive and appreciative audience. After the concert, several people came to tell me that they enjoyed the Rzewski the most, which was an added bonus for me because "new" music typically receives a negative bias. If you're unfamiliar with the Rzewski, I wrote about the work in last week's post.

On Saturday morning, I enjoyed sitting in on my colleagues' presentations on J.S. Bach. One of my colleagues did an interactive presentation where she had the audience participate in a performance of a fugue. It was very creative, indeed.

The Festival culminated with the Finalists' recital, which I judged. It is always gratifying to see such talented young students perform!

Overall, a busy, but rewarding weekend. Time to get back to the grind for my next recital at Miami University next month. More on it later.

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