Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Piano festival a musical oasis

I woke up last night and realized we have are lucky dogs when it comes to music.This was at the intermission of the Ran Dank concert at the Southeastern Piano Festival at the USC music school.

It’s not like I was asleep during the concert – that would have been impossible listening Dank’s powerful playing of “Douze Notations” by Pierre Boulez and Beethoven’s “Fantasia in E-flat Major.” (He's deep in that crowd of students at left.)

The festival concert lineup has grown slowly since starting in 2003 so it’s one of those things, like a receding hairline, that moves one doesn’t immediately notice. The major thrust of the festival is teaching high

school students (who come here from all over) the concerts have looked from a distance as a supplement to this.

Although the festival has been bringing in really good players from the start, the importance became more apparent when Olga Kern performed at the festival twice last year.

The festival has turned the summer musical scene from desert to oasis and it provides the city with outside classical artists that have been missing too long from Columbia at any time of the year.

Those who heard Ran Dank play Tuesday night can have little doubt about the quality of the musicians who appear during the festival. Dank was one of 12 semi-finalist in the Van Cliburn piano competition and although he didn’t make the final cut (piano festival director Marina Lomazov said she’s going to have a few words with the Cliburn judges), it’s obvious that he’s a major talent. Lomazov met him at the Hilton Head piano competition of which she was a judge and which he won.

His concert was pretty much a flawless and breath-taking.

One person who kind of lost their breath was student Naomi Causby of Columbia, who gave him flowers and got a hug. It looked like she might need to be carried off stage. (Dank looks like a slightly more rugged version of Elijah Wood, who played the hobbit Frodo in “Lord of the Rings,” although Dank does have Frodo’s hair.)

The only downside was that loudly buzzing cell phone (at least it didn’t ring, but it did take forever to be shut off) and that not every seat was filled.

The opening concert a couple of days earlier gave local audiences a chance hear Lomazov perform something she’d done in New York a few weeks ago at a new music for piano festival.

She played Carter Pann’s dicey “Six Strokes,” which she suggested was the composer’s way of taking out his frustrations on pianists. (Penn was also a pianist and a classmate of hers at the Eastman School).

But the great fun was watching Lomazov tackle William Bolcom’s “Serpent’s Kiss”’ from his 1969 “Garden of Eden Suite” It calls for the performer to play the piano in the ragtime-influenced work, but also stomp feet, use the top of the piano as a drum and make clicking sounds. She had great fun – as did the audience.

Students at the festival rightfully get the best seats where they can really see the pianists’ hands and most were on the edge of their seats during Dank’s concert. He’s obviously someone they can related to being only about a decade older than most of them.

All the female students seem to have the same jewelry accessory – a blue anklet. Actually it’s just their USC ID wristband, but they’ve all chosen to wear it around their ankles, which is amusing since they’re all pretty dressed up.

The students showed remarkable discipline during the first concert, even if their hosts didn’t show enough foresight. They were all given gift baskets wrapped in extremely crinkly paper. There wasn’t a single rustle from the wrapping during the concert.

Concerts continue with Yakov Kasman, 1997 silver medal winner at the Van Cliburn, Wednesday; Christopher Taylor, who is seen as some kind of musical genius, Thursday, and all days Friday you can hear the students compete.

(Scroll down to the June 3 story for details.)

1 comment:

  1. Dank is indeed a big talent (he should play four-hands with Jeremy Denk to form the Denk-Dank Duo). Regarding bringing in top-level outside classical artists to Columbia...Marina Lomazov mentioned last night that Dank is a recent Young Concert Artists winner, now part of the roster that Charles Wadsworth has drawn on for his series in Columbia and other SC cities. That series has brought in an unbelievable number of the absolutely pre-eminent American pianists around today: the aforementioned Jeremy Denk, Anne-Marie McDermott, Stephen Prutsman, Christopher O'Riley, and many others. I hope (but am not sure) that many of the pianophiles attending this wonderful Southeastern Piano Festival realize that a parade of pianists second-to-none comes through the Columbia Museum of Art year after year. (Not to mention the violinists, cellists, etc.!). Let's hope that the community continues to support that series as Ed Arron takes it over, because outside of that series and the SEPF and an occasionally engrossing soloist brought in by SC Phil, the gap in classical presenting organizations to which you allude is indeed real.


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