Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts present Drew Petersen
Since 1977, the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts have offered free, weekly chamber music recitals to live audiences at the Chicago Cultural Center and to broadcast listeners of WFMT Fine Arts Radio. The Chicago concerts, which present emerging classical talent, are named in honor of British pianist Myra Hess (1890-1965) who presented weekday lunchtime concerts in London’s National Gallery during the Second World War.
On Wednesday December 13, 2017 Drew Petersen joins the long roster of American Pianists Awards winners to perform in the series. In this month's Beauty of Music, American Pianists Association Artistic Administrator Milner Fuller provides some insight into Drew's program.
Beethoven’s Opus 54 has no program, but since it’s a comical work, I’ll indulge myself and offer one interpretation. The opening minuet (a curiosity unto itself), is structured ABABA. If the movement were a house party, the A section is the awkward, stuttering guest trying to overcome social anxiety, and the B section is the loudmouth drunk who speaks out of turn, but is still fun to be around. The B section almost steps on the A section with a constant stream of forte, staccato triplets and displaced accents. The second B section is shorter while each A section becomes more elegant and adventurous as the movement progresses (perhaps the A section imbibes its own liquid courage). By the coda, the A theme has finally found its voice: the stutter is gone and beauty emerges over a quiet pedal bass in triplets (the drunk is muttering on the edge of unconsciousness). The B section’s fortissimo triplets return once more (one last gasp before the drunk is out), slows down to duple, and fades out; the listener/host is left with an unwelcomed guest asleep on the couch.
The second movement is unlike the first in nearly every way. A perpetuum mobile sonata form, the movement makes parsimonious use of just one theme in sixteenth notes. After just a twenty-measure exposition, the extended development touches seventeen tonal areas before the recapitulation, all of which is repeated before a sprinted coda
Ravel’s Sonatine, though diminutively named, presents exceptional challenges in performance. The piece exemplifies the qualities the musical establishment found unappealing in Ravel’s music. The first movement features the natural minor scale, and parallel fifths abound. Following a lyrical second movement, the third has less defined sections than the first, and it features a brilliant style, numerous meter changes, and use of quintuple meter. Overall the piece reveals Ravel’s respect for craftsmanship, about which he wrote, “My objective . . . is technical perfection.”
The program concludes with two devilish études by Liszt, La Leggierezza from his set of Three Concert Études and Mazeppa, the fourth of his Transcendental Études. La Leggierezza, meaning “lightness,” requires just that. It features a flurry of legato notes in the right hand, sometimes in thirds and sixths. With its metric changes and cadenzas, the piece maintains a level of rhythmic instability and mystery.
The Trancedental Étude No. 4 is one of two programmatic works by Liszt that was inspired by Victor Hugo’s poem “Mazeppa” (the other a symphonic poem based on the same theme). The story comes from a popular legend about Ivan Mazepa (1639 – 1709), who, having been caught in bed with a married countess, was strapped naked to a horse and forced to ride for three excruciating days. The music depicts the violence and horror of the ride and the near death of the hero. The galloping theme undergoes Lisztian thematic transformation that depicts the horse’s speed: first fast, then slower as the horse tires, then breakneck as the horse finds its second wind only to collapse. In the end, the hero survives triumphant.