Pianist Jeremy Denk showcases the evolution of music in recital

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Denk 2Jenna Salisbury Arts Editor This Sunday, April 30, 2017 at 3 p.m., classical pianist, Jeremy Denk played to a full house in Memorial Chapel. The recital, entitled “Medieval to Modern,” took audiences on a journey through the history of western music, featuring compositions from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The concert is part of the featured performances taking part in the annual Union College Concert Series. A dedicated musician of diversified talent and recipient of the MacArthur Award in 2013, Denk has been regarded as “one of America’s most thought-provoking, multi-faceted and compelling artists.” After studying piano at the Oberlin College and Conservatory, Denk went on to earn a master’s in music from Indiana University under the tutelage of famed pianist, György Sebők before receiving a doctorate in piano performance from the Juilliard School. Lauded by “The New York Times,” Denk is a frequent performer in major cities across the United States; he is a regular recitalist in New York, Washington, Boston and Philadelphia. He is currently based in New York City. Denk opened his performance with a short introduction. The musician informed the audience that the purpose behind this recital is to “sum up western musical history in 80 minutes.” Denk implored the audience topay attention to the development of tonality and harmony, especially the transitions and differences between each composition as the recital arrives to the turn of the twentieth century. Characterized by the period’s religious zeal, the piece emphasizes, the first composition was a rather damask and heavy piece from the fourteenth century by Guillaume de Machaut, entitled “Doulz amis.” Denk then lightened the mood as he slipped into the more enlightened era of the Renaissance with William Byrd’s “A Voluntarie.” Byrd’s composition was a refreshingly joyous piece defined by blazing virtuosity. Other compositions pulled from the Renaissance period included Carlo Gesualdo’s “O dolce mio Tesoro” and Claudio Monteverdi’s “Zefiro torna e di soavi accenti, SV. 251.” As Denk entered the late seventeenth century, playing pieces such as Domenico Scarlatti’s “Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 545” and Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903,” the grandeur and tonality of the sonata form filled the chapel. With the conclusion of the Renaissance era came a short intermission before Denk reprised the stage, bringing the audience to the Classical period. Restarting the performance, Denk opened the second half of the recital with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Andante” movement from his “Sonata in G Major.” The movement starts out slowly, showcasing basic melody and harmony before suddenly breaking into a whirlwind of complexity and emotional depth. Then, Denk moved into Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Allegro molto e con brio” movement from his “Sonata in C minor.” This piece has none of the sweet demureness of Mozart’s Classical style but is rather heavy and restless. Denk then took up Robert Schumann’s fantastical “In der Nacht,” from “Fantasiestücke.” The piece showcases a calmness marked by passionate undertones. Following this piece were movements from Prelude, Op. 28 by Frédéric Chopin. An edge of agitation marked this piece. Then Denk played Franz Liszt’s “Isolde’s Liebestod,” a classical transcription of Richard Wagner’s opera, “Tristan und Isolde.” Finally, Denk moved into Modernism with the evolutionistic sound marked by fragmented rhythm and expressivity. Music showcased from this era included Igor Stravinsky’s “Piano-Rag-Music” and Claude Debussy’s “Reflets dans l’eau.” Denk closed his recital with selections from the early twentieth century, including Gyorgy Ligeti’s “6 Etudes, Book I” and “Etude No. 2” by Philip Glass. The closing numbers, while somber and intense, served as a nice close to Denk’s performance dedicated towards the evolution of music in the western world. Denk was greeted with a standing ovation at the end of his recital, marking another successful performance in the Union College Concert Series.

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