Pianist Marc-André Hamelin to close Aspen Music Festival’s winter series
IF YOU GO …
Who: Marc-Andre Hamelin
Where: Aspen Music Festival Winter Music Series at Harris Concert Hall
When: Thursday, Feb. 28
How much: $55
More info: The program consists of Ferruccio Busoni’s transcription of Bach’s Chaconne in D-minor, Schumann’s “Fantasy” in C major, Weissenberg’s Six Arrangements of Songs Sung by Charles Trénet, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s “Cipressi,” and Chopin’s “Polonaise-Fantasy” in A-flat major, and Scherzo No. 4.
Pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin is using his faultless technique and his global acclaim to introduce audiences to lesser-known works of the 19th and 20th century.
The Canadian master returns to Aspen on Thursday to close the Aspen Music Festival and School’s 2019 Winter Music Series at Harris Concert Hall.
The virtuoso’s program is bracketed by beloved works by Bach and Chopin, with more obscure pieces by Alexis Weissenberg and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco in between.
“I am always eager to mix the familiar and the less familiar,” Hamelin said in a recent phone interview from his home in Boston. “I believe there are some gems out there that never get heard. … Being a composer myself, though I am primarily a pianist, I am perhaps more sensitive about what has been laid aside or forgotten.”
Hamelin is known as a pianist who can do just about anything he wants with his instrument — his technical brilliance allows him to play the most challenging works, though he is more interested in finding beauty and showcasing neglected composers than he is in showing off.
“I have a reputation, unfortunately, for playing difficult pieces,” he said. “I’ve never played anything because it was difficult. I play it because it is good music. … I will do everything I can, and work as long as I have to, to be able to share this music with people.”
The Aspen program includes Weissenberg’s jazzy and charming but largely overlooked arrangements of six songs by Charles Trénet.
“Those are little gems, every one of them,” Hamelin said.
He noted that the sheet music for them was published just a few months ago and he is hopeful that his performance of them in recital here and around the world will encourage others to pick them up.
His mission in playing Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s “Cipressi” comes from a similar place. Though the Italian composer’s complete piano compositions were recorded by Italian pianist Aldo Ciccolini in a 2010 four-volume set, Hamelin noted, they’re still relatively little-known. Hamelin believes “Cipressi” is due for a devoted listenership.
“This piece is very worthy of revival,” he said. “And it is in print. It’s easily available and I would encourage pianists to find it. … Castelnuovo-Tedesco really knows how to write for the piano and some of his pieces are truly beautiful.”
Today’s musicians, with digital reams of free sheet music at their fingertips on the internet, are primed to revive overlooked composers of the past if they’re so inclined.
“There is no excuse not to explore these things if your heart is in that,” Hamelin said.
A nine-time Grammy nominee, Hamelin uses the world stage to champion works that he loves. Asked what he does to challenge himself, he said his performances are not about him.
“The reason I go onstage is not to fulfill myself,” he explained. “It is to share with audiences my enthusiasm and my way of doing things — the composer’s way of doing things, but also how I channel them. It’s a constant desire to better myself.”
That lifelong pursuit is evident in his interpretation of Schumann’s “Fantasy,” which also is on Thursday’s program. Hamelin’s relationship with it goes back some 40 years.
“I’ve been playing the Schumann Fantasy all my life, really,” he said. “It’s very mysterious and there are many ways to interpret it — in contrast to playing a simple waltz or something like that. There is an enigmatic quality about the Schumann Fantasy which provides you with the constant opportunity to explore other possibilities.”
The program will close with Chopin’s Scherzo No. 4 and “Polonaise-Fantasy.”
Hamelin has only been playing the Chopin pieces for about a year. By turns subdued, contemplative and grand, it provides a unique test.
“It’s difficult to hold together and present it as a coherent narrative,” Hamelin said. “That’s been my greatest challenge.”
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