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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Concert Preview: Janice Weber

Yesterday afternoon Richard Knisely, host of WGBH radio's Classical Performances, invited Boston-area pianist and novelist Janice Weber in for a live preview of her upcoming recital at Boston Conservatory.



The recital will feature the Chopin Sonata No. 3 in b minor, along with relatively obscure works by equally obscure composers:

IGNACY JAN PADEREWSKI: Variations and Fugue on an original theme, op. 33
ERWIN SCHULHOFF: Piano Sonata No. 1 "Jazz Sonata"
DANA NADINE SUESSE: The Cocktail Suite

Weber, who has just returned from Phoenix where she performed the infamous Piano Concerto by Adolf von Henselt, played live and spoke with Knisely about the upcoming Boston Conservatory "Piano Master's Series" program.

Weber began her radio spot with the Piano Sonata No. 1 "Jazz Sonata" by Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942), a Prague-born composer-pianist. Schulhoff's music alternated radically in style, from works influenced by directly by Strauss and Scribain, to impressionism, expressionism, modernism, neoclassicism, American jazz, and Dadaism. As a pianist, he championed the mircotonal music of the Czech composer Alois Hába, but also freelanced as a jazz pianist.

Wikipedia notes that:

In his Dadaist phase, Schulhoff composed a number of pieces with absurdist elements; notable among these is "In futurum" (from the Fünf Pittoresken for piano) -- a completely silent piece made up entirely of rests that anticipates John Cage's 4'33" by over thirty years.

Schulhoff, a Communist, was deported by the Nazi's to the Wülzburg concentration camp in 1941 (near Weißenburg, Bavaria), where he died a year later.

The Polish composer, virtuoso pianist, and diplomat Paderewski (1860-1941) was quite an eccentric. Weber said he would travel the country by car with his entourage, wife, and parrot. In addition to his musical activities, he was the third Prime Minister of Poland.

Weber played Paderewski's difficult Variations and Fugue on an original theme (op. 33). Apparently, it was the composition that the composer was most satisfied with. Although the "theme" is pretty stark and nothing to write home about, the music picks up quickly after that. The variation that I remember the most was the 20th (right before the grand fugue), where the left hand closely imitates the theme played by the right in octaves. It was more angular than the meandering 19th century fortified harmony the prevails in other variations, although there were some really fast octave gymnastics that must make the fingers bleed.

The WGBH studio performance concluded with the delightful Bacardi (Rumba) movement from "The Cocktail Suite" by Dana Nadine Suesse (1909-1987). Suesse was tagged "the girl Gershwin" by the 1930's press, and comfortably composed music that straddled in-between the narrowing lines of vernacular and classical music of that era.

In between works, Knisely and Weber chatted informally about her not-so-secret career as a published novelist. Weber indicated that she has written 8 or 9 novels (although one of them will never see the light of day). She recently co-authored a book "School of Fortune" with Amanda Brown (of "Legally Blonde" fame), and their collaboration continues as they work together on a television screenplay. She said it is a very different kind of writing, where every word counts and timing is critical. Ms. Weber joked that she read dictionaries as a child.

The concert is this coming Tuesday...

Piano Masters Series
Janice Weber
December 02, 2008, 8:00 PM
Seully Hall, Boston Conservatory
Tickets are $12