Artist in Residence Brian Ganz Presents Chopin Discovery Series at Piano Talk

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As part of his Chopin Discovery Series, Artist-in-Residence and Piano Instructor Brian Ganz performed one of his afternoon Piano Talks in St. Mary’s Hall on Nov. 1. Ganz performed four Mazurkas and an Impromptu by Frédéric Chopin.

As always, a Piano Talk is meant to be accessible to all music lovers, whether or not they have any experience with musical theory. The purpose of Ganz’s Chopin Discovery Series is to perform pieces by Chopin that Ganz has either never played before or is rediscovering.

Before beginning to play Chopin’s four Mazurkas in Opus 6, Ganz told the audience that Chopin “wrote more Mazurkas than double any other genre.” He then asked audience members what they remembered from Ganz’s last Piano Talk, in which Mazurkas were discussed in great detail. One audience member explained how Mazurkas reflect Chopin’s love for his homeland, Poland, and how they contain chords from the “Lydian” mode, which is a sound most common in Polish music.

Ganz explained that Mazurkas are most commonly played fairly quickly. When writing his music, Chopin often used the Italian word “streto,” meaning to push forward, to communicate to performers that the piece should be played quickly in a certain part. Ganz explained this speeding up of pace to be “almost like slipping on a banana peel.” After the streto, Ganz described how “the spirit reawakens” in the piece.

One thing that makes Ganz’s Piano Talks so different from all other performances at St. Mary’s is the amount of participation that Ganz expects and encourages from the audience. Ganz encouraged participation by saying it is “better to say a wrong answer than no answer at all.”

Right before beginning to play the Mazurkas, Ganz remarked that Opus 6, in his opinion, is Chopin’s “first set of fully mature works …. But of course he still had a lot more growing to do as a composer.” The four Mazurkas each had very distinct sounds, with some more quick paced than others. The Mazurka in C sharp minor demonstrated a very traditional Polish sound and a sense of longing for home. After he finished playing, Ganz smiled genuinely at the audience.

“Brian played one of my favorite mazurkas; it is always really fascinating to me to hear the way different artists interpret different works – be it actors with scripts or musicians with scores,” said senior Jonathan Wagner. “The way that Brian reads Chopin is just so elegant and beautiful that you can’t help but to get pulled in and fascinated by the music.”

Before playing his second piece, Impromptu Number 2 in F sharp major from Opus 36, Ganz shared the story of how he first discovered the Impromptu about 40 years ago. As a 13 year-old, Ganz claimed that he did not understand the piece at the time. He now hears that it is strange with a sense of logic to it, but at the age of 13, he could only hear the strangeness. He went so far as to say that as a teenager, “the strange sounding parts sounded almost ugly.”

Despite this preface to the piece, it was still a joy to hear and it was clearly a joy for Ganz to play. Ganz’s hard work, passion and pure talent really show through when he performs his music.

Brian Ganz’s next performance will be on Thursday, Dec. 1 at 8 p.m. in St. Mary’s Hall. It will feature St. Mary’s Cello Instructor Suzanne Orban on the cello along with Artist-in-Residence and head of the strings department José Cueto on the violin. Works by both Beethoven and Barber will be played.

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