It may be a cliché to call Chopin “The Bad Boy of Classical Music” but let’s do it anyway. On Tuesday, November 1, 2016, Professor Brian Ganz performed the works of the “quirky and funky” “revolutionary” composer known as Chopin. In an event coined as a “PianoTalk” Ganz both lectured and played the piano. A mixed crowd of faculty, staff, students and community members filed into the Auerbach Auditorium, the majority of them electing to sit stage right in order to see Ganz’s hands. This event was one of a series were Professor Ganz gives public lectures combined with musical performances showcasing both intellect and talent.
Brian Ganz is a faculty member at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and The Peabody Conservatory. He is billed as “one of the leading pianist of his generation.” His resumé includes performances as a soloist with orchestras such as the St. Louis Symphony, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, the Baltimore Symphony, the National Philharmonic, the National Symphony and the City of London Sinfonia. He also is a laureate of the Marguerite Long Jacques Thibaud and the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Piano Competition.
Since 2011, Ganz has been performing works of Frederic Chopin. Through a project with the National Philharmonic, he is set to perform the complete works of Chopin at the Strathmore Music Center.
The afternoon began informally, with Professor Ganz telling audience members to ask any questions they may have as they think of them. After the brief introduction Ganz got to work, educating the attendees on the history of Chopin. The afternoon’s musical stylings were Chopin’s first three nocturnes. A nocturne, Ganz explained, is a genre of music inspired by nighttime. The pianist sat at his grand piano in the center of the stage and played a section of the work. He would then interrupt the music to provide tidbits of information about what he had just played. After the Ganz set the scene with biographic and historical context of Chopin, he played a melody which filled auditorium with the sounds of evening time.
Chopin was only twenty years old when he wrote the works played by Ganz on Tuesday, namely Nocturne No.1 in Bb minor, Nocturne No.2 in Eb Major and Nocturne No.3 in B Major. Ganz explained the genius of these works was their ability to be “vocal” and to have unresolved dissonance. Dr. Ganz demonstrated what this meant by playing a progression of notes which somehow made the piano sing, showing how it can have a voice. Then he played a portion of music that refused to resolve itself, showing how music can break rules. Refusing to resolve meant that the music would not “come back home” in the way a listener comes to expect. Chopin masterfully refused to provide musical closure. This was a consistent theme throughout the three nocturnes.
The format of a ‘“PianoTalk” was essentially to breakdown the music into parts, explaining how it is suppose to be played and the conceptual ideas of the composer. For example, Ganz would play a part of the music, and then pause to ask if anyone saw how his hands were positioned at that instance. At one point Chopin had written that the keys should be played by the pianist’s ring finger and pinky. Ganz explained this was atypical, but was necessary because it provided a softer quality to the sound.
Those in the audience were enthused to see the performance. One woman who I observed in a state of elation as Ganz played said after the show that she has been watching him play since 2010. The woman, who identified herself as Loretta, stated that no other performer articulates the level of feeling Ganz does about the music.
If you want to see Professor Brian Ganz give his next piano talk, it will take place on December 6 at noon in St. Mary’s Hall. It is titled Chopin and Musical Gardening. On the event’s online description it states “[Ganz] shows how early works of Chopin contain the seeds of his genius and more mature examples of the same genres demonstrate the full flowering of that genius… he will explore Musical Gardening in Chopin’s most beloved Polish dances, the mazurkas and the polonaises.”