Pianist Jeremy Denk Performs Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Ligeti’s Études at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall on February 16

Jeremy Denk
21C Media Group

From 21C Media Group

Jeremy Denk continues a stellar season—he released a new album of Bach on January 25, released a landmark recording of Charles Ives’s piano sonatas in October, and toured the U.S. as a soloist with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra—returning to Carnegie’s Zankel Hall on February 16 with a program of keyboard masterpieces.  The American pianist will perform J.S. Bach’s iconic, ever-enthralling Goldberg Variations alongside a modernist totem: György Ligeti’s edgy, virtuoso Études, Books I and II.  Alex Ross wrote in the New Yorker of Denk’s 2008 Zankel Hall recital of Beethoven and Ives that this thoughtful interpreter “has the chops, the brains and the heart to pull it off.”

Denk will also perform the Ligeti/Bach program in Durham, NC, on February 12 at the Reynolds Theater.  Calling attention to Denk’s venturesome attitude to repertoire, as well as his insight into the music he chooses, the New York Times asserts he is “a pianist you want to hear no matter what he performs, in whatever combination—both for his penetrating intellectual engagement with the music and for the generosity of his playing. … [His playing is] effortlessly virtuosic and utterly joyous.”

In the Los Angeles Times, Denk discussed how he’s attracted to strange and difficult pieces from all periods, from Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata, to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, to Charles Ives’s Sonata No. 2, to Ligeti’s Études.  These are what Denk calls “really arcane and far-out pieces.  I’m drawn to these pieces that are on the edge of playability, of sanity, on the edge of proportion.”

Denk is the author of a widely-read blog, Think Denk, on his web site (jeremydenk.net).  He recently discussed the technical demands of Ligeti’s Études and the idea of infinity, riffing on the composer’s outlandish need for eight fortes:

How to interpret eight fortes?  I think maybe I should hurl my whole body at the piano as violently as possible and hope for the best.  They would find my bloody corpse weeks later amid moldy coffee cups, odiferous testament to my devotion to the composer’s intent.  How would eight be different from seven?  If seven fortes is like being disemboweled by a wolf, then eight is like being disemboweled by a bear.  …Ridiculously, staggeringly loud is one brute brand of infinity, but the best infinities in Ligeti are infinities of thought.  …

A good example of such infinity is the sixth étude, Automne à Varsovie.  The principle is descending chromatic lines.  At first there is only the one line, falling, falling, but gradually other chromatic lines come in, at various other speeds.  In this middlegame, the effect is just like that of many familiar Western musical masterpieces: a meditation on the beauty of various chromatic lines, intersecting, falling at different rates.  These beauties are always elusive, because the lines are always passing on, but then new temporary beauties also always keep coming.  However, the urge of the piece is not beauty, but an ever-denser thicket of lines, crowding beauty out.  Accumulation keeps threatening pleasure.  The lines become insanely intertwined, and the étude follows this logic or urge to its desperate, natural conclusion: The pianist rushes off the bottom edge of the keyboard, chromatically, as loud as possible—then breaks off, as short as possible.  The idea of the piece (the descending line) has fused into a white-hot singularity, something that can no longer be discretely played or thought, something infinitely forceful.”

Denk’s New Bach Record

Denk’s new album of Bach, released on January 25 by the boutique Azica label, presents three of the composer’s six keyboard partitas: No. 3 in A minor, No. 4 in D major, and No. 6 in E minor.  For many contemporary pianists, Bach’s partitas are the most alluring of all his suites, being more technically demanding and ambitious in scale.  Denk’s recording joins the august company of recent partitas recordings of Murray Perahia, Richard Goode, Angela Hewitt, and András Schiff.

Denk described to the Los Angeles Times how he thinks Bach’s music is often interpreted with too much melancholy or idiosyncrasy (as, for instance, by Glenn Gould): “Bach for me is a lot more humane—a smiling, generous composer.  He wrote music to be performed not by hermetic weird geniuses, but every day in the coffee house. It breathes.  And the music is shared—it radiates tremendous warmth!”

Jeremy Denk Plays Ives, released in October via his own Think Denk Media label, earned a spot on the year-end top-ten lists of many of the country’s most respected music critics.  Boston Globe critic Jeremy Eichler singled out the way “Denk conveys both the teeming surface details and the quiet inner beauty within this dense, craggy, majestically sprawling music.”  The recording contains Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 2 “Concord, Mass, 1840-60”, and his lesser-known Sonata No. 1.  In Denk’s own extensive liner notes—which a Washington Post critic praised as “the most interesting and well-written program notes [she had] ever read”—the pianist writes of his attraction to this quintessentially American art: “It’s because the music is brilliant, inventive, tender, edgy, wild, original, witty, haunting. … Ives was raised in a world of hymns, marches, and ballads—mostly quite conventional music—and yet he was attracted to the wildest kinds of musical experimentation.  He brought them together. … Ives wants to re-create the raw experience of music making, something unfiltered, and beyond all your piano lessons. … While driving me crazy, he reminds me why I play the piano at all.”

Jeremy Denk’s Winter/Spring 2011 Engagements

February 12
Reynolds Theater, Durham, NC
Recital: Ligeti’s Etudes, Books I and II; J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations

February 14
Gettysburg College Majestic Theater, Gettysburg, PA

February 16
Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, New York, NY
Recital: Ligeti’s Etudes, Books I and II; J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations

March 14
Drew University, Madison, NJ
Dvorák: selected Slavonic Dances; Dvorák: String Sextet in A major;
Smetana: selected Piano Works; Dvorák: Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major
(with Wu Han, piano)
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

March 15
Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY
Dvorák: selected Slavonic Dances; Dvorák: String Sextet in A major;
Smetana: Selected Piano Works; Dvorák: Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major
(with Wu Han, piano)
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

March 25 & 26
Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, Annapolis, MD
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467
Annapolis Symphony Orchestra

March 29
Menil Collection, Houston, TX
Ives: Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord, Mass., 1840-60”
Da Camera of Houston

April 1 & 2
Hilbert Circle Theater, Indianapolis, IN
Mozart: Concerto for Piano No. 21 in C major, K. 467
Indiana Symphony Society / Mark Wigglesworth

April 9 & April 10
The Southern Theater, Columbus, OH
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus / Timothy Russell
April 16
Sleepy Hollow High School, Sleepy Hollow, NY
Recital: Bach’s Toccata in D major and Toccata in G-sharp minor;
Liszt’s Apres une Lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata;
Ligeti’s Études, Book I;
Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111
Friends of Music Concerts

April 17
Maurice Gusman Hall, Coral Gables, FL
Solo recital: repertoire TBD
Sunday Afternoons of Music
April 21
WI Union Theater, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Madison, WI
Recital: repertoire TBD
April 29
Wellspring Theater, Kalamazo, MI
Charles Ives: Sonata No. 1
Fontana Chamber Arts
May 13, 14 & 15
Orchestra Hall, Detroit, MI
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467
Detroit Symphony Orchestra / Peter Oundjian