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How to Get to Carnegie Hall? Blogging (and Practice)

03.25.11
Jeremy Denk
The Wall Street Journal

By Pia Catton

Classical music fans who follow the blog of pianist Jeremy Denk haven’t had much to read lately — the last post was on “Think Denk” was published on Dec. 29. But those following his career have had a lot to listen to.

After playing an intense schedule in January and February, Denk accepted two major -– and unscheduled — engagements in March when other artists fell ill.  From March 17 to 20, he joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a replacement for Martha Argerich. Denk had one week and two rehearsals to prepare for his debut with the orchestra.

And this Sunday, Denk makes his solo recital debut at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium, replacing Maurizio Pollini.

“I thought I was going to be on vacation,” said Denk. Instead he’ll be onstage playing Charles Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord,” and Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.”

With all the extra work, who could think of blogging?

“I’ve been practicing a lot and chilling out,” he said. “I just got through the thing last week. I’ve been trying to see if I can make this work. Then I’ve wondering where I could check myself into.”

Carnegie Hall’s director of artistic planning, Jeremy Geffen, turned to Denk as a replacement because he was already at the top of the list as someone to showcase. The pianist had hit a high mark in his February recital at Zankel Hall, the 599-seat venue within Carnegie Hall. (Stern Auditorium, by contrast, has 2,804 seats.)

“The follow up to a success like that can often wait several seasons because we schedule so far in advance,” said Geffen. “This was a great opportunity for an artist that we feel very strongly about, and we could use the momentum of his more recent success.”

Naturally, it was Denk’s playing that has made him a go-to artist in a pinch: “There aren’t many people,” said Geffen, “who have the ‘Goldberg Variations’ ready to go at the drop of a hat.”

But Denk’s online persona has also been an asset. “One thing that the blogging did emphasize was that, in addition being a pianist of the highest order, he has become a great spokesperson of the art form,” Geffen said. “He is not only witty and insightful, but he approaches people on a level they can identify with.”

Although the pianist is a less frequent blogger these days, he could be a model for other artists. “The blog was a very important part of people’s introduction to him,” said Geffen. “With more engagements and success comes less time to express yourself in words.”