San Francisco Symphony/Tilson Thomas Review- Jeremy Denk is all fists on the piano... in a good way

08.31.15
Jeremy Denk
The Guardian

We should really hear Henry Cowell’s Piano Concerto more often – after all, which pianist wouldn’t want to play the keyboard with their elbows? Imagine a romantic-era composer writing a concerto to be played by the hooves of a Lipizzaner horse, and you are getting close. The maverick composer’s 1928 work holds, in many ways, to the shape and feel of a classical concerto while reimagining the way the notes might be produced; the keyboard submits to a hail of fists and arms, but, buoyed by the orchestra, the clusters of notes produced are shaped into something nuanced and extraordinarily powerful.
 
In the first of the San Francisco Symphony’s two Proms, Jeremy Denk was the soloist in Cowell’s exuberant yet very serious score. Playing from memory, he brought to it as much poise and expression as if he were playing Chopin, and the orchestra offered intense support. The Alcotts, a movement from the Concord Sonata by Cowell’s friend Charles Ives, was Denk’s beautifully shaped encore.

Michael Tilson Thomas and his orchestra had already brought vivid detail and colour to Schoenberg’s 1943 Theme and Variations, an uncharacteristically harmonious but spiky piece commissioned for a student orchestra full of mellow trumpet, gruff college-band tuba, disembodied violins and tinkerbell glockenspiel.
 
Read the rest of the review here