Review: Pianist Garrick Ohlsson outstanding at Tanglewood, including 3 encores

Garrick Ohlsson

Encores for classical music concerts seem to abide by a set of rules as complex as the royal protocol at Buckingham Palace or the court of Louis XVI in 18th century Versailles.

Some soloists never play them, no matter how much the audience cheers for them. Others play them all the time, which makes them sometimes seem a little less special since everyone knows and expects there will be an encore.

And there's no rhyme or reason why certain soloists perform - or don't perform - encores. Many soloists who play encores are younger. But I've seen may older performers who regularly play encores as well.

And if you think certain kinds of musicians play encores more than others, think again. Some violinists or cellists do, others almost never. The same goes for pianists, young and old.  I've even seen entire orchestras perform an encore, including last year when the Montreal Symphony Orchestra played two encores at Symphony Hall in Boston.

And don't even get me started with rock bands and encores. It's often such a joke how the band will walk off stage and wait a minute while the audience goes berserk. And everyone knows an encore is coming since the lights are all still off. Nothing about such encores feels spontaneous or genuine.

I was thinking about all of this last night after hearing pianist Garrick Ohlsson perform another outstanding concert at Tanglewood. Over the weekend, Ohlsson played both Chopin piano concertos to perfection on Friday and Saturday night. Last night, Ohlsson played a superb solo concert in Tanglewood's intimate Ozawa Hall.

But the number of encores after last night's concert was truly surprising. The encores kept coming one after another after Ohlsson performed two Schubert sonatas (No. 14 in A minor and No. 20 in A) and five shorter works by Scriabin.

As expected, Ohlsson's performance of Schubert and Scriabin last night sounded sublime. I've heard Ohlsson perform many times with orchestras, on his own and with chamber groups. And every time, he brings such a sensitive, thoughtful approach to the music. Last night was no exception.

I've also come to expect Ohlsson to play an encore after every concert, the same way he did Saturday and Sunday. But Ohlsson truly outdid himself last night at Ozawa Hall. He didn't need to play an encore. And one would have been fine. Instead, he ended up playing three encores featuring three Scriabin etudes. And while some musicians seem to play encores because they feel like they have to do so, Ohlsson's encores always seem to come from the heart.

But last night's encores felt different. Last night, Ohlsson simply seemed to be having so much fun playing, he didn't want to leave the stage. He was like a kid, excited to share his enthusiasm and love for music with everyone there. It was quite touching.

I believe Ohlsson was more enthusiastic than usual since last night's concert was the last of five concerts he performed this summer at Tanglewood. Ohlsson has performed regularly every summer at Tanglewood since 1971. But he performed more concerts that usual this summer since he is this year's Tanglewood Koussevitzky Artist, an award given annually to the best musician.

Ohlsson discussed the award in an interview I conducted with him earlier this year. He said he was especially honored to receive this award. "I'm thrilled and delighted," Ohlsson said, regarding receiving the award. "It's not an award you apply for. It just sort of falls out of the sky. I'm very pleased."

Last night felt the same way for all of us in the audience at Ozawa Hall. None of us applied for an award. But we all received one last night - another outstanding performance from Ohlsson, featuring three generous, unexpected, heartfelt encores. Thank you!
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