Ojai’s Chamber on the Mountain Concet series (Heidi Lehwalder, artistic director) opens its 2018-19 season with a recital by the brilliant young pianist known simply as “Ji” (he of the Android commercial that premiered during the 2016 Grammy Awards) at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, in Logan House, 8585 Ojai-Santa Paula Road (adjacent to the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts).
Ji, a Juilliard graduate, was the youngest musician ever to win the New York Philharmonic Young Artists Competition (he was 10).
This Sunday he will be performing Ferrucio Busoni’s transcriptions of two chorale organ preludes by Johann Sebastian Bach, “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 659,” and “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme BWV 645,” along with Maurice Ravel‘s “La Valse (1919-20);” Frédéric Chopin‘s “Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante in Eb-Major, Opus 22 (1831-34);” John Cage‘s “4’33″ (1952);” Franz Liszt‘s “Le mal du pays” from Années de Pèlerinage (1848-55);” and Robert Schumann‘s “Arabesque, Opus 18 (1839).”
For all that it is filled to the brim with beautiful, audience-pleasing music, this is nevertheless an intensely cerebral program, and every piece in it resounds with intellectual distinction.
In each of the pieces — with one exception — there are, as Mozart wrote to his father about a set of his piano concertos, “things which only connoisseurs can appreciate, but I have seen to it that those less knowledgeable must also be pleased, without knowing why …” (I place myself, for the most part, among “those less knowledgeable,” since I have heard a tremendous amount of music, but can never say, in musicological terms, why I love one piece and am indifferent to another).
Ferrucio Busoni (1866-1924) was one of the most celebrated concert pianists of his age. He was also a conductor, teacher, editor, writer — excelling in each category — and a great composer.
It seems to me a pity, almost amounting to an injustice, that all we hear of his work nowadays are his — admittedly marvelous — Bach transcriptions, which are more like hand-tooled, deluxe editions of Bach than any kind of collaboration between equals.
Ravel’s “La Valse” is the composer’s tribute to pre-1914 Vienna, but it will hardly be heard as an exercise in nostalgia.
When I hear it, I am reminded that most of the nightmares of the 20th century were first dreamed somewhere in the Hapsburg Empire, and usually in the capital city, during the years leading up to World War I — see Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schnitzler, Joseph Roth and Robert Musil, not to mention Gustav Mahler, Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg.
In Otto Preminger‘s underrated film, The Cardinal, Tom Tryon plays a young American priest working his way toward a scarlet hat. Preminger, Vienna born, shot one of the film’s most memorable episodes in his native city. in the late 1930s, Tryon is on sabbatical, doing post-grad work dressed as a layman.
He meets Romy Schneider (also Vienna-born). Quite naturally, he falls in love with her, and considers bolting the cloth. Less plausibly, she falls in love with him, too. There is talk of them getting hitched. But his vocation is too strong, and he reveals to her that he is a priest and has decided to remain one.
They are in a vast, glittering ballroom; the orchestra strikes up a waltz (by the great film composer, Jerome Moross, born in Manhattan). “I cannot ask you to kiss me,” says Romy, “while you are still married to the Church, but in Vienna, even for a married man, it is a sin not to dance a waltz.”
He takes her in his arms and they swirl away.
Chopin later added an orchestra to his “Andante spianato,” trying to turn it into a concerted work, but orchestration was never Chopin’s strong suit, and the orchestra is either inaudible or irrelevant.
This is a major work for solo piano, in which he could unleash his unrivaled melodic gifts without having to bother with the constraints of the sonata-allegro form.
John Cage’s “4’33″” is far and away my favorite of his works.
Of the three suites of Franz Liszt’s “Années de Pèlerinage/Years of Pilgrimage,” “Le mal du pays” (or “Homesickness”) is found in the first and earliest. Yet it’s diffidence and introspection place it clearly with his much more restrained later style.
Serious pianists, who would never dain to soil their fingers with the “Hungarian Rhapsodies” often pour over the “Années” as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls.
And, speaking of Vienna, Robert Schumann told a friend he had composed his “Arabesque” in order to ingratiate himself with the ladies of that city. I’ll bet it worked.
Admission to this concert is $25, and advance reservations may be purchased online at www.ChamberOnTheMountain.com.