So what is a Piano Extravaganza? At this year’s Southeastern Piano Festival — occupying various spaces around town through June 22 — it was a visual extravaganza, with five nine-foot Steinways on the Koger Center stage Sunday afternoon.
It was certainly a musical extravaganza, including several works the audience is unlikely to ever hear again in live performance. It was also a talent extravaganza, including four distinguished University of South Carolina piano faculty members and five great younger guests, whose performances were consistently fine. Add one orchestra, the S.C. Philharmonic (in the final performance of its season), one conductor, Morihiko Nakahara, and voila — an evening that lived up to its ambitious name.
The tiny — not so extravagant — orchestra opened with Mozart’s Overture to The Impressario. Mushy articulation at first gave way to cleaner, more spirited playing. Being forced down the back half of the stage with its poor resonance didn’t help clarity.
But the first three piano works were genuine musical extravaganzas, beginning with Bizet’s Carmen Fantasy — arranged by Greg Anderson and played in feisty style by Susan Zhang and Zachary Hughes, SEPF alumni. Everybody knows Carmen, but this is a Fantasy, and Anderson takes it a step beyond a straightforward arrangement — maybe several steps beyond — and nobody does this better than he.
USC faculty pianists Phillip Bush and Joseph Rackers got winds, percussion and three enigmatic singers involved in John Adams’ Grand Pianola Music. It’s in three sections, the first two without pause, rather delicate, even serene.
Not so the final section called “On the Dominant Divide;” Adams calls on the “barest chord progression,” known to composers as I-V-I — or tonic, dominant, tonic. He has has written extensively on this piece, explaining that it is “a dream image… while driving down Interstate 5,” meeting two black stretch limousines that “transformed into the world’s longest Steinway pianos” and “a sonic blur of 20 or more pianos playing Chopin … Rachmaninoff … the Maple Leaf Rag and much more.” Though exceedingly well played by all, the performance could have taken more advantage of the piece's bold repetitious patterns and long stretches of soft-to-loud, loud-to-soft tension and release.
Next came one of the performances the audience was waiting for: All five piano benches occupied — Rackers, Busch, and Zhang, plus additional USC piano faculty members Charles Fugo and Marina Lomazov, all playing at once. The music was Camille Saint-Saëns’ Dance Macabre, arranged into what Anderson calls a Hootenanny for Five Pianos. A most impressive hootenanny it was, played powerfully and precisely, more fun than frightening.
Chopin appropriately appeared on the program, as Micah McLaurin, from Charleston, played the gorgeously lethargic slow movement of the composer’s 2nd Concerto with Chopin-esque maturity and confidence.
Mostly Mozart showed up next in Papageno!: Fantasy on Arias from The Magic Flute, another fantasy arrangement by the talented Anderson, played excitedly by Rieko Tsuchida and Dong Yeon Kim, nicely capturing both the humor and despondence of Mozart’s lovable bird-catcher.
The Philharmonic contributed a lackluster Habanera by Emmanuel Chabrier before the other performance the audience was eagerly awaiting: The festival’s artistic director, Marina Lomazov, joined the Philharmonic, bringing the Extravaganza to a vibrant close with Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Missing in this youthful work is that bitter irony of Prokofiev’s later years, but not the energy and bold rhythmic drive. Lomazov was fabulous. She played with force without forgoing accuracy, delivering an unerring performance — despite the power and strength required to bring this music to life.
It was a perfect exclamation point, with just enough musical whimsies and tempers — both playful and acerbic — to complement those same qualities, which earlier had been such a vital part of this ingenious program.
A Healthy Happy Hour
4-7 p.m at Good Life Cafe on Main St. Try our $4 local draft beers, $4 organic wine, 1/2 off select bottles of house wine and $5 handcrafted house cocktails with juices cold pressed and made daily. Click here for more info.
Tax-Free Weekend at Best Mattress
With big savings from July 31st-August 2nd, you can afford handcrafted quality. Free bed frame and pillows on any Full, Queen, or King set $599 and above! Click for locations and hours.
Columbia’s Largest Sidewalk Sale
Shop local this tax free weekend! Devine Street and Five Points are teaming up for a massive sidewalk sale featuring great in-store specials from all your favorite retailers and a Saturday art stroll. Read more hereand here!
Relaxation, Pain Management, and Stress Relief
Licensed massage therapist Allison Morris of AMR Massage is offering 50% off your first session and every 5th session free of charge. Click here for location, hours, and more information.
New Downtown Dessert and Coffee Bar!
Tony’s Italian Eatery has teamed up with Southern Charm Sweets to bring you the highest quality dessert selection in the downtown area. 1120 Washington St., Suite 2. Find us on Facebook!
SEARCH FREE TIMES
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com
Real Estate Spotlight
Concord Park From the $150’s. Off 12th St. Extension. 803.419.2227. mungo.com
Click here for more real estate.
GABLE HILL APARTMENTS 1, 2 & 3 BR’s available with many amenities. Surround yourself with Southern comforts at Gable Hill Apartments! Bring in our ad in Free Times for $50 off your application fee. 310 Ross Rd, Columbia, SC. Click here for more info.
ST. ANDREWS COMMONS APARTMENTS 1 & 2 BR’s available with many amenities. Close to everywhere YOU WANT TO BE! 1200 St. Andrews Rd., Columbia, SC. Click here for more info.
WATERFORD APARTMENTS 1 & 2 BR’s available with many amenities. Prime location, and plenty of space. Live large at Waterford Apartments. Bring in our ad in Free Times for $50 off your application fee. 1340 Longcreek Dr., Columbia, SC. Click here for more info.
Donate Plasma Today & Be Somebody’s Hero For Life. You could earn up to $400 a month! Program and fees vary per location. Contact your local center today. 803-736-5888. Click here for more info