denk thinks, portland listens

One of my favorite music bloggers, the pianist Jeremy Denk, made quite a splash at the Portland International Piano Festival this past weekend – click here for a complete review by Oregonian classical music critic David Stabler. Here’s the lead-in:

Many piano concerts are like trips to the shopping mall: safe, predictable excursions with a commercial intent.

Not Jeremy Denk’s. Last weekend in Portland, the 37-year-old New York pianist took us to the edge of a precipice, lined himself up and jumped.

Denk’s piano recital was so daring, so fraught with peril that I expected to see hazard lights flashing around the perimeter of the stage. Men with walkie-talkies would warn us to keep our distance. Ambulances would be lined up to handle injuries. Gawkers would sell souvenirs.

Below him lay the abyss of Ivesian chaos (Charles Ives’ “Concord” Sonata), with its four movements of surging strife and transcendental difficulty. Beethovenian chaos followed (the “Hammerklavier” Sonata) with its own four movements of surging strife and transcendental difficulty. They are similar in intent, both ending where they began, making a dangerously brilliant pair.

Beauty and refinement — the customary rewards of recitals — ceased to exist. Instead, Denk took us to the heart of darkness with music that normally repels audiences: dysfunctional harmonies, chord clusters, lack of continuity, contradiction.

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