The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: Many mazurkas make me smile and say “Let us now praise UW music students” | March 22, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Just over a week ago, the University of Wisconsin School of Music celebrated the 200th birthday (which occurred on March 1) of Frederic Chopin, who lived from 1810 to 1849.

Two Saturdays ago, about three dozen UW piano students – both undergraduate and graduate students  – performed all 52 mazurkas in Music Hall to maybe a one-third house of 150 or so listeners.

It was an unusual and unique event, but a delightful, charming and instructive event from the beginning first mazurka (Op. 6, No.1, above) until the end when Amanda Horn (below) wound up the 2-1/2 hour event with the last mazurka — Op. 68, No. 4 in F minor — which was also happened to be the last solo piano piece Chopin composed.

At times, the concert was amusing. It almost seemed like assembly-line art — by necessity, given how many mazurkas had to be performed in a relatively short time.

No sooner did one young pianist finish up and stand to bow and then walk off the stage, then out came another to continue the cycle with next mazurka.

Yes, there were many mazurkas – but not, for my taste, too many mazurkas. Never too many mazurkas.

Some students played with more musicality, some with more confidence. But all the students played with mastery, and all played from memory and with presence and sensitivity.

It was an impressive display of collective action and group talent.

And I like the idea that the burden of performing didn’t fall completely on one person, which should make it less intimidating to do than a full-length degree recital.

In fact, I think there should be more such events, such collaborative recitals, where students — or even faculty — play as a group. It gives taxpayers and music fans an inside look at the department. And the look is an impressive one.

A lot of talent walked across that stage, as I tried to capture with some low-light non-flash photos. (I don’t even have names for most of them.) And they all gave us a good example of the Wisconsin Idea — that  the state supports the university and, in turn, the university supports the state — in action.

There was wit too.

Piano department chair Todd Welbourne introduced the event (below) and compared the mazurkas to Chopin’s mazurkas to a 19th-century form of Skype as way of connecting to his Polish homeland from which he was exiled for all his adult life and entire career.

Welbourne set just the right tone. There was nothing to prove, everything to enjoy, including some tasty mid-concert snacks — fruit punch and dips with pita bread and sweets.

And those of us who attended the event got to hear some wonderful and memorable pieces of music that don’t often get programmed in public recitals, since they are more suited to the living room than the concert hall.

Now, what I would like to know is:

Did the UW pianos students feel appreciated by the audience?

Did they have any fun doing the Mazurka-thon?

What did they learn from doing the complete mazurkas?

Should the UW School of Music and the support group Piano Partners schedule similar events?

What music would you think lends itself to such a collective recital format? Chopin’s waltzes, nocturnes and preludes? Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier or Two-Part Inventions and Three-Part Sinfonias? Scarlatti’s sonatas?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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