The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: Young and old meet through music and a piano recital at Oakwood Village West

July 23, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday I blogged about the way a concert can be used to reunite friends and family.

On Sunday night, I went to another event that also showed the social as well as the artistic side of music: How music helps to bridge young and old.

The occasion was a short, one-hour recital at Oakwood Village West, a local retirement community on Madison’s far west side.

It was given by 15-year-old Garrick Olsen (below, all photos by me). Make no mistake — despite his homonymic name, he is NOT the famous concert pianist Garrick Ohlsson. But he sure shows a lot of the same promise and talent. The concert also featured his teacher piano and concert partner Bill Lutes. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that Bill is also my teacher.)

The concert was organized by Joel Jones (below), the retired piano technician from the UW-Madison who arranges musical programs at Oakwood for the third Monday of every month.

Now the idea that retirement communities are not active places is just plain wrong. The residents go on trips and excursions, and they get to see a lot of entertainment and to interact with people right where they live.

This program seemed especially appealing and drew a large, attentive and considerate crowd.

Part of it, of course, was the music.

Olsen and Lutes opened the program with three well-known “Hungarian Dances” (Nos. 1, 4 and 5) by Brahms. They are as irresistible and charming as they are lively and passionate. The two blended as one in perfect balance. Whjat a way to start — all-paino chamber music.

Then Olson went on to solo in a variety of works. His playing of Debussy’s “Reflections in Water” was full of sensual tonal color. His reading of Chopin’s difficult Etude in C-sharp minor, Op. 10, No. 4, was full of dynamism, virtuosity and clarity.

His playing of Scriabin’s Etude in C-sharp minor, Op. 2, No., 1 was well paced to bring out bittersweet songfulness — inner voices and dialogue; the  same composer’s Nocturne for Left Hand (learned when Olsen broke a pinky while log-rolling) was artfully and lyrically done, all the while the pianist holding his right hand tight to his right thigh.

Lutes returned and the duo did three dance movements from Samuel Barber’s “Souvenirs,” Op. 28. The modern harmonies combined with lovely melodies and traditional rhythms to make for infections listening. It was a great way to mark the Barber centennial this year.

Then it was back to solo Olsen for the finale.

He finished up with two big works.

First came Rachmaninoff’s famous march-like Prelude in G minor, Op. 23, No. 5, which he dispatched with bravura and sureness, and with sharp rhythm — but no pounding.

And to top it all off, the home-schooled young pianist, who, unbelievably, has only 5-1/2 years of lessons under this belt, seemed to toss off Liszt’s “Paganini” Etude No. 2 in E-flat. The octaves were thundering but accurate and clean, the scales passages swift and fluid.

In short, he wowed them.

The audience applauded enthusiastically and called him back to the stage several times. He, in turn, rewarded them with a wonderful encore: a fleet and light-fingered playing of Chopin’s Prelude No. 3.

In everything he played, the young pianist showed both solid technique and marvelous musicality.  The tall redhead has stage presence too.

It was especially interesting to overhear the audience’s comments.

“He’ll go far.”

“We’ll be hearing more from him.”

“He’s quite the young man.”

The audience was attentive throughout the concert — except for a few young children who showed up and went unchecked in their misbehavior — and it was clear they took special delight in hearing a talented young person who had come to play for them.

And after the concert, the audience flocked outside to shake Olsen’s hand and offer him compliments and ask about him.

He seemed pleased and they seemed pleased.

Now, it is good practice — and good public service — for young musicians  to play in public and entertain others. It seasons a would-be professional performer.

But my guess is that the live music also makes the Oakwood residents more active and less isolated from mainstream society. They feel a part of what is happening – not just what has already happened.

Everyone wins.

For young or old, for player or listener — music really can be the best of gifts.

Posted in Classical music

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