The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Jeremy Denk’s piano recital this Thursday night is a MUST-HEAR event from one of the most promising and most original young musicians on the scene. Plus, acclaimed violist Nobuko Imai gives a FREE master class tonight at the UW.

April 8, 2013

REMINDER: The FREE master class by violist Nobuko Imai (below) — who performs a FREE concert Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall with the UW Pro Arte String Quartet — will be held TONIGHT, Monday, April 8, at 7 p.m. in Morphy Hall.

Imai Nobuko 018.jpg

By Jacob Stockinger

Last time pianist Jeremy Denk passed through Madison, he had time for a Q&A for this blog; a public panel on blogging held at the Wisconsin Union Theater (WUT); a master class for young local pianists (below)at the WUT; a fascinating talk about pedaling in Chopin at the UW School of Music; and a fabulous, memorable and mammoth recital of Charles Ives’ Piano Sonata No. 1 and J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.

Jeremy Denk teaching 1

Since then much has happened in the career of the 42-year-old pianist (below). He has been signed to a major label (Nonesuch) and released his acclaimed first CD for his new label. He has been in residence at NPR where he explored Bach’s Goldberg” Variations. He continues to write his acclaimed blog Think Denk at He has been written up in Vanity Fair and he has published his own illuminating essay on piano lessons throughout his career in the April 8 edition of The New Yorker.

All this, then, plus the many concerts – solo recitals, chamber music concerts and concerto appearances – surely keep this pianist-writer and thinker extremely busy.

So it is little wonder that time apparently did not allow Denk all the background and extras that his last visit did.

Jeremy Denk playing 2

But Madison has too few piano recitals – certainly far fewer than it used to in the heyday of the Wisconsin Union Theater and the UW School of Music’s piano department. Yes, as Madison Symphony Orchestra maestro John DeMain suggested last year, we could use more chamber music groups – but we already have a lot of them. What we rarely hear are solo piano recitals, not a good thing for all music lovers and especially for piano students.

Farley’s House of Pianos leads the way with the WUT and the UW following close behind. But given the Hamburg Steinway in Overture Hall, why doesn’t the MSO or the Overture Center start a piano recital series there? We could bring up the same great top-tier pianists who perform recitals in Chicago at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s great piano series on Sunday afternoons.

Anyway, we are fortunate that the Wisconsin Union Theater is again bringing Jeremy Denk to town. This time Denk will perform this Thursday night, April 11, at 8 p.m. — NOT 7:30 p.m. — in Mills Hill, where the Wisconsin Union Theater is holding concerts while the actual theater is undergoing renovation and restoration.

Jeremy Denk playing swoon

Denk’s program is exactly what The Ear likes to see: an unusual and unpredictable mix of composers and works designed to provide contexts for and dialogues with each other — making J.S. Bach talk with Liszt and Beethoven, for example, or Bartok talk with Liszt. It is the same program that Denk played to great acclaim at Carnegie Hall (below, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Tines) two weeks ago.

Jeremy Denk in Carnegie Hall

The recital program is big – as befits Denk who is clearly a musical marathoner rather than a sprinter.

It starts with Bartok’s rarely heard Piano Sonata, and moves on to several Liszt works, including the “Dante” Sonata,  the Petrarch Sonata No. 123, the prelude of J.S. Bach’s chorale “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen,” and the arrangement of the Liebestod (Love Death) from Wagner’s opera “Tristan und Isolde.” Then after intermission comes the gorgeous Prelude and Fugue in B Minor from J.S. Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” Book 1 and Beethoven’s iconic last Piano Sonata, No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, which appeared last year with several Gyorgi Ligeti etudes on Denk’s debut album for Nonesuch.

If we are lucky and enthusiastic as an audience, it sounds like some Brahms and Bach are on the encore play list.

Tickets are $25 for general admission with discounts for groups and families; and $10 for UW-Madison students. Here is a link to the WUT site with information about tickets and much more about Denk:

Since I didn’t hear directly from Denk, but still don’t want reader to underestimate the potential pleasure and illumination of this recital, I have included several other firms of background material in the form of links and a wonderful YouTube video at the bottom that gives you a good taste of Denk’s personality and piano playing.

Here is a link to the Vanity Fair piece on Jeremy Denk:

And here is link to his eassy about piano lessons (“Every Good Boy Does Fine”) in the new issue of The New Yorker (April 8 issue).

Here is the rave review in The New York Times of Jeremy Denk’s Carnegie Hall recital with the same program that he will perform in Madison:

Judge for yourself, but I am sure you will arrive at the same conclusion as The Ear: This is a piano recital not to be missed.

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