At the new Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Mass., staff members keep an industrial-sized bottle of glass cleaner at the ready. They need it to clean smudges from pedestrians who can't resist pressing hands and faces to the windows of the glass front doors, which look straight through the building to the stage of an intimate concert hall. And, at the very back of the stage — even more glass. A giant wall of glass looks out on Sandy Bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
It all adds up to a spectacular setting for a concert, and when that concert features a world-class musician and some of the most challenging music written for the piano, the combination is unforgettable.
On July 11, during the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, that musician was Marc-André Hamelin. Known for exploring the nether regions of the piano repertoire, Hamelin combines the lesser-known with the more familiar in compelling recitals, pulling it all off with seemingly limitless technique. But Hamelin also brings something deeper to his performances. This program features the inspired pairing of two sonatas in B minor: one by the Romantic icon Franz Liszt and the other by a young and forward-looking Alban Berg. These single-movement, harmonically adventurous pieces can sometimes seem impenetrable and overwrought, but the sense of structure, narrative and nuance Hamelin brings to them (channeled through his agile hands) simply takes the audience along for what feels like a personal journey — one event following another with a sense of inevitability.
Adding a more personal touch, Hamelin treats the audience to some of his own music. He's written a set of 12 Etudes, a recording of which will be released in September, concurrently with the sheet music (just in case you're looking for a new challenge yourself). And, for an encore, more of Hamelin's piano sleuthing — an unjustly neglected pearl by Leopold Godowsky, delivered, just as everything that precedes it, with grace, style and a clarity so transparent, you could practically see through it.
- Berg: Piano Sonata, Op. 1
- Liszt: Sonata in B minor
- Hamelin: Etude After Tchaikovsky
- Godowsky: Gardens of Buitenzorg