Pianofest usually holds most of its concerts at the Avram Theater at Stony Brook Southampton, with occasional events at other venues. With the completion of Hoie Hall at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in East Hampton a few years ago, several concerts have been held there each season as well. On July 24, a number of Pianofest participants presented a concert in this beautifully appointed space with its outstanding acoustics.
Although all of the performances were technically fine and played with presence, I thought that three of them were missing something in interpretation.
Franz Liszt’s famous Liebestraume No. 3 was played by Elena Fischer-Dieskau with such excessive freedom of tempo in places that it sounded hesitant and disjointed. I think this was a just case of overinterpretation, but at times one wondered if the music was going to continue.
“L’isle Joyeuse” by Claude Debussy was played by Mathilde Handelsman. Most of the playing was quite full sounding, with not as much variation in dynamics as called for, and was dazzlingly bright throughout rather than having the more subtle shading that is associated with this impressionistic music. I thought that by not holding some of the virtuosic passages in check, the buildup to the high point was lost.
A number of Franz Schubert’s lieder were transcribed by Liszt for the piano. But these are not mere transcriptions; Liszt embellishes and in effect orchestrates the original piano and voice parts. In the transcription of “Auf dem Wasser zu singen,” Nikita Tonkonogov did a good job of portraying the excitement of the waves of water, but it was at the expense of bringing out the vocal line in the inner voice. I wanted to hear more of that “singing” inner tenor voice brought out, in contrast to the pianistic waves.
One of the standout performances was Ricardo Acosta’s playing of Wagner’s “Isolde’s Liebestod,” also transcribed by Liszt. His rendering of the poignant, emotionally rich “Love Death” had great sensitivity, with coloring and shading that created an aura of its own, and rubatos that were inevitable, not contrived. There was great musicality, no dazzle for dazzle’s sake.
Johannes Brahms’s Intermezzo (from Sechs Klavierstucke) is a fairly late work in his output. Jun Luke Foster’s reading of the Intermezzo was filled with perceptive shading, reaching a high point and then pulling away, and it had a fine, mature sense of the whole. It was enchanting playing that pulled me in from the very beginning.
Probably the most demanding work on the program was the Vivace from Sergei Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 6, played by Allison Lee. It was written during wartime, and has the powerful, strident, tense, and disturbing qualities that one might expect. Ms. Lee knew how to bring out the various textures and discordant themes. She played with great excitement, but, more than that, she played with unfailing clarity. Even though the atmosphere was unsettling and filled with conflict, the listener knew that every note had a place and a purpose.
The Pianofest concerts are always marvelous events, and there is one more opportunity to take one in this season, on Monday at the Avram Theater at 5:30 p.m. Tickets cost $20 at the door only, free for students. The good seats are always taken early.
The concerts are just the public face of Pianofest. Twenty-five years ago, Paul Schenly, the festival’s director, had the idea of bringing together a number of highly talented young musicians to not just give concerts, but to live together as well. In a house in East Hampton, with about 14 pianists and 10 or so grand pianos, much of Pianofest’s real significance takes place as these up-and-coming artists live, cook, eat, drink, joke, make friends, party, practice, and support one another.
Two years ago, Konstantin Soukhovetski, artist in residence at Pianofest, who is not only a concert pianist but has also acted in an indie film, had the idea of making — are you ready for this? — a reality show featuring its participants (“Pianists in Reality Show,” The East Hampton Star, July 28, 2011).
After countless hours of filming and untold time spent editing and producing, the beginnings of “The Real Pianists of the Hamptons” can be found on YouTube. Although it has been dubbed “the first-ever classical music reality show,” it has also been more accurately called a reality Web series. You can find a teaser, a short bit about the “2013 arrivals,” an “Indian dinner,” and the official eight-minute-long first episode.
Mr. Soukhovetski said that many additional hours of material have already been filmed, and episodes will be released during the year as his busy schedule allows. Some of the other goings-on can also be found on Facebook — on his page and the one for “The Real Pianists of the Hamptons.”
Pianofest concerts may be almost over for this season, which is too bad for its large following, but for its fans and those interested in a high-quality and refreshing mix of a pop culture genre and the inner workings of the classical music world, the festival continues.