Jeffrey Siegel opens 25th anniversary of Keyboard
Conversations at CSU with “Spellbinding Bach”
Though Jeffrey Siegel has been offering his intimate one-man, one-piano “Keyboard Conversations” for over three decades in venues across the U.S. (and now in London), it's been a fixture at Cleveland State University for only 25 of those years. Siegel opened that important anniversary season on Sunday, October 14 with “Spellbinding Bach”, a look at the keyboard legacy of the eternal and indestructible Johann Sebastian Bach.
Not that Siegel, a talented and engaging pianist, himself did any damage to the Cantor of Leipzig, but Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), the Italian virtuoso who was responsible for arrangements of the Chaconne from the Violin Partita No. 2 and the chorale-prelude Nun freut euch (Rejoice, beloved Christians), sometimes reworked the master's music into pieces that became more his own than Bach's, witness the Chaconne. Those two selections, separated by Bach's own Toccata in D, formed the first part of Siegel's program, with two preludes from the first book of TheWell-Tempered Clavier and the Italian Concerto to follow. Siegel is a pianist of a thoroughly Romantic bent, but his interpretations are compelling, and in the case of the Italian Concerto, were sparkling and affecting.
The large and attentive audience was treated to a full afternoon's worth of observations and stories as well as fine performances of entire pieces following snippets of music designed to illustrate Siegel's prime directive, stated at the outset, to prove that “Bach is not dull and boring”. He probably got no argument there from the attendees, though some of his assertions might not have gone over so well with scholars or Bach aficionados (“Well-Tempered Clavier means a well-tuned keyboard” and “If Bach had had access to a modern Steinway, he would have kicked the harpsichord down the stairs”, and later, “These pieces were never intended for the concert hall” — which of course didn't exist in Bach's day).
Keyboard conversations traditionally end with a period when the audience has the opportunity to ask questions, and the queries this afternoon were numerous and varied. How long does it take to learn theses pieces? How many wives did Bach have if he had twenty-one children? What does BWV mean? Who was Busoni? How do you go about memorizing complex pieces of music like these (Siegel played his entire program from memory)? A fun answer to the last one: performers didn't memorize music until Liszt, and sometimes only out of vanity, like Toscanini, who didn't like to be seen wearing glasses. And a good if apocryphal story: Otto Klemperer, when asked why he conducted from score when Toscanini didn't, snapped, “because I can read music”.
Jeffrey Siegel will mark the 25th anniversary of the Cleveland series with a special, free, hour-long family concert on November 11 at 3 pm. He returns on January 27 to celebrate the piano music of Claude Debussy in “Clair de Lune, Fireworks and Beyond”. More information here.
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Published on ClevelandClassical.com October 23, 2012
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