The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

May 17, 2013

Miami Piano Fest's 16th season has lots of surprises

Posted by Gregory Stepanich

Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy.

Miami is currently in the throes of its annual celebration of piano music, the Giselle Brodsky’s Miami International Piano Festival, which began its 16th incarnation last night with a concert by the young Russian pianist Nikolai Khozyainov, who played music by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Prokofiev.

Tonight, it’s a debut for the German pianist Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy, a veteran teacher and pianist in Munich and Paris who will be appearing on a Florida stage for the first time. His program consists of the complete Preludes (Op. 28) of Chopin, one of the touchstones of the Romantic repertoire and an astonishing collection of innovatory music that never fails to offer something new teach time you hear it. Also on the program is the Variations Serieuses of Mendelssohn, surely his best solo piano work, charming as the Songs Without Words are. The variations, written as a memorial to Beethoven, draw tense, arresting music from a dark theme.

He’ll also play nine of the 24 Preludes of the Russian composer Dmitri Kabalevsky, whose music really should be much better known, and a work by his contemporary Sergei Prokofiev, the Sonata No. 3. The one-movement Prokofiev sonata is a popular choice for ambitious young pianists, and it will be good to hear it in the context of a full recital. The recital begins at 7:45 tonight in the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach, where all the concerts in the festival are being held.

Rachel Cheung. Rachel Cheung.

Two concerts are on tap for Saturday, the first in the afternoon featuring chamber music as played by three young artists who were first heard at the festival as prodigies.

Pianist Rachel Cheung, now a student at Yale; cellist Oliver Aldort, a Curtis Institute student; and violinist Simone Porter, a Seattle high school student who studies at the Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles, will team for three pieces. Porter and Cheung will play the Mozart Violin Sonata No. 15 (in B-flat, K. 454), Aldort and Cheung will perform the Sonata No. 1 (in E minor, Op. 38) of Brahms, and all three will close the program with the Piano Trio No. 1 (in D minor, Op. 47) of Mendelssohn. The concert begins at 3 p.m. at the Colony. It's a good way to catch some rising stars and hear how a new generation is coming to grips with a great art form.

Joseph Moog. Joseph Moog.

That night, it’s the young German pianist Joseph Moog, who has chosen a remarkable program that looks back to the recitalists of the 19th century.

He’ll open with a Haydn sonata (No. 24 in D, Hob. XVI: 24), and follow that with the too-rarely heard Fantasy (in D minor, K. 397) of Mozart. Next comes a three-piece Wagner set, commemorating the composer’s birth 200 years ago this month in Leipzig. He’s chosen a rare work for solo piano, Encountering the Black Swans, and then will play two well-known operatic excerpts in transcriptions by two titanic pianists of the past: Moritz Moszkowski’s arrangement of Isolde’s Death, from Tristan und Isolde, and Carl Tausig’s rendering of the Ride of the Valkyries, from Die Walküre.

Moog opens the second half with the infrequently programmed Trois Images Oubliées of Debussy, and then closes the program with three Liszt paraphrases of music by another 1813 bicentenary birthday boy, Giuseppe Verdi. Moog will perform the Rigoletto and Ernani paraphrases, as well as the Miserere from Il Trovatore. The 7:45 p.m. concert has the makings of a barn-burner, especially because it has such a healthy dose of old-fashioned keyboard fireworks from the days when people when to piano recitals to be amazed, not just uplifted.

Kemal Gekic. Kemal Gekic.

Two well-known area pianists from the former Yugoslavia take Sunday’s programs, beginning in the afternoon with Croatia’s Kemal Gekic. He is an excellent pianist who can be heard frequently in South Florida (he’s artist in residence at Florida International University), and for his afternoon program he’ll begin with all four Scherzi of Chopin, something of a pianistic stunt, but one that offers four masterpieces back to back.

The rest of the program is devoted to Russian music, including seven short pieces — the Elegie, two of the Op. 23 Preludes, and two selections each from the Op. 33 and Op. 39 Etudes-Tableaux — by Rachmaninov.

Gekic then plays his own arrangement of Mussorgky’s Night on Bald Mountain, best-known in its Rimsky-Korsakov rewrite, and closes with Islamey, a ferocious pianistic tone poem by the man who mentored Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, Mili Balakirev. Gekic’s recital begins at 3 p.m.

Misha Dacic. Misha Dacic.

Sunday night, Serbian-born pianist Misha Dacic takes the stage along with his countryman Vladmir Markovic, a painter who will create a work onstage as Dacic plays. The very unusual program opens with a first half devoted to the underappreciated Catalan pianist and composer Federico Mompou, who will be represented by 27 short pieces from three of his solo piano collections: Musica Callada, Intimate Impressions and Games of Children.

The second segment will hold the last sonata (No. 10, Op. 70), of Alexander Scriabin, the Russian pianist and mystic whose harmonic daring was just as trailblazing as Schoenberg and Stravinsky, pioneers who were changing the world of art music during the same period about a century ago. The final segment of the three-part recital will contain Dacic’s own transcriptions of music by the contemporary Azeri woman composer Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, whose work is primarily jazz-based and improvisational. It’s a safe bet you haven’t been to a recital like this in a very long time, if ever, and it’s a fun way to end the festival; the concert, which also includes a talk by Miami musicologist Frank Cooper, begins at 7:45 p.m.

Tickets for the concerts range from $15 to $50; they are available from Ticketmaster (800-745-3000) or the Colony box office (305-674-1040, ext. 1). You can also visit for more information.

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