“Silliness” of Schubert vs. “haunted” Janacek: Jeremy Denk

Last week the Ojai Music Festival began with a sublime performance of classical piano music, using a contrasting variety of compositional styles the likes of which this reporter has never heard orseen, brilliantly introduced and played by Jeremy Denk, a blogger.  

Actually Denk has no time to blog these days, between his awards, his preformance schedule, his teaching schedule, and writing essays for The New York Review of Books (on Ives) and The New Yorker, (on piano lessons). 

His introduction to his opening program of Schubert and Janacek was perhaps the most charming and witty such pre-performance talk yours truly has ever heard. Denk self-deprecatingly claimed that he was serving as a a sort of "warm-up band" to the second half of the show, a swinging version of Mahler by Uri Caine, by playing a "fragmentary" introduction. 

"I'm trying to create a sort of iPod shuffle of Eastern European anxieties," Denk said, to laughter in the crowd. He contrasted the "incredible haunted thinkings-over of folk tunes and bits of tunes and childhood memories" of the Czech composer Janacek against some frolicsome dances by Schubert, saying he  "thought these are like visiting the same anxieties, the same pieces, the same problems eighty years earlier. The first two pieces are like, in some weird way, the same piece," he said, added that the two opening and contrasting pieces began with the same few notes. 

He described this as "inward, intimate" music, and said at the end he put one of the "silliest things that Schubert ever wrote" against one of Janacek's "most profound and tragic utterances." 

The stream is a little herk-jerk to start, but the playing is spectacular:  


Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

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