On May 2, pianist Can brought his delightful lecture-style performance to the CRR stage -- his personal guided tour of works from Henry Purcell to a recent one by Dutch composer Jacob Ter Veldhuis. Through the twin forces of his piano artistry and his engaging personality, Can took the listener through several centuries of music with his signature panache for explaining what’s going on.
Can is a faculty member at the Anadolu University State Conservatory. Prior to this position, he studied in New York, Paris, London and Yale University, won competitions and fellowships and toured all over the world. In all that globe-trotting, he found his calling as an exemplary interpreter and master illuminator of 20th-century music. Not surprisingly, he has accrued high acclaim for his recordings of music by Paul Hindemith, György Ligeti and George Crumb.
His concert alternated pieces from earlier centuries with those from the present, beginning with Purcell’s Suite No. 7 of three dances from the mid-1600s. Can approached the music as if he were a harpsichordist (as the piano hadn’t been invented then) by allowing for the plucked strings’ resonance to settle before continuing. He employed the characteristic stretching of phrases and the split-second moment of air just before each cadence. He also gave us the feeling that he was improvising, which, in 1650, was expected of every musician.
Then he segued to the music of his former teacher, İlhan Baran, with his “Üç Bagatel” (Three Bagatelles) from 1959. A nice contrast to the Purcell, these three pieces used dissonance, whimsicality and highly percussive elements that showed amazing cohesion in their sequences of seemingly aleatory phrases and effects.
Next, he chose Franz Josef Haydn’s Sonata No. 49, (1780) chiefly, I suspect, because of its occasional departures from the norm, as has Franz Liszt’s “Valse Impromptu” (1880). Composed a century apart, they both exhibited quixotic qualities in their desire to wander outside the templates of the time.
Then we took a 90-year leap from Liszt into the electronic age with Mario Davidovsky’s “Synchronisms No. 6 for Piano and Electronic Sounds” (1970), which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1971. Can had set up several speakers around the piano for playing a pre-recorded track that required tricky precision with the live piano part. Can explained, “The piano and electronic parts should be woven together so well you can’t tell them apart.” Can makes a piece like this as vivid as a kinetic event. Through his organic physical connection -- facial expressions and body action -- with what he’s doing, we feel connected to every moment with him.
Karol Szymanowski’s “Prelude and Fugue” (1905-1909), which toyed with major and minor modes in an undecided fashion, was paired up with César Franck’s “Prelude, Fugue and Variation, Op.18” (1862). The latter was originally for organ, and Can approached it as if he were playing a giant cathedral pipe organ. That’s a difficult trick, as the piano is a percussive instrument and the organ is a wind instrument, and there are significant differences in the ability to sustain sound. Nevertheless, he dug into the thick sonorities, tailoring them to the piano’s resonance.
For the next two pieces, Crumb’s “Makrokosmos” selections from the First Book (1972) and Second Book (1973), and Ter Veldhuis’ “Body of Your Dreams” (2003), Can was in his element. Crumb’s revolutionary score for prepared piano (into which Can put a variety of items, including pieces of paper) “is an eclectic pastiche: a cut and paste of bits of Chopin, the ancient Latin chant ‘Agnus Dei,’ astrological references, Japanese kamikaze screams, bombs and more,” he explained. Can’s exuberant performance of these already legendary masterpieces was totally compelling.
The Ter Veldhuis piece he prefaced with: “Critics are undecided about whether it’s junk or a decent piece. I’ll leave it up to you.” The audience’s verdict was unanimous: The simultaneous live piano and pre-recorded track of a television “infomercial” advertising exercise equipment was hilarious. Its mash-up of musical styles, with a decided pop undertone and delicious absurdity, was also musically brilliant, especially in Can’s hands.
Polish guitarist opens Akbank Sanat’s ‘Guitar Days’
Akbank Sanat’s “Guitar Days” opened its series of six concerts this month with a superb solo recital by Polish guitarist Marcin Dylla on May 4. His sophisticated and virtuosic program offered music by Manuel Ponce, Toru Takemitsu, Enrique Granados, Giulio Regondi, Alexandre Tansman and Joaquin Rodrigo. Playing a challenging program like that (and impressively, all from memory), in Akbank’s acoustically dry hall where there’s not one second of reverberation, was an astonishing feat.
Dylla triumphed throughout, especially in making the transitions from one style to the next: moving from the romantic Regondi’s (the Chopin of the guitar world) “Introduction and Caprice” to the modern ambience of Takemitsu’s “In the Woods,” back again to Ponce’s neo-classical “Sonata Romantica (Homage to Schubert)” and then Tansman’s “Variations on a Theme by Scriabin,” whose thorny texture was an especially muscular workout for the left hand.
Seemingly in possession of an inexhaustible supply of knock-out technique, Dylla launched into Rodrigo’s “Three Spanish Pieces” for his dazzling finale. The suite is comprised of “Fandango” and “Passacaglia” -- two wonderfully atmospheric works that superimpose 20th-century language over a traditional Spanish template, and the “Zapateado,” a colorful blizzard of perpetual motion. Dylla’s stunning mastery and polished refinement set a high bar for the rest of the “Guitar Days” to match.