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Downie's Piano Service

Reviews of Piano Performances


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Bjørnstad's style is expressive, with terrific technique and delicate touch
From the phrases and delicate crescendos of his set's opening moments, Bjørnstad defied form and structure. Working from a melodic theme, he improvised complex chordal passages on the spot. He embellished things with ease, veering dramatically from one chain of chords to another. It was a dynamic opening. He set the tone and created the atmosphere for what was to follow.


Ziemba comes in first
Ziemba, 24, has been performing since age 7 and recently graduated from the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. He said he's in a post-college transition phase, living a bit of a "bohemian" lifestyle for a short while. This summer, he's hoping to land a spot in a Juilliard School post-graduate program.


Monk had such a jagged edge to his playing
"He worked against a lot of myths," Kelley said. "One myth was that he didn't have the classical training, that he did not understand the complexities of music. In fact, he had an encyclopedic knowledge of all kinds of music. He was highly trained. He understood what composers did; he just wouldn't do it."


Elton John in good spirits at Saddledome
Though he can’t quite reach the high notes he once did, John’s voice is still in decent form. Songs defined by his falsetto – Tiny Dancer and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, for example – actually sounded richer, despite the lack of strong high notes.


Hugh Laurie plays piano - from Jelly Roll Morton to Dr. John
This, he says, has been the music of his heart ever since it invaded "my gawky English frame", and on the strength of these 15 amazingly authentic-sounding tracks you simply have to believe him.


Keith does ethereal, ephemeral, and blues
Even so, the high points of this performance were exalted indeed. Jarrett opened brilliantly, with an extended, free-flowing improvisation that veered closer to classical piano vocabularies than to their jazz counterparts. The way Jarrett's harmonies teetered on the edge of atonality -- without tipping over completely -- at times recalled piano music of Alban Berg. At the same time, however, Jarrett's gossamer touch and exquisite wash of sound evoked the French Impressionism of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.


A landmark in the world of broadcasting
By 1956, ten years after the debut as the first black host of a network radio series, Cole became the first black American to have his own weekly network television series.   Nat Cole was one of a handful of black performers to break through the racial barriers of the day and appeal to mainstream black and white audiences.   Though his TV show lasted only one season, it remains a landmark in the world of broadcasting.



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Even if you have had hits of your own
Witter had eight Top 10 hits in Canada under his belt, including "Stolen Moments" and "Distant Drum," but for working musicians, playing covers is usually a more secure gig than performing originals - even if you have had hits of your own.


This Christmas -- "Nothing Comes Close"
It has been covered by Christina Aguilera, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, Harry Connick Jr. and Michael McDonald, who titled his new Razor & Tie holiday album after the song.   "That's one of my favorite contemporary Christmas songs," the former Doobie Brother said from his home in Nashville, Tenn.   "It has such a contemporary R&B jazz groove.   We typically associate Christmas songs with church music or very languid melodies."


Manilow screwed up famous piano chords
When Manilow settled in at the grand piano and set in motion a gorgeous rendition of “Mandy” it reminded us of what he was capable of.   His passion for every note, and the musicians who bring them to life, has been evident on every album he’s released since that song hit the charts.   He was absolutely in his element throughout the concert as the orchestra delivered everything from jazz and pop to swing and big band.


Young Adair tried to play the horn part
Pianist and Nashville mainstay Beegie Adair has worked with the best country bands in Music City USA, including a three-year stint on The Johnny Cash Show.   But on this week's episode of Piano Jazz, she swings through her deep knowledge of jazz and standards.


Ringtones and sticky notes with a reedy alto or vulnerable soprano
Her piano onstage was the shell of a baby grand — transparent to show no strings — with electronics inside.   Her other instruments included an African mbira (thumb piano) and a Keytar synthesizer.   Once she had her loops going, she flitted around the stage in a lighthearted, gawky ballet.


Audience sees piano under water at concert
It could be one of the most disturbing images in classical music since Charlotte Moorman played the cello in the nude and brought out the New York City vice squad.   Video footage of a black grand piano under tons of water in a Bergen dry dock isn't going to result in indecent exposure charges against Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and South African artist Robin Rhode, which is what happened to Moorman in 1967 when she played in the buff for Nam June Paik's "Opera Sextronique."


Tyner to appear in tribute to Tatum
He'll be in Toledo at the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle Sunday at 7 p.m. for a concert featuring vocalese master Jon Hendricks, Benny Golson, and other musicians for the Art Tatum Centennial Celebration: A Legacy Continues.   Proceeds from the concert, which was organized by Toledo musician Andre Wright, will be used to help launch the Art Tatum Youth Jazz Orchestra.



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You couldn't throw a fried chicken wing without hitting one
But Sunday night was the height of piano artistry, with Jason Moran & Bandwagon debuting the festival's commissioned piece (titled "Feedback"), octogenarian Dave Brubeck celebrating the 50th anniversary of the seminal jazz album "Time Out," and Chick Corea reuniting with two of his Return to Forever mates, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White, all three pianists performing in the main arena.



Jones still marvelous
At 91, the Pontiac-bred Jones represents a significant chunk of that history all on his own.   Active professionally since the late ’30s, his roots lie in the pre-war piano kings, among them Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum.   But he also embraced the rhythmic and harmonic advances of the bebop modernists of the ’40s, assimilating it all into a comprehensive idiom that exists beyond category.


Diana's piano let the warm swing shine
Their restraint, like the collected cool of opener Nate Birkey, just fed the audience’s appetite for close listening.   When Krall soloed, every nuance of her formidable piano technique was clear.   During the song “Quiet Nights,” an English-language version of the bossa nova classic “Corcovado,” Krall struck what must have been the softest notes played at the Bowl this season, and they were also among the best.


Speaking in tongues?
McPartland and Samuels' free-jazz piece — music created totally in the moment — serve as a high point of a great session.   Afterward, Samuels says, "It [was] like talking to someone you just met, and you listen intently and respond intently."

"Or speaking in tongues," McParland offers.

Samuels responds with a laugh, "Yeah! That's even better!"



Pounding, fluttering, testifying
This obsession with voicings (and touch) sets Williams apart from most of her contemporaries and younger generations, and is perhaps what makes her the ultimate solo artist, so apparent in this set of six original compositions and two astonishing arrangements (Satie’s “First Gymnopedie” and Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament”).


Esa-Pekka Salonen's Piano Concerto
The concerto's first performance was early in 2007 by the New York Philharmonic. Salonen conducted and Yefim Bronfman, for whom the concerto was written and to whom it is dedicated, was soloist.   Salonen and Bronfman recorded the concerto in Los Angeles last year at Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the CD was released in the U.S. in April to coincide with Salonen's final concerts as Los Angeles Philharmonic music director.   They play it next month in Scotland, at the Edinburgh Festival.


Miller fully equipped
Because Miller was making his first appearance in the new home of the Jazz Showcase, listeners could assess him with fresh clarity.   For when the sound system in this jewel box of a room is well-tuned, a pianist's virtues and flaws become apparent.   Regardless of which repertoire Miller explored, it was his tone and touch that made the deepest impression.   Voicing chords with the expertise of a classical pianist and producing melodic lines of uncommon lyricism, Miller affirmed his regard for the instrument itself.



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Blake creates controversy as well as anxiety
His playing can be spooky, too.   With his precise touch and subtle use of foot pedals, he'll foreground some notes and place others in a murky background, like a menacing cloud on the horizon.


Seven year-old performs with Symphony
Emily Bear and the Rockford Symphony Orchestra performed at the Coronado Theatre.   Bear performed Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23.


Piano Jazz features Buffalo's Ziemba
Buffalo native Christopher Ziemba is an amazing young pianist and composer.   His mature voice and articulate manner belies the fact that he's only just recently completed his senior recital at the Eastman School of Music.   At the urging of his teacher, pianist Harold Danko, Ziemba sent a CD of that recital to Marian McPartland.   She was immediately taken with the young player, and invited him to be a guest on Piano Jazz.


Peering into his soul
By accepting his affliction, Fleisher appears to have transcended it. More important, he is using it to its best advantage - to genuinely inform each piece he plays with purpose and meaning.


Russian pianist Dmitri Alexeev plays left-hand piano pieces
And Gatti did not disappoint. His individual way of doing things was apparent in vivid readings of two Romantic symphonies, the Mendelssohn "Italian" and Beethoven's "Eroica." Every interpretative decision was backed by unassailable musical authority, while the strength of his leadership brought a comparably incisive response.


Piano Jazz features Kate McGarry
When she was seven years old, McGarry discovered a discarded piano sitting by the curb in her neighborhood. With the help of her brothers she wheeled it up the street and into the McGarry household. She soon began taking lessons, and even though she claims not to have been a good student, the experience ultimately turned her on to jazz.


Hyman plays Beiderbecke
Hyman's reproductions of cornet solos by Bix Beiderbecke lack not only the sounds characteristic of brass wind instruments, but the context of those solos. This is an unaccompanied piano recording; Bix recorded the solos rendered here with mostly small bands playing the New Orleans/Chicago style now termed trad jazz.



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Kemal Gekic shows his stamina
The Croatian pianist opened this year's Miami International Piano Festival Sunday with a double-barreled display of stamina and virtuosity that even now seems hard to believe. In the afternoon, Gekic performed the complete twenty-seven Etudes of Chopin (Op. 10 and 25), and the Polish pianist's Four Ballades. Tackling those intensely demanding works would have been enough for most musicians, but Gekic followed it up the same night with all twelve of Liszt's Transcendental Etudes, capping the day with Liszt's epic Sonata in B minor. If the Emperor Joseph II believed Mozart's music had too many notes, imagine what he would have thought had he been sitting in the Broward Center's Amaturo Theatre on Sunday.


Denk thinks his way through the music
Pianist Jeremy Denk was thrillingly alive to the possibilities of this magical episode on Thursday with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The music pulsated with drama, shifting dynamics and revelatory expression, as the pianist unearthed buried layers of meaning in what became a kind of concerto within a concerto. Add those eye-opening moments to countless similar details from Thursday's performance and they add up to the most viscerally exciting, emotionally absorbing and intellectually rich account of Beethoven's First Piano Concerto that I have ever heard in concert.


Miller almost overwhelms his band
While the pianist had the strength and energy to punch through Williams' wall of rhythm to solo and provide a melodic framework for the rest of his band mates, Miller's recital Sunday in Albright-Knox Art Gallery revealed a keyboard player whose power was not the only weapon in his musical arsenal.


UW Madison's 1920s Steinway with two keyboards
That questing spirit has continued to serve Mr. Taylor well. Some five years ago he discovered a Steinway piano from the late 1920s with two keyboards in the holdings of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he teaches. His first thought, he said while showing off the instrument at the Miller Theater on Friday night, was to restore the "Goldberg" Variations to his repertory, since many of them are written specifically for the two manuals of a medium-size harpsichord and are accidents waiting to happen on the single keyboard of a conventional piano, where fingerings cross and collide.


Piano trio in the Library
Trio con Brio Copenhagen, a piano trio formed in Vienna in 1999, gave a mostly Mendelssohn concert at the Library of Congress on Wednesday night. At a pre-concert lecture, preeminent Mendelssohn scholar R. Larry Todd described the composer as "extremely versatile" in absorbing new styles, happy to build on musical tradition rather than breaking away from it. The program focused first on Beethoven's "Archduke" Trio, to exemplify one of the many influences on the 16-year-old Mendelssohn.


36-year-old Russian packs the house
After three curtain calls and raised houselights, the audience persisted in their applause, and Lugansky rewarded them with two encores - a dreamily rendered Prelude in G major by Rachmaninoff and a showy, but even-tempered Etude, Op. 10, No. 8, by Chopin.



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Three pianos in almost four hours in "marathon"
For the first of the two Op. 5 Sonatas -- written by Beethoven to curry favor with King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, an amateur cellist -- and a set of variations on a theme by Handel, Orkis played a replica of a 1788 fortepiano and Hardy used a cello made by his father, Raymond Hardy, an exact duplicate of a 1694 Carlo Giuseppe Testore instrument. Even in fortissimo passages, there was a quiet intimacy to this combination. The absence of pedals on the fortepiano helped ease the balance between the instruments and produce performances of delicacy and clarity.


Bax & Davidovici team up on Enescu's Sonata No. 3 in Museum
Folk influences permeated each piece, though stylistically they were miles apart. The Enescu from 1926 was a wild melange of the Romanian spirit. Dvorak's Quintet from 1887 brimmed with hummable melodies and foot-tapping rhythms. Both pieces were enthusiastically received.


Romanian-born pianist Radu Lupu intensely engaged with TSO at Roy Thomson Hall
With soul stirred by such a great performance, Rachmaninoff's dramatic and colourful dances spoke more eloquently than usual of someone who was lamenting his vanished world at the height of World War II. Igor Stravinsky's 1908 Scherzo fantastique opened the program, but it was more a focusing exercise than anything else. Don't miss the main event.


Eclectic Benevento unsteady at Largo
Benevento, on the other hand, was often relegated to the background on Largo's venerable upright piano. Augmented by a pile of effects pedals that could make his instrument sound as if it were being disassembled or submerged in a distant sea, some of Benevento's more rollicking moments were overshadowed in the group's beat-heavy mix. He had much better luck with some of his more electronic-leaning impulses, which occasionally took the music to a clubbier place with a few well-placed vamps.


Reinthaler critical of National Gallery performance
It's not easy, but it is possible for performers to adjust their ensemble to the peculiarities of the National Gallery's West Garden Court acoustics. It's work, however, and work that cellist Josef Feigelson and pianist Peep Lassmann seem not to have undertaken in preparing for their concert on Sunday of all four of Mendelssohn's pieces for cello and piano.


Wang is fast and accurate in sober, commanding performance
Thursday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Wang played Prokofiev's big-fisted Second Piano Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under Charles Dutoit, who is one of the celebrity conductors to have taken her under his wing (Michael Tilson Thomas is another).


William Joseph dazzles
Accompanying Joseph on the piano were a drummer, violist and a cellist who helped add to the intensity and emotion behind the songs. Many of the songs are reminiscent of movie soundtracks in the way they often start out slowly, methodically, reeling listeners into complacency before suddenly picking up speed and taking off and running wild full of excitement, power and passion before slowly bringing the audience back down to earth and finishing off with a sweet melody.



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Kurtag & Kurtag celebrate Hungary
The New York debut of Gyorgy Kurtag and the pianist Marta Kurtag, his wife, at Zankel Hall on Sunday was memorable not only because it was the first New York performance by that 82-year-old Hungarian composer and pianist but also because it offered a chance to witness an unusual familial collaboration.


Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand by Leon Fleischer
This piece was written for a friend of Ravel's who had lost his right arm in the first World War.


Fluid New Age pianist plays Scarlatti, Chopin, Gershwin
In remarks at the beginning of the concert, Currea explained that she composes music to describe her feelings and experiences, just as some people write diaries in words.


British pianist Stephen Hough hammered chords with brute force
BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's program Thursday night at Meyerhoff Hall was a whole lotta concert. Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto is the super-heavyweight of its class: a meaty slab of melody and fingerwork. And Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony is a long, wrenching journey through the wartime landscape of the soul.


Ang Li performs Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4
Ang Li was the piano soloist; she's in the artist diploma program at Texas Christian University and is in the early stages of a promising career. Matthias Bamert was guest conductor.


Bryan Wallick's stunning performance of Brahms' First Piano Concerto
I am not a pianist, and I am unqualified to discuss the fine points of virtuoso piano technique. I only can describe what I see and hear, and what I saw and heard at Saturday evening's concert by the Evansville Philharmonic was impressive indeed.


Jon Nakamatsu performs the world premiere of David Amram piece
So here we are plunging into the worst economic times in 80 years. Banks are tumbling, arts groups are folding — and Symphony Silicon Valley is forging ahead with the most ambitious project in its seven-season history.



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Ran Blake pays tribute to favorite singers
Next time you're up until quarter to 3 and looking for music to fit the hour, we suggest this set of film noir nocturnes for solo piano from Ran Blake.


Three toy pianos, a set of clock chimes, a CD player, a music box, a frying pan and an egg.
Young musicians are under enormous pressure to program inventively these days, and many do. But Phyllis Chen's piano recital on Thursday evening at the Thalia Theater at Symphony Space raised the bar for delightful quirkiness matched with interpretive sensitivity.


Cyrus Chestnut quintet
The band is called Let Freedom Swing, and in Thursday night's early set it played "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" as a hard-bop minor-key blues; "Walk With Me Jesus" with a Coltrane-quartet slow groove; "Lift Every Voice and Sing" as a lovely, ruminative solo piano piece; a calypsolike "We Shall Overcome"; and a version of Herbie Hancock's strange bossa nova "I Have a Dream."


Saksit "ToR" Vejsupaporn wants to retain heritage
However, he was more inclined to play music from the likes of Bach and Chopin. When he was 16, ToR had the highest score for the Trinity Awards (Thailand), a classical music award, and came in second at the Trinity Exhibition Awards in England in 1999. So, what did he do after that? He joined a pop group, of course.


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