Fort Worth — This summer’s PianoTexas International Festival and Academy opened on Sunday evening in PepsiCo Hall on the campus of Texas Christian University. In addition to presenting world-class pianists, the festival also has a path for promising young pianists, as well as outstanding teachers and superb amateur pianists, who decided to have a career in something else, hopefully more remunerative than concert music.
Founded in 1981, each of the summer festivals explore some aspect of pianism, such as last year’s exploration of Russian pianists and Russian piano music. This year Tamás Ungár, Artistic Director and Professor of Music at TCU, has chosen to turn the festival’s direction to focus on French music. The opening concert certainly accomplished that goal right off the bat with a revelatory recital by Pascal Rogé. He was the perfect choice for this opening concert in that his résumé is purely French. He was born in Paris and studied at the Paris Conservatory.
His teacher was the American-born Julius Katchen, who qualifies as French because he moved to Paris around 1947. Rogé also studied with the remarkable Nadia Boulanger, who had an immense influence on the music of our time.
If you wondered if there was such a thing as a “French” pianist in this increasingly homogenized international world, Rogé put that canard to rest from the first note he played. It wasn’t just that his program was all music by 20th century French composers; it was his overall approach to both the music and the piano.
His performance was marked by clarity, even when he drenched the music with the sustaining pedal to achieve a musical version of the diaphanous effect achieved by impressionistic paintings of artists such as Monet and Degas. Rogé’s ability to create both clarity and the amorphous concepts of impressionism concurrently was quite remarkable.
Rogé opened his program with a magpie’s nest of French masterpieces played without a pause between them, as he announced would happen before he began. As a result, even well-known pieces sounded new, yet oddly familiar, when incorporated into Rogé’s impressionistic musical hollandaise.
Rogé opened with something that is both simple and familiar, Erik Satie's well-known Gymnopédie No. 1. It served to draw us in before he explored works with ever increasing complexity. In fact, our musical journey started with the second piece, Satie’s unfamiliar Gnossienne No. 3. This selection, with Satie’s instantly recognizable style but with unfamiliar music, put us into unknown territory. Ravel's well-known Sonatine was almost unrecognizable as presented in Rogé’s stream of contentiousness. Poulenc's Soirées at Nazelles, which followed the Ravel, added the squeeze of lemon required by any decent hollandaise. These pieces were the product of after-dinner soirees in which Poulenc would improvise humorous variations, based on a given theme, that were character sketches of those in attendance. We miss all of that because we don’t know who exactly was the subject of the composer’s satire, but in Rogé’s musical mosaic, that really doesn’t matter because he used it as a rollicking finale to the musical palimpsest he created.
Nothing comes closer to the attempt to translate impressionistic painting technique into musical terms than the two books of Debussy’s Preludes. Rogé’s unique take on the first book occupied the second half of his program. The second book will come later as played by Philippe Bianconi on Saturday evening, June 16.
Debussy gave a title to each of the preludes, which helps both pianist and listener “see” Debussy’s images. Rogé’s presentation allowed us to see them more clearly that is usually the case. He did this by taking liberties, beyond rubato, in the music. But rather than coming off as self-indulgency, his playing projected the images clearer than usual.
Amazingly, Debussy’s preludes almost sounded as loosely improvised as the previous Poulenc, as they moved from gossamer, such as in the Sunken Cathedral, to impish, in expressing Shakespeare’s Puck.
The effect of the entire recital was enlightening. Hearing Rogé’s highly personal take on French music created curiosity in any of the attendees as to how the other French pianists take on the same musical genre.
Hailed as one of the top summer piano festivals in the world, PianoTexas International Academy & Festival, seeks to provide the best educational opportunity for outstanding young pianists, piano teachers, and adult amateurs through public performances and interaction with renowned artists and other music professionals.
PianoTexas Distinguished Artist Recital Series
- 7:30pm June 15: Phillipe Bianconi
- 7:30pm June 15: Rachel Cheung
- 7:30pm June 22: Emile Naoumoff
- 7:30pm June 29: Vincent Larderet
PianoTexas Young Artist Recital Series
- 7:30pm June 14
- 7:30pm June 17
- 1pm June 18
- 7:30pm June 18
- 7:30pm June 19
- 1pm June 21
- 7:30pm June 26
- 7:30pm June 28
- 7:30pm June 30
PianoTexas Juniors Recital Series
- 1pm June 14
- 1pm June 15
- 1pm June 16