Fort Worth — It’s common to think of summer as a dry spell in North Texas, not only literally but also when it comes to live classical music. But there are a few pockets of musical lushness in the summer. One of these is PianoTexas International Academy & Festival, a festival at Texas Christian University celebrating all things piano. With programs for teens, young adults, and adult amateurs as well as masterclasses and recitals, spanning over three weeks, the festival offers something for nearly every pianist and lover of piano music.
For the listener, the premier events are the Distinguished Artists Recitals, which bring some of the world’s best pianists to TCU’s PepsiCo Recital Hall. This year’s festival theme is “The French Impression.” While that theme is reflected mainly in the music, with lots of Ravel, Debussy, and Fauré in the lineup, this year’s recitalists, too, are mostly French. This includes the June 15 pianist, Philippe Bianconi, who is most familiar to Texans as the Silver Medalist in the 1985 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
I was a young teenager when Bianconi medaled in the Cliburn, so I can’t speak to the qualities in his playing that caused the jury to honor him then. But as a musician in his prime, on Saturday, he displayed a thoughtful refinement and maturity that was a joy to hear.
The first half of his program featured the second book of Debussy’s Préludes. Each of the 12 preludes features an evocative title, which in the original edition was printed at the end of each piece, so that performers could read through each prelude without initially being influenced by the title. They range from “Mist” and “Dead Leaves” (in their English translations) to “’Fairies are exquisite dancers,’” a quotation from one of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan books. The 12 pieces each create a different impressionistic sound world, but work beautifully as a cycle. Bianconi, with sublime musicality, managed to suggest twelve different emotional states in the preludes, all the while commanding technique aplenty.
Likewise, in the second half Bianconi explored a sampling of Chopin’s works for solo piano: a Prélude, a Ballade, the three Op. 64 Waltzes, a Barcarolle, and a Scherzo. Bianconi’s Chopin was a thing of beauty: subtle, respectful, and both dignified and playful at turns. He is a performer who places the music first—he is not flashy, but he is masterful.
PianoTexas Distinguished Artist Recital Series
- 7:30pm June 22: Emile Naoumoff
- 7:30pm June 29: Vincent Larderet
PianoTexas Young Artist Recital Series
- 1pm June 21
- 7:30pm June 26
- 7:30pm June 28
- 7:30pm June 30