On Stage at Curtis

Student/Faculty Recital Featuring Pianist Jonathan Biss


A student/faculty recital featuring pianist Jonathan Biss. The program features the clear-eyed Classicism of Beethoven and the misty Impressionism of Debussy:

Beethoven: Piano Trio In B-flat major, Op.97 “Archduke”
Nigel Armstrong, violin; Gabriel Cabezas, cello; Jonathan Biss, piano
Curtis graduate and current faculty member Jonathan Biss joins two student players for this chamber work, written between 1810 and 1811. It gets its nickname from its dedication to Archduke Rudolph of Austria, a friend and piano student of Beethoven’s. As Jonathan Biss points out, this great work encompasses a world of emotions. The first movement proceeds in a stately, noble procession, followed by a sprightly scherzo. The slow movement returns us to profound nobility, until, as a transition to the finale, it explodes in a humorous, almost cartoonish outburst. Only Beethoven could conceive of something so outlandish and make it work.

Jonathan Biss has much to say about the Archduke Trio, the role deafness played in Beethoven’s compositional art, and Curtis’ philosophy of “learn by doing.” Watch the entire interview with WHYY’s Ed Cunningham here.

Debussy: Images, Book Two
Vivian Cheng, piano
This three-movement suite dates from 1907, and is a classic example of Debussy’s mastery of color and exotic harmonies.
1. Cloches a travers les feuilles (“Bells Sounding Through Leaves”). Here, Debussy paints an enigmatic sound picture, depicting Gamelan-type gongs sounding amid the dappled light of an outdoor setting.
2.Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut (“Descent of the Moon Upon the Ruined Temple”) No program here—indeed no program is possible for this mysterious soundscape, The composer’s love for orientalism and stillness sets the tone.
3. Poisson d’or (“Goldfish”) This is more overtly tone-painting, as Debussy cleverly depicts the darting movements of goldfish, said to be inspired by an etching on his wall.

Musical Word of the Week: Scherzo
A quick, light movement or piece, often in triple time. Like the minuet, which it replaced in the late 18th century as the traditional third movement of such large-scale forms as the symphony and string quartet, it is generally in ternary form, with a contrasting middle section, or trio. (from the Oxford Companion to Music)

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