Denk performs at Bravo! in Vail
VAIL – You may read the program notes when going to Friday night’s Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival concert, featuring pianist Jeremy Denk performing Grieg’s Piano Concerto and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
In addition to a well-established career as a soloist, Denk has also received some raves for his work on another keyboard with his blog, Think Denk: The glamorous life and thoughts of a concert pianist.
Denk’s most recent post was on the way some programs can take the life out of a piece by describing them in a rather academic manner, calling them “the Deadly Sins of program notes.”
“It takes a little while to put what’s really important about the music into words, and that’s why you get names and dates and a little historical context,” Denk said Wednesday from New York before flying out to Vail for tonight’s concert at 6 at the Ford Amphitheater.
“It’s something I’ve grown up with going to classical concerts. Sometimes, it works against the freshness of pieces. The music needs to be alive. That’s what it’s about. Hopefully, my piano playing expresses that.”
As for how he would describe his program notes for tonight’s Grieg?
“Don’t do that to me,” Denk joked. “It’s a very specific kind of Romantic high point in music. Grieg puts together some rather folk-like melodies with a constantly fresh stream of harmony. That mixture works really amazingly well. There are so many ravishing moments of great virtuosity. It’s a concerto that wears its heart on its sleeve.”
Think Denk touches on a lot of topics intertwining classical music, current events and Denk’s life on the road in a humorous way. Last fall, Denk proposed a series of legislation after President Obama’s health-care speech to a joint session of Congress, including a cap-and-trade program on “octave emissions.”
Denk’s goal is a 10 percent reduction in the ever-emerging crisis of “global deafening” from the over use of pianos by 2015. As an example, Denk’s proposal requires “For each Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2 or 3 which is performed, the pianist must offset his emissions by performing, or purchasing credits, for two (2) Bach Partitas, or three (3) Mozart Sonatas.”
Denk joked that after performing Grieg’s piano concerto, he will perform some Stravinsky or late Mozart piano works as an offset.
Late in the 2008 presidential campaign, Denk got some critical acclaim – particularly from Alex Ross of the “New Yorker” magazine – for a fictitious interview with then-vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin on her thoughts about Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata.
“Well, ya know, Beethoven was the dude who said thanks but no thanks to Napoleon,” Palin “said” in the post. “Plus from all the mavericky songs he wrote, maybe this one could be known as the most maverickyest.”
The interview ends when Palin advocates a policy of “trill, baby, trill.”
“There a lot of things I can never say, yet are true of my experiences, what it’s like in many cases,” Denk said. “I have my thoughts about a piece and I decide to put them down. Sarah Palin was a lot of fun. We were trying to at least get Tina Fey to my recital.”
If the blogging thing doesn’t work out for Denk he’s got quite the piano career upon which he can fall back. From here he’s off to perform in Santa Fe, N.M., and then will be making his debuts with the Tanglewood Music Festival with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Mostly Mozart annual fete at the Lincoln Center in New York.
He’s bounced through the country from San Francisco to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and hopped over the Atlantic for performances as well.
Denk started playing the piano when he was 5. His family liked music, but wasn’t a clan of performers. Denk noted that the only class his father ever failed was the guitar.
He remembers a Murray Perahia record as one of his favorites growing up. Denk attended Oberlin and then did further study at Indiana University and Julliard.
Denk won the 1997 Young Artists International Auditions and was the 1998 recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant. He joined up with now-friend Joshua Bell, the violinist, on many occasions starting in 2004, and they tour regularly.
Staff writer Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.