All of the world loves Chopin. All of the world loves great piano playing. So, what in the world could go wrong with presenting a Chopin festival?
Recently, The Artist Series of Sarasota got together with The Chopin Project, a venture designed in 2007 by Tampa resident Frederick Slutsky with help from pianist Arthur Greene at the University of Michigan.
They were looking toward the worldwide celebration this year of the Chopin bicentennial.
The Artist Series used several of the pianists from the project, added a few musicians of its own, including Sarasota Orchestra’s principal cellist Abe Feder, and made a five-day, multi-event festival with performances, discussions, dinners and even a screening of “A Song to Remember,” the 1945 Academy
Award-nominated film classic.
So, again, what could go wrong?
We went to the Monday evening “Chopin Spectacular” at the Sarasota Opera House, featuring pianists Greene, Svetlana Smolina, Dmitri Vorobiev, Xiaofeng Wu, Olga Kleiankina and Lee Dougherty Ross with Feder and the soprano Hein Jung.
The bright spots were Greene’s beautifully sensitive playing of some well-known Chopin pieces with some interesting cadenzas that are rarely interpolated and a group of songs, two of which were in Polish and among Chopin’s best-known, and two in French, which are really vocal arrangements by Pauline Viardot of works by Chopin. In all cases, the performances were outstanding and worth hearing.
What else happened? The evening, featuring so many talented young pianists, turned the wonderful idea of a Chopin festival into a Chopin competition with each pianist seeming to vie with the others for who could play louder and who could play faster. Feder, a brilliant cellist, was basically drowned out by his partner at the piano. We saw him sawing away at his instrument but barely heard him over the cacophony coming from the keyboard.
We’re not saying the concept of a Chopin festival was a bad one or that the musicians weren’t talented, but perhaps a different format would have served the composer better.