Photo credit: Michelle Aalders
Last night, I had the honour of attending Jan Lisiecki’s 2nd Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra fundraiser concert – 2 nights in a row held at Convocation Hall, University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. The program was beautifully thought out and put together. On first glance at the program, it was a little daunting. The life that Jan breathes into his music is truly inspiring – it really is like hearing the music again for the very first time.
This was advertised as “An Encore” performance and unsurprisingly, there was indeed an encore – the gorgeous Träumerei (Reverie) by Robert Schumann. Jan played his encore to a most quiet, attentive audience. To me, this reflects real communication – we hung on every note, and he kept our attention in his hands. I have heard Jan play this piece before – this time, it was not only the most sensitively played interpretation, it was also the most gently played – he had me almost holding my breath waiting for the first left hand chord that enters after the initial melody notes in the right hand and the gentle placement of that chord was so tender and reflective it brought me to tears.
The overarching themes throughout the program involved exploration of major and minor keys, calmness, and intensity in addition to connected phrases that reach for and lead to the ends of each section and to the end of each piece. Jan opened the program with Bach’s Partita No 3 in A minor, BWV 827. There was barely a breath between dance movements in his performance of this. I was struck by the clarity of the musical ideas – that and the simplicity of it all – making not so simple movements sound simply beautiful with clear connection within and between phrases creating an overarching drive to the end. Youthful energy really drove this. I also had the impression of freedom to play in a playful manner inside the music – showing a deep understanding and curiosity about the music in the playing. At least one of the movements – likely the Scherzo – made me want to get up and dance!
Jan Lisiecki in recital – photo taken from the SSO facebook page
Following the Bach, Jan played Four Klavierstücke, Op. 32 by Schumann: Scherzo, Gigue, Romanze, & Fughette – Jan indicated that these pieces were much influenced by Schumann’s study of Bach around the time when they were written which is specifically reflected by the titles Gigue and Fughette – both Baroque dance forms. The pieces themselves are very much Romantic in nature with some almost jazzy and modern themes in the Scherzo, a very exciting and passionate Romanze, and again very modern themes in the Fughette. Speaking of jazz, there were a few jazzy moments that came up here and there in the concert and because Jan plays so clearly, I was reminded a bit of Oscar Peterson’s playing – so clean, clear, and easy to follow.
The first half of the program closed with Frédéric Chopin’s Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op 20. “Scherzo” means “Joke” in Italian. Jan pointed out in his articulate and endearing introduction that this Scherzo is definitely not a joke – it is very expressive and powerful in both the fast first part and in the tender Polish lullaby middle section – an evocative reflection on the dark times during which this piece was written. The transition from the slow middle section to the final fast section includes some very ominous chords – used incredibly well to prepare the audience for the return to the darkness of the fast section. I love how Jan brought out a particular melodic bit in the fast section – very emotional, expressive, and insistent.
After intermission, the program got started again with more Chopin: 2 Nocturnes, Op. 48: Lento in C minor and Andantino in F# minor. There was just enough pause between these night pieces to allow for the C minor to fade before the F# minor came in. Jan spoke about Nocturnes before he played and we could definitely hear the dreams and nightmares and sleeplessness and sleepiness in the themes he brought out throughout both Nocturnes – there were some incredibly loud nightmares and some very exciting dreams that contrasted with exceptionally calm moments in these Nocturnes.
The concert came to a close with 4 Impromptus, Op. 142 by Franz Schubert. Jan mentioned that Schumann, speaking of these 4 Schubert Impromptus, said that these really should be a sonata or a suite of pieces because of their thematic and key relationships: 1 in F minor, 2 in A-flat major (the relative major key to F minor), 3 in B-flat major (the dominant of F minor), and 4 in F minor (a return home). Jan expressed his pleasure in being able to present these pieces all in a row verbally and then through his piano playing. I overheard another patron expressing how much they enjoyed where they were sitting because it allowed them to see the emotional involvement on Jan’s face while he played – a very different experience from just watching his fingers. Impromptu No. 2 in A-flat major included a bit of a Polish Dance in the left hand – the “short Long, short Long” rhythm was definitely brought out in a fun Polish Dance manner! The B-flat major one is a very famous theme and variations – I’m sure we were all singing along in our heads! The final F minor Impromptu was a wild Roma / Gypsy Frenzy with some Spanish Dance influence too. The exquisite flare that came with the ending of this piece had the audience cheering and clapping wildly, giving an enthusiastic Saskatoon standing ovation. Bravo Jan!!! And, Thank you – from the bottom of my heart!!
Before the program began, the SSO’s Executive Director, Mark Turner gave an introduction. Mark’s introduction reminded us why music and live performances are even more relevant and important in this day and age – a bringing together of people of various backgrounds and experiences in a time where there is more than a tendency toward dividedness. Together, we are stronger. Let music continue to bring us together!
Thanks for reading,
– Anna Bekolay, BMusEd, ARCT
soprano, violinist, teacher, adjudicator
Anna Marie Bekolay has her Bachelor of Music in Music Education, Orff Level 1, a gold medal ARCT in Voice Performance, and grade 10 Violin RCM. Anna has performed as a soloist and in a variety of ensembles over the years, including Saskatoon Opera Chorus, National Youth Choir of Canada, Collegium Musicum, Voci Strane, and the drowned. Ms Bekolay is continually advancing her musicality through attending and performing in concerts. Her current projects include: Back of the Bus, Troubadours du Bois, The Whiskey Jerks, Mac Talla Quartet, The Stephanies, a recording project of classical vocal pieces, and a variety of freelance collaborations that come up here and there.
In addition to rehearsing, performing, and recording, Anna is an adjudicator for the Saskatchewan Music Festival Association and runs Anna Bekolay’s Studio – a very busy Music Studio at her home teaching Voice, Violin, Recorder, and Fiddle. Anna makes her home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.