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Current classical program offerings

Michael Arnowitt, pianist


At the top here are one sentence descriptions of each of Michael Arnowitt’s current classical piano program offerings. If you click on any of these program titles, it will jump you to a medium-length description (about 3 paragraphs) of that particular program. From there, if you wish to return to the list of programs, click on “Return to Top.” You can also scroll down the screen to read all the program descriptions as the text is all on this one page.

This page is meant to provide a broad overview to all of Michael Arnowitt’s current classical piano programs. In many cases, further information on a particular program is available on a separate individual web-page (look for links to these pages near each individual program description below).

Link to Jazz Programs page
Pdf version of color brochure of classical programs (downloadable to your computer)

The programs on this page are the ones Michael Arnowitt is most interested in performing at present. Older programs can be re-performed upon request. Check out the links on:
Classical Programs from Past Years Archives Page


Brief Description of Each Program and Quick Links

From East to West
    Influences on Western classical music from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the Far East
    7 fascinating pieces written a century ago all in the single year 1913, by Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Ives, Ornstein, Scriabin, Satie, and Stravinsky,
    whose sensational “Rite of Spring” premiered exactly 100 years ago in 1913
Beethoven & Arnowitt VII
    The seventh of eight installments in Michael Arnowitt’s Beethoven sonata cycle, with sonatas 27-29, including the “Hammerklavier” sonata
Two all-Bach programs
“If Music Be the Food of Love...”
    Music about food, intended to be performed as a special multi-sensory event with the simultaneous serving
    to the audience of tastes of the particular food dishes that inspired the composers
Three Standard Programs
    For those who prefer a more traditional piano recital; Program A, Program B, and Program C – an all-Russian program
Water Music
    An intriguing multi-media performance combining music, photographs, and writings about water, our planet’s most essential element
Ligeti and his Influences
    A selection of piano études by György Ligeti from 1985 until his death in 2006, preceded in the first half of the program by music by composers who influenced Ligeti
Duet Program with Jeffrey Chappell
    Four-hand music with the outstanding Washington, D.C. area pianist, featuring music of Ravel and Brahms
The Composer’s Menagerie
    A program of music about animals by great composers, suitable for adults or for a children’s concert


Medium-Length Descriptions of Each Program

From East to West

Michael Arnowitt’s newest program explores the influence of the music of eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia on Western classical composition. The concert program features many pieces by great composers of the past, including Mozart’s Rondo alla turca, romantic music by Gustav Mahler based on 8th century Chinese poetry from the Tang Dynasty, and pieces by French impressionist composers such as Debussy’s Pagodas, influenced by his experience seeing a gamelan group from Java at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, and Ravel’s Pantoum, inspired by Malaysian culture.

The program also presents colorful pieces from recent decades such as Study no. 4 in an Eastern Idiom: Tariqa 1, by the English composer Peter Feuchtwanger, which offers an amazingly realistic evocation of the meditative, mesmeric sounds of the Iranian santur, and Fazil Say’s Black Earth, based on a moving traditional song for saz (a Turkish lute) written by Asik Veysel, a blind nomadic balladeer.

Several pieces of music on the program highlight the East’s influence on the West in the area of spirituality, including The ocean that has no West and no East by Peter Lieberson, a composer who has long been influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, plus music by Alexander Scriabin of Russia and Toru Takemitsu of Japan. A running theme of the program is how composers have through the centuries artfully merged Eastern musical and cultural material into the mainstream of the romantic concert piano sound developed in the West. The music of this concert resonates personally with Arnowitt as he is himself part Western and part Oriental. Like the program’s title, Michael Arnowitt is a mixture of East and West.

A complete list of the pieces on the program and a slightly longer description can be found by clicking here.

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If you were alive in 1913, what sort of music might you have heard? This fascinating program offers a window into the past by presenting contrasting pieces of piano music by major classical composers all written in the single year 1913. This was a true crossroads time between the old and the new in both music and world history. The first decade of the twentieth century witnessed an unparalleled creative explosion in all the arts. The world situation was equally rich in change, with the end of aristocracy, the birth of new technologies such as the car, the airplane, and electricity, and mass social unrest over the issues of equal rights for women and the working conditions of factory laborers. Tensions were further heightened by a series of diplomatic and military crises that ultimately led to the outbreak of World War I the following year.

With the Romantic era in its twilight years, new and original music was emerging everywhere. These new musical currents included responses to expressionist and impressionist visual art, nationalist styles using energetic folk music elements, compositions aiming to create a mystical experience, pre-Surrealist music, and what was dubbed at the time “futurist” music, pieces that did indeed foreshadow the 100 years of music to come.

The most sensational musical event of 1913 was the famous riot that took place at the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in Paris. Featured on this program is the complete first half of the Rite of Spring, The Adoration of the Earth, in Michael Arnowitt’s extraordinary piano transcription. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Sergei Rachmaninov’s lush, nostalgic Sonata no. 2, the epitome of late-period Romanticism. Contrasting both these major works is Alexander Scriabin’s powerful Sonata no. 9 “Black Mass,” perhaps a musical depiction of what it was like to be at one of the many supernatural séances popular at the time.

The program of “1913” also includes Charles Ives’ The Alcotts from his Concord Sonata, Dwarfs at Dawn and Suicide in an Airplane by Leo Ornstein, the most controversial and important figure in American music in the 1910’s, Claude Debussy’s Ondine and Mists, and Erik Satie’s Embryons desséchés, modestly comic and gently whimsical pieces about sea cucumbers and crustaceans that prefigured Surrealist art and writing. “1913” offers a vibrant and rich program that brings you right into this extraordinary time.

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Beethoven & Arnowitt VII

Sonata no. 27 in E minor, op. 90
Sonata no. 28 in A major, op. 101
Sonata no. 29 in B-flat major (“Hammerklavier”), op. 106

For many pianists, performing all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas over the course of a single year is the ultimate challenge — and a remarkable musical and spiritual experience for both performer and audience. In 1989 Michael Arnowitt began his novel and unique presentation of the complete Beethoven sonatas, an odyssey that will last him not one year, but twenty-six. His concept is to traverse the 32 sonatas chronologically, matching up his age as he performs the various sonatas with Beethoven’s age as Beethoven composed them.

The project began in 1989 with a youthful Arnowitt and Beethoven’s spirited early sonatas. As he ages, Michael Arnowitt has gradually tackled Beethoven’s middle-period works and will eventually perform the late, transcendent final sonatas, scheduled for performance not until the year 2015. In many ways, the series of eight concerts will be a study in the psychology of aging: audiences hear how Beethoven developed as a composer, how Arnowitt develops as a pianist, and the intersection of the two processes.

The current installment in the series, the seventh of eight, features three magnificent sonatas no. 27-29. The Sonata in E minor, opus 90 is deeply satisfying music of the sort Leonard Bernstein was referring to when he spoke of the feeling of “rightness” in Beethoven’s music. The Sonata in A major, opus 101, a favorite with musicians and audiences alike, brings us into the sensitive sound-world and musical textures of Beethoven’s spiritual late-period string quartets. Finally, the entire second half of the program is devoted to Beethoven’s grandest sonata, the “Hammerklavier,” a breakthrough piece where the composer surmounted an extended period of depression and writer’s block which accompanied his now nearly complete deafness. This sonata took Beethoven a full year to finish and upon its completion he wrote, “Finally I know now how to compose.”

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Two all-Bach programs

(available now)
Partitas no. 1 in B-flat major, no. 2 in C minor, no. 3 in A minor, and no. 5 in G major,
plus some of Michael Arnowitt’s favorite selections from the Well-Tempered Clavier
    Prelude in E-flat major, Book 1
    Prelude in B minor, Book 1
    Prelude in C major, Book 2
    Fugue in C major, Book 2
    Fugue in C minor, Book 2
    Fugue in C-sharp major, Book 2
    Prelude in B-flat major, Book 2

(available starting fall 2013)
The complete six partitas of J.S. Bach

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“If Music Be the Food of Love...”

This new program by Michael Arnowitt is more than a concert – it’s a multi-sensory experience. Arnowitt, joined by assisting musicians, performs pieces of music about food while simultaneously the audience is served the particular food dishes suggested by the music selections’ titles. The food tastes have been professionally catered by chef Susan Olander, or you can use a chef from your own area.

The program can consist of a mixture of classical and jazz music, or as a jazz-only evening with a combo. Classical selections have included Henry Purcell’s If Music Be the Food of Love, a 1692 song based on the famous line from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Rossini’s Almonds, a light romantic piece from his collection Sins of My Old Age, Leonard Bernstein’s Plum Pudding, where the words of the song are literally the lines of a recipe from a French cookbook by Emile Dumont, excerpts from Bach’s Coffee Cantata, a humorous dialogue where a father schemes to cure his daughter of coffee addiction, plus music by Mozart, Rachmaninov. and Ravel. Jazz songs about food on this program have been drawn from tunes performed by Louis Armstrong, Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, and Charlie Parker, as well as an original by Michael Arnowitt celebrating his favorite restaurant.

The tasting dinner menu has included almond-stuffed dates wrapped with bacon, biscuit with pulled pork and barbeque sauce, snow peas with boursin cheese and a peppers garnish, spicy Thai sea scallop ceviche, melon hearts, éclairs, Swedish apple pastry, and plum pudding tarts. Arnowitt says, “at a standard music concert people primarily use their sense of hearing and secondarily their sight, but in this performance the audience will be simultaneously stimulated by their senses of taste, touch, and smell as they enjoy the food flavors and textures that inspired the composers to write these pieces of music.” This most pleasurable evening is a unique special event creatively combining two of humanity’s greatest loves: music and food.

“If Music Be the Food of Love ... play on”
– William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

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Three Standard Programs

For those who prefer a traditional piano recital without a particular theme, here are three excellent choices. Program A is oriented to profound, highly personal and expressive pieces, music well-suited to Michael Arnowitt’s style; Program B has a different tone, one that nicely balances serious and lighter fare; the all-Russian Program C is a fun concert popular with audiences featuring the colorful, passionate and virtuosic styles of Russian composers.

Program A
Beethoven - Sonata in E minor, op. 90
Schumann - Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood)
Chopin - 4 Études, including the “Aeolian Harp” and “Double Thirds”
Chopin - Prélude in A-flat major
J.S. Bach - Partita no. 3 in A minor
György Ligeti - selections from Études for Piano
Olivier Messiaen - The Robin, from Little Bird Sketches
Brahms - Andante moderato, slow movement from Symphony no. 4, arr. for piano

Program B
Scarlatti - set of 4 miniature sonatas
Debussy - from Préludes, book 2: Mists, The fairies are exquisite dancers, and Ondine
Beethoven - Sonata in A major, op. 101
William Byrd - A Voluntarie for my ladye nevell
J.S. Bach - “My favorite fugues” (from the Well-Tempered Clavier)
Rachmaninov - 3 Études-tableaux from op. 33
Arthur Lourié - Nocturne
Prokofiev - Suggestion diabolique

Program C
all-Russian program
Rachmaninov - Étude-tableau in D minor from op. 33, Liebesleid (Love’s Sorrow), and Sonata no. 2
Tchaikovsky - December and January, from The Seasons
Sofia Gubaidulina - selections from Musical Toys
Prokofiev - Étude op. 2 no. 3 in C minor
Anatol Lyadov - The Music Box
Stravinsky - Russian Dance, from Petrouchka
Arthur Lourié - selected pieces
Sergei Taneyev - Prelude in G# minor, op. 29
Sergei Lyapunov - “Lezghinka,” Transcendental Étude op. 11 no. 10
Nikolai Kapustin - 3 jazz-influenced pieces

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Water Music

multi-media performance with photographer/speaker Marjorie Ryerson

Noted photographer and author Marjorie Ryerson’s remarkable book Water Music contains her exquisite photographs of water interspersed with writings about water by sixty-six world-class musicians of today from across the musical spectrum, including Bobby McFerrin, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Midori, Dave Brubeck, Mark O’Connor, Randy Newman, Renée Fleming, Taj Mahal, Pete Seeger, and Carol Maillard (of Sweet Honey in the Rock). These musicians contributed an imaginative collection of memoirs, poems, anecdotes, song lyrics, and thought-pieces about the magic of water and its inspiration on their lives and their music.

Pianist Michael Arnowitt, in collaboration with Ryerson, created this special live concert realization of the concept behind Water Music. Pieces of water-related piano music are performed by Arnowitt in alternation with Ryerson speaking excerpts of writings about water from the book, while throughout the concert Ryerson’s beautiful water photographs are projected on stage as a gentle visual backdrop. The readings, music, and visuals have been selected with care to match up in tone at each point in the performance, creating for the audience a stimulating multi-media experience. Among the musical highlights of the program are Debussy’s Reflections in the Water, Ravel’s Jeux d’eau (The Fountain), and Chopin’s Barcarolle, a boat-song. Ryerson and Arnowitt’s Water Music concerts have included performances in Holland, Germany, Florida, and Colorado.

Marjorie Ryerson’s book, published by the University of Michigan Press, has been hailed as a fresh new approach to raising societal awareness of the important water issues facing us today. Ryerson donates royalties from sales of Water Music to a special fund of the United Nations Foundation devoted to international projects that help improve the natural health of bodies of water and provide clean drinking water to families around the world. Ryerson has received several awards for her project from organizations excited by her cultural look at our planet’s most essential element.

For more details on the program of Water Music, click here.

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Ligeti and his Influences

Over the last twenty years of his life, musical pioneer György Ligeti (1923-2006) composed a series of three books of piano études, music universally acknowledged as a worthy successor to the famous étude sets of Chopin and Debussy. These viscerally exciting pieces, wonerfully stimulating to both body and mind, possess colorful harmonies, a dynamic, propelling rhythmic vitality, and extraordinary piano textures never before imagined: Michael Arnowitt regards these compositions as the finest piano pieces of the entire twentieth century. Ligeti is best known in the USA for his atmospheric music in the hit film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but his piano music contains a fascinating, wide-ranging mix of influences beyond classical music, from sub-Saharan African drumming amd jazz to areas of science such as water waves, organic growth in Nature, topology, fractals, and chaos theory.

Arnowitt presents the études here with a bit of a twist: a special selection of Ligeti études will form the second half of the program, led up to by a first half of music by other composers from the past who influenced Ligeti: Scarlatti, Schumann, Chopin, Debussy, Bartok, Nancarrow, and the American jazz pianists Thelonius Monk and Bill Evans. By listening first to the earlier piano music that inspired Ligeti’s creations, and only then to the études themselves, the audience gains a far greater understanding of these imaginative pieces and what makes Ligeti’s music tick. An interesting presentation format to consider would be a multi-disciplinary symposium about Ligeti, with talks during the day by professors about these various music and scientific fields that influenced Ligeti, concluding with Michael Arnowitt’s concert in the evening.

(for more details on the program of Ligeti and his Influences, click here)

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Duet Program with Jeffrey Chappell

Pianists Jeffrey Chappell and Michael Arnowitt team up for this exciting duet concert. Featured compositions are Maurice Ravel’s classic Mother Goose Suite and a beautiful, rarely performed piano 4-hands version of the entirety of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony no. 4 in an arrangement believed to be by the composer himself. Written near the end of Brahms’ life, the Fourth Symphony is a masterwork both Chappell and Arnowitt have deeply loved since their childhood, and their joy in performing this eloquent symphony carries over to the audience.

In addition to these two major works, the pianists will each perform complementary solo pieces to allow the audience to hear more clearly the different personalities of the two performers. As a special optional treat, Michael Arnowitt has made two entertaining duet jazz arrangements based on classical music by Ravel and Brahms. Michael Arnowitt, from Vermont, and Jeffrey Chappell, from the Washington, D.C. area, have collaborated in both 2-piano and 1-piano duet concerts since the early 1990’s.

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The Composer’s Menagerie

a program of music about animals

Some of the great composers’ most interesting and evocative pieces of music are those which depict the qualities of animals. Michael Arnowitt’s program on this theme, a possible children’s concert (although also suitable for adults), explores animals small, medium, and large, from the homestead and the barnyard to insects, birds, sea life, and animals of the wild. The music of the program includes such classics as Schumann’s version of Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare, a scene from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf featuring a duck, a cat, and a bird, Mussorgsky’s lifelike portrayal of oxen in Pictures at an Exhibition, Copland’s humorous The Cat and the Mouse, Liszt’s Mazeppa, in which a horse is the focus of action, and Bela Bartok’s delightful bit of whimsy, From the Diary of a Fly.

Animals make music, too: the enchantment of bird-song has long touched humans. The French composer Olivier Messiaen said, “Among the artistic hierarchy, birds are probably the greatest musicians to inhabit our planet.” A variety of beautiful compositions about birds will be featured, including Schumann’s The Prophet Bird, Rameau’s Call of the Birds, Sofia Gubaidulina’s The Little Tit, and Messiaen’s The Robin.

The Composer’s Menagerie reveals the full range of life on earth, with pieces about such diverse critters as salamanders, bears, sea animals, night moths, and the famous snake in the garden of Eden. While there are many humorous passages in these pieces depicting the motions and behaviors of animals, there are also moments of great beauty as composers get out of their studies and explore Nature’s wonders.

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