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Crossroads – full program description

Michael Arnowitt, piano

J.S. Bach ⋅ My Favorite Fugues, four selections from
    The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 and 2
Claude Debussy ⋅ Étude no. 3, Pour les quartes (1915)
Victoria Poleva ⋅ Ischia Island (2019) and
    Sonata no. 2 “quasi una fantasia” (2011)
Arthur Lourié ⋅ Mazurka op. 7 no. 1 (1912), Intermezzo (1928),
    and Marche from Quatre pièces (1927)
Arnold Schoenberg ⋅ Piano Piece op. 11 no. 1
    and Six Small Piano Pieces op. 19
Gustav Mahler ⋅ Andante comodo, first movement from
    Symphony no. 9, transcribed for piano by Iain Farrington

Crossroads is a special program oriented to profound, highly personal and expressive pieces, music well-suited to Michael Arnowitt’s style. The famous French flutist Louis Moyse wrote that Michael Arnowitt was one of the “few really great artists of the field ... expressing his art on the highest level.” Moyse once commented that Arnowitt’s piano playing had “grandeur,” meaning a rare quality of grandness and depth of feeling. Most of the music on Crossroads explores Michael Arnowitt’s favorite period of music and world history, the years right before and right after World War I, a true crossroads time between the old and the new.

The program opens with music of Bach drawn from the Well-Tempered Clavier collection that so many composers and performers throughout history have deemed the foundation of all later music. Chopin had a lifelong affection for these pieces, and his well-worn copy of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier was always on his composing table or with him before concerts. Both Chopin and the cellist Pablo Casals were examples of great musicians from the past that began each day by warming up with music from this volume of Bach, a ritual Casals continued to the end of his life in his 90’s. Michael Arnowitt has selected four of his favorite Bach fugues to show the depth, imagination, and pure joy of this music that has inspired so many musicians through the generations. The program continues with Debussy’s captivating “For the fourths” from his 1915 book of études. Perhaps influenced by the composer’s affinity for Japanese prints, the piece has a fantastic diversity of textures including some downright Beethovenian explosions of thunder and lightning.

The Russian-born Arthur Lourié, who lived in Paris in the 1920’s and 1930’s and later emigrated to the United States, has been well described as one of the most interesting forgotten composers of the 20th century, and Michael Arnowitt has been among a growing number of performers of today bringing Lourié’s fascinating music to greater attention. Unusually for a composer, each of his pieces sounds different from each other, and for this program Arnowitt has selected three works from 1912 to 1928 that are just the tip of the iceberg revealing this very unique composer’s great creativity. His Mazurka inhabits a dreamworld with tinkly out of tune resonances that are reminiscent of the sound of a music box. The intriguing Intermezzo begins with some brooding music whose slow swirling dance gestures gradually gather momentum and accelerate to a waltz, spurred on by some crackling drum rhythms. Finally, the March, dedicated to Horowitz, is full of humor and energetic good spirits.

The centerpiece of the program is the first movement of Mahler’s celebrated Ninth Symphony, universally recognized as one of the greatest symphony movements of all time and one that highly influenced the direction of orchestral music in the 100 years that have led up to our own time. The composer Alban Berg wrote, “The first movement is the greatest Mahler ever composed. It is the expression of a tremendous love for this earth, the longing to live on it peacefully and to enjoy nature to its deepest depths – before death comes. For death is inevitable. This whole movement is dominated by the presentiment of death, which makes itself known again and again ... even in the middle of the deepest, most poignant longing for life.” Michael Arnowitt will perform a transcription for piano mostly done by Iain Farrington of the U.K., with some modifications of his own.

The path-breaking modernist composer Arnold Schoenberg was a friend of Mahler, who helped the young composer during his early controversial years in Vienna. Michael Arnowitt performs a selection of pieces from Schoenberg’s expressionist period which predates his famous later development of 12-tone music. These compositions from Schoenberg’s opus 11 and 19, the last piece of which was composed upon returning home from attending Mahler’s funeral in 1911, are from this crucial turning point in history where the first-ever music without key was being written, while at the same time Kandinsky, a friend of Schoenberg, was creating the first abstract art paintings. Audiences will hear, though, how despite Schoenberg’s reputation as a revolutionary composer,he retained elements of Mahler’s great romanticism that keeps Schoenberg’s soundworld wonderfully human.

A highlight of the program are pieces by the present-day Ukrainian composer Victoria Poleva. This Kiev-based composer writes highly absorbing music that is simple yet powerful, expressive, and deeply spiritual. Victoria Poleva recently sent Michael Arnowitt ten of her piano compositions. This year marks the beginning of Arnowitt’s efforts to champion her music and raise awareness in North America of this outstanding composer. Her Sonata “quasi una fantasia” borrows the official title of Beethoven’s famous “Moonlight” Sonata and is a dramatic, moving work of great emotional depth. “Ischia Island,” one of her most recent compositions, is an atmospheric piece presumably influenced by the island of that name off the coast of Naples, Italy.

Crossroads presents music that reveals what great art can be. At its most moving, art is not escapist entertainment but touches our deepest emotions and spiritual yearnings through these composers who did not shy away from exploring our innermost selves.

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