Harvard Piano Society Season Opens Strongly

Ah, the tragedy of the solo pianist: all alone with no one to play with. No orchestras, no choruses. When they are given the chance to perform with others, they can be trampled—as “accompanists,” they are roped into playing second-rate orchestral reductions with diva violinists and sopranos.

Fortunately, the Harvard Piano Society (HPS), founded in 2000, addresses this dilemma. One of Harvard’s most inclusive music groups, it was originally created as a kind of meeting place for piano-types.

Of course, the HPS is more than a musical dating service. It provides pianists with resources (such as the names of piano teachers and possible duet partners) and invites a variety of accomplished guests to give lectures and master classes.

Saturday night’s Fall Concert performance impressively kicked off the season for the piano society. While the concert featured a range of musical styles, it all had an air of professionalism. Each performer had a mature stage presence, acknowledging and enticing the entire audience.

For example, Peter T. D’Elia ’07, co-president of the HPS, confidently initiated the concert with Sergei Prokofiev’s “Suggestion Diabolique,” a piece more deserving of the title “Overstatement Diabolique.” Beginning with a low bass rumble, it quickly erupted into fiery, insistent repetitions of the titular motif.

Prokofiev reemerged later on the program with Nora I. Bartosik’s ’08 spirited performance of his “Toccata,” opus 11. Unfortunately, the mediocrity of the piano itself detracted from all the performances—and Bartosik’s was no exception. Despite her clarity and a good sense of timing, Bartosik still battled the piano’s unresponsive upper register, which gained some audience sympathy.

Prokofiev, the composer of the evening, made his final appearance with “Sonata No. 3,” played by Xi Li ’09, who also showcased Franz Liszt’s “La Campanella.” The charming performance of this bell-like piece, based on a theme by violin-god Niccolo Paganini, further emphasized the piano’s intonation problems. Someone needs to tune that thing before the next concert.

Wei-Jen Yuan ’06 sensitively balanced the voicing, emphasizing essential harmonic changes in “Feux Follets” and “Harmonie du Soir” also by Liszt. Yuan also treated audiences to an impromptu performance of Franz Schubert’s “Impromptu in G-flat, opus 90,” which offered a soothing respite from the program’s intensity.

No piano recital would be complete without Frederick Chopin. Fittingly, Saturday’s concert featured Chopin’s famous Polonaise in A, opus 40, nicknamed the “Military.” Gregory M. McWilliams ’09 certainly portrayed the military aspect, but his bombastic approach sometimes neglected the piece’s subtleties.

Both Amy T. Wu ’09 and Darius W. Weil ’09 made their HPS debuts playing compositions by Maurice Ravel. Wu’s light touch and Weil’s technical facility brought out the fanciful Frenchness of Ravel’s music.

At the end of the evening, the audience did not leap to its feet, but its response was certainly enthusiastic. A promising opening to the season, the Harvard Piano Society’s Fall Concert celebrated the inclusive mentality of the performing organization—a distinguishing mark among the often steeply competitive Harvard music groups.

Note: On Saturday, HPS will host a panel about impediements facing women in the music industry. Visit http://hcs.harvard.edu/piano.