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Jeremy Denk and his magical, musical time travel

11.14.16
Jeremy Denk
Chicago Tribune

Pianist Jeremy Denk has been touring with a program of 25 short pieces from the medieval through modern periods. He has called it "a musical analogy to time-lapse photography."

The program Denk announced for Sunday afternoon's recital at Orchestra Hall was much more conservative, with just four works by Mozart, John Adams, Beethoven and Schubert. But as Denk said to applause from the audience, "I suspect some of you slept as poorly as I did (last) week," and he changed the program in an effort to "give a bit of relief."

The unusual result used mostly 20th century music to momentarily divert from 21st century politics. And even listeners who might have been assumed to stay away from a program presenting a half dozen modern composers stayed to whoop and cheer.

Between the originally scheduled Mozart and Beethoven, Denk presented a lesson in the delights of syncopation. There were American piano rags by Scott Joplin and William Bolcom, European responses by Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith, backward-looking curiosities by Conlon Nancarrow and Donald Lambert, and dance variations by, of all people, Renaissance master William Byrd.

Denk played these pieces almost without break, shifting from a light, caressing touch to the stab of an ice pick and fast-motion frenzy. Sweetness largely absent from the "serious" side of the program emerged in Bolcom's "Graceful Ghost," a nostalgic work Denk called "perfect." He even relaxed into some Glenn Gould-like conducting with his right hand while the left was engaged by Nancarrow's jittery Canon.

Read the rest of the review here