The Madison Symphony Orchestra was thrilled to welcome Benjamin Grosvenor to Overture Hall for our February 17, 18 and 19 concerts, Heroic Piano & Premiere. Read reviews from the concert weekend, hear what the audience had to say, and view pictures below!
Matt Ambrosio / The Cap Times: “MSO presents wonderful music old and new at Overture Hall”
The Steinway piano in Overture Hall never sounded better than on Friday night when Benjamin Grosvenor took to the bench for the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 3 in C minor. The notes may have been written by Beethoven, but the style was uniquely Grosvenor’s.
C minor was a significant key for Beethoven. The composer often reserved this key for some of his greatest works (his fifth symphony, for example), and this concerto certainly counts among them. A virtuoso player as well as composer, Beethoven premiered the concerto and at the first performance, having not yet completed the piano part, infamously improvised what had not yet been written.
Though staying true to Beethoven’s subsequent written-out piano part, Grosvenor achieved a thrilling improvisatory sound by way of pristine technique and impassioned rubato.
Grosvenor is an extremely clean player. Every note of the concerto, no matter how quickly it passed, was given proper representation and articulation, and every phrase was thoughtfully paced. I was particularly spellbound during the spinning melodies of the cadenza in the first movement. More than the melodies and grounding harmonies of the concerto, Grosvenor’s singular stylistic phrasing is what made the performance so powerful.
In the second movement, for example, Grosvenor charged the musical material with a palpable warmth that made it all the more penetrating and profound. It was as if he knew just the right duration to hold a note, the right micro timing to space a note, and the right pacing between notes to generate an irresistibly inviting sound.
As an encore, Grosvenor astonished the audience with a performance of Maurice Ravel’s utterly virtuosic “Jeux d’eau,” which roughly translates to “Water Games.” Dedicated to Ravel’s teacher Gabriel Fauré, this work marked a turning point for Ravel early in his career when the composer first began to establish the style that he is now known for.
Throughout the work, the playful flow of cascading arpeggios and shimmering figures at the highest register of the piano give the impression of water. Grosvenor’s playing matched the playful and sensuous nature of the work, and his performance was nothing short of transportive, evidence of his unbelievable rhetorical prowess at the piano.
Bill Wineke / Madison Independent Arts Review: “Streets of New York Recalled by Madison Symphony”
It isn’t often that the first offering of a symphony concert steals the show.
Normally, the first piece is a brief, somewhat light, offering, followed by a composition showcasing the night’s guest artist, usually a concerto for some instrument and orchestra, and, then, after the intermission, a four-movement symphony.
And that is the format of this weekend’s Madison Symphony Orchestra concerts.
But the piece that sticks in my mind is a 12-minute tribute to the streets of New York, “Coincident Dances composed by Jessie Montgomery, who is now composer in residence at the Chicago Symphony.
She says it is meant to portray the sights and sounds one might experience walking down New York City streets and hearing any variety of dances and songs.
It is best experienced with your eyes closed and letting your imagination guide you down the street. Conductor John DeMain said the piece reminds him of his strolls around New York when he was a student at Julliard – though Montgomery, 41, was born 20 years or so after DeMain completed his studies.
At any rate, it was a fun piece and a good way to take the chill out of a cold February night. The concerts will be repeated tonight (Saturday) at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
The MSO does have a guest artist this week, a good one. Benjamin Grosvenor, a British pianist making his first performance in Madison, played Beethoven’s “Concerto in C Minor for Piano and Orchestra.”
It is a very familiar piece of music and Grosvenor played it brilliantly, bending over the keyboard and seemingly focusing on his fingers – almost clenched – as they danced across the keyboard.
The symphony was Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 6 in D Major,” one that kept the orchestra booming through three of the four movements.
In addition to the music, though, one of the things that struck me about Friday’s concert was the way DeMain almost attacked the podium right up to the last notes. He had been waving a baton for the better part of two hours, a good part of them at full-speed ahead and he didn’t flag for a moment.
I doubt that even young composer Montgomery could pull that off.
Hear what the audience had to say…
“The pianist was out of this world.”
“The entire concert was uplifting, inspiring, perfection. Superb artists.”
“The bass solo in the coincident dances was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced, and I loved the piece.”
“The familiar pieces were both extremely well-played, but I really liked the Montgomery work. THANK YOU for programming this and music like it.”
“Mr. Grosvenor was fabulous. His playing is technically exquisite and incredibly emotional. Went home and started going through his catalog on Spotify.”
“Superb performance of the MSO, Maestro John DeMain and the outstanding pianist Mr. Benjamin Grosvenor!”
“Loved the Montgomery piece – very fresh!”
“I was amazed at the beautiful performance of Benjamin Grosvenor! And the orchestra was excellent. I was enthralled the whole time! I wondered what the first piece would be like, and loved it!”
“This was a PERFECTLY balanced program. The opening work, in addition to helping with the new set of programming expectations, was a delightful piece of music. For me the star of the concert was the soloist. I’ve known his CDs for several years, but to hear him in person was draw dropping. He had heart and hands.”
“The lectures held one hour before the performance are so helpful. They make all of the concert experience compelling!”
“Just delightful to be in the audience during a live performance.”
“Grosvenor’s playing was transporting – his technical brilliance combined with his great musicality made for an uplifting performance that I won’t soon forget.”
“Loved the intensity and precision of the performers. Was thoroughly entertained by Coincident Dances!”
“Grosvenor’s & symphony’s outstanding performance and especially his sublime encore.”
“Outstanding pianist! The piano had never sounded so beautiful!”
“I really enjoyed it all but especially enjoyed the first piece by the young Black composer.”