Kevin Ayesh, Piano
Franco Center, Lewiston
April 19, 2017
by Christopher Hyde
On Friday night I took my grandson, nine-year-old Jordan Seavey, to hear Kevin Ayesh, in the penultimate concert of the Franco Center’s 2016-2017 piano series.
It was a good choice. Jordan is beginning to study piano seriously and Dr. Ayesh is a noted teacher and performer whose approach is musical rather than virtuosic. In my experience, Lisztian displays often do more to discourage budding musicians than to inspire them.
Jordan also happens to love the Gershwin “Rhapsody in Blue,” which was the final work on the scheduled program. (The encore was Dame Myra Hess’ transcription of the Bach “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”)
Friday’s night’s performance marked the first time I had heard the solo piano score, written by Gershwin himself, and I liked it better than any of the versions orchestrated by Ferde Grofe, always excepting the opening clarinet glissando, which Ayesh imitated well on the piano.
Gershwin himself was a pianist and the piano must have been what he heard in the railroad noises that inspired the work. It does feel closer to the spirit of the composition, and it seems to hold together better than the concerto-with-orchestra that Leonard Bernstein deplored as fragmented.
Ayesh is as much at home in Mozart as in Gershwin, opening the program with a remarkable performance of the Sonata No. 9 in D Major, K. 311. It seemed an almost complete realization of the composer’s intentions in dynamic range, tempo and clear delineation of voices.
His inherently thoughtful approach was not as useful in four works by Chopin that concluded the first half of the program. The opening Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1, was the most successful, bringing out the unusual amount of drama in the piece.
The well-known melody of the Etude in E Major, Op. 10, No. 3, was a bit idiosyncratic, but what is a pianist to do after a few centuries of repetition? I once asked a famous virtuoso how he maintained his feeling for a composition after a few hundred performances . He replied “fake it.”
I don’t have enough Polish blood to enjoy the mazurkas as I should, and the “Heroic” Polonaise in A-flat Major, which has become display rather than music, needs more artillery power than thought.
However, I very much enjoyed Ayesh’s interpretation of the Brahms Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2, especially his emphasis on the triplets in the central section, and the fermata before the final “A” in that beautiful arpeggiated chord.
The Impromptu No. 3 in A-flat Major, Op. 34 of Gabriel Fauré came as a revelation, full of sparkling French fireworks and a wistful middle theme that recurs in the coda. Very appropriate for the Franco Center.
And Jordan got to meet the artist at the regular champagne reception after the concert.
The final recital of the series will be on June 9, with pianist Tamara Poddubnaya and Music Without Borders Grand Prix winner Vassily Panteleev.
Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.