12, 15 & 16 October 2017, 27 February 2018 & 3 March 2018
As previously announced, the second Artist-in-Residence at Milton Court will be acclaimed American pianist Jeremy Denk; following on from Richard Tognetti’s successful series of concerts during the 2016-2017 season. As part of the 2017-18 Barbican Presents season, Denk brings versatility across a broad spectrum of musical reference points, covering Mozart, Gershwin, Stravinsky, Schumann, Beethoven, Bizet and Prokofiev in both recitals and a concert with Barbican Associate Ensemble Britten Sinfonia. His performances will feature some of the pinnacles of the piano repertoire, including Beethoven’s last piano sonata, Schumann’s Fantasie in C and Études Symphoniques, Mozart’s late piano sonatas, and Liszt’s Variations on ‘Weinen, klagen, sorgen, zagen’. The residency will be supported by masterclasses and workshops with musicians from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama where Denk will work with pianists on selected repertoire.
Denk excites audiences not only with his virtuosity and musicianship, but also with his disarming mixture of deep thinking, personal authenticity and wit. The pianist’s many plaudits include a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship, the Avery Fisher Prize and Musical America’s Instrumentalist of the Year Award, and in 2016 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
On 12 October an opening recital sees Denk perform the last five of Mozart’s eighteen piano sonatas, as well as the Rondo in A minor, K. 511. These works represent the ultimate interpretative challenge for any great artist: in a famous quote, pianist Artur Schnabel said that ‘Mozart is too easy for children, but too difficult for professionals,’ and this music demonstrates the most profound expression of the composer’s genius while remaining economical, polished and elegant.
The residency continues on 15 October with Infinite Variations. This three-part day of music celebrates the infinite variety of the variation form, explored from a wide range of musical, human and philosophical perspectives with typical Denkian ingenuity and humour. The day is divided into three: Variations on Death (for piano solo, 11am) examines the way that the form can evoke premonitions of the grave, farewells, and intimations of mortality. This portion includes works by Bach, Liszt, Schumann, and Denk’s own variations on death music from video games. For Variations on Virtuosity (3pm), Denk and instrumentalist friends explore life-affirming displays of virtuosic exuberance: salon variations by Viennese classical composers are paired with some of the more eccentric 19th-century manifestations of the form (Bizet’s Variations Chromatiques and the Variations on Yankee Doodle by Vieuxtemps), before Jeremy tackles the musical Everest of Schumann’s Symphonic Variations. The final concert (7pm), Variations on Heartbreak . . . and Hope, looks at the way the variation has been used to express themes of heartbreak and regret. For the beauty of the human voice, Denk turns to the versatile Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman. The evening includes an eclectic range of variation-based works – Monteverdi, Brahms, Verdi (filtered through Nina Simone) and John Adams (a European premiere) – and will culminate in Beethoven’s final piano sonata, a journey from tragedy to transcendence.
On 27 February 2018 Denk is joined by Britten Sinfonia for the original jazz band version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Receiving its premiere in 1942 at Aeolian Hall in New York City, this work was a breakthrough moment in Gershwin’s career, becoming the most iconic fusion of jazz and classical styles. Also within the evening’s programme is Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Winds.
Jeremy Denk’s residency concludes with a final recital on 3 March 2018, with a virtuoso programme that includes Schumann’s great Fantasie in C, Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives, and – in a nod to Infinite Variations and his British friends – Beethoven’s Variations on ‘God Save the King’.