Piotr Anderszewski, who will perform in Reynolds Industries Theater on Friday night, is considered one of the most atypical method actors in the classical music business. He takes on pieces that are not widely hailed, some of which, being performed Friday, are considered obscure even to connoisseurs of the genre. Friday’s performance brings to Duke an artist who may not be as familiar a name as last month’s Polish pianist Rafal Blechacz, but David Heid, lecturer in piano at Duke, assures that “[it will be] a wonderful evening of entertainment.”
Described by The Guardian as a “perfect conduit” for Bach, Anderszewski has been working to incarnate ideologies that were central to the increasingly secular musical repertoire of the Baroque era. His pieces attempt to bring to life more recognizably modern visions of the likes of Janacek and Schumann.
In interviews, it’s obvious that Anderszewski has labored to increase his empathetic understanding of Schumann such that it allows him to better personify the psychology of the composer. He has claimed in various YouTube interviews that reading about Schumann’s incarceration in an asylum following a suicide attempt helped Anderszewski recognize psychological absurdities in Schumann’s oeuvre.
The program that Anderszewski has selected for Friday night—one which blends the baroque with the surreal—is like something out of a Murakami novel. He will play Bach’s Italian Concerto and English Suite followed by Janacek’s An Overgrown Path. Finally, he will perform Schumann’s renowned Fantasie in C. The program is an unusual mix of canonical and rare works that has Duke faculty members like Heid excited.
“As a teacher of young pianists, I’m ecstatic that they get to hear such artistry in person,” Heid said. “His program includes some of the masterworks of the literature such as the Schumann Fantasy in C but also a chance to hear appealing rarities like the Janacek.”
One of the challenges of modern classical music is to reinvigorate the canon without coming off as pretentious and without losing the vital messages of old composers. This is inhibited by the often-difficult relationship between the classical artist and his repertoire. Duke student pianist Jameson Kuang described the process of becoming a conduit for another musician’s message as complicated, but central to great piano performances.
“My old [piano] teacher always said one can’t just understand a piece and expect to play it well without also understanding the composer’s life, his/her motives, heroes, struggles, friends and enemies and loves,” Kuang said.
With relatively unknown pieces, the standards are even higher, and Friday will be one of the litmus tests for evaluating Anderszewski. At first, the evolution from the Bach concerto to the Schumann, detouring through the more modern and folk-inspired Janacek, makes little chronological sense. Though, as with the best Murakami novels, that which is chronologically puzzling often has a thematic purpose. Moreover, the ability to make enigmatic pieces accessible to the public is a hallmark of great musicians.
“I think it takes a very worldly and cultural mind to be able to meld stylistically different pieces into a satisfying and exciting program,” Kuang said.
In the Bach selections alone, Anderszewski seems to want to explore the multi-faceted nature of the classical canon. He has chosen to play one of three known sets of Bach suites—the earliest thereof. The contrapuntal English Suites are, according to Kuang, “relatively experimental” in comparison to the later French Suites and the Partitas, whereas The Italian Concerto that we will hear is more traditionally and recognizably Baroque.
If Kuang and Heid are right, Anderszewski’s concert on Friday night will be an adventure for both mind and ear. The Bach Suites will initiate a curious journey through the abstract and experimental. The audience will experience the somnolent, though sometimes discordant, landscapes of Janacek. But the experience will culminate with an evocative plunge down the rabbit hole—a dive into the riddle that is Schumann—that may be worthy of pretentious boasting.
Duke Performances presents Piotr Anderszewski Friday night at 8 p.m. in Reynolds Industries Theater.
Updated 11/9/2012, 12:30 a.m.:
A previous version of this article stated that Anderszewski will be performing in Page Auditorium. Anderszewski performs on Friday in Reynolds Industries Theater at the same time, 8 p.m.