Margie May Ott Tribute Concert with pianist Stephen Drury, Thursday, May 25, The Met
Stephen Drury paid magnificent tribute to Margaret Saunders Ott, his boyhood piano teacher. Drury ranks among the very finest of the world’s pianists and one of its most interesting musicians.
Ott will turn 75 this summer. I cannot imagine a more fitting celebration of a great teacher than the recital Drury played Thursday night at The Met. Drury played to a nearly full house heavily peopled with Ott’s piano-teaching colleagues and their students.
The program showed the great range of Drury’s (and Ott’s) musical interests, beginning with Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata and including standard works by Chopin and Ravel. Drury also performed two 20thcentury works, John Cage’s “Suite for Toy Piano” and the world premiere of “Basic Training,” a new work by Boston composer Lee Hyla.
Drury’s approach to the “Moonlight” Sonata had less to do with its nickname (one not sanctioned by Beethoven) than with the composer’s own subtitle, “quasi un Fantasia” (like a fantasy). The famous opening movement was played like a quiet improvisation while the turbulent finale tossed around like a sleeper in a restless dream.
Cage’s “Suite for Toy Piano,” not performed on a toy, is a bit of whimsy in which the composer confines himself to the short keyboard span of a toy instrument and to the white keys only (the black keys of many toy pianos are only painted on!). Drury brought to it a kind of studious playfulness that seemed to suit Cage’s mischievous neo-baroque minimalism quite nicely.
As Drury was playing the improvisatory opening of Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasy, I was reminded that one of the hallmarks of great music making is the air of spontaneity - of freshness - a fine performer like Drury brings to even the most thoroughly studied performance.
Lee Hyla’s “Basic Training” was commissioned for this recital by Ott’s students and friends. It begins with the sound of a childish keyboard experimenter, poking and banging on the instrument. The music is enriched gradually as the player develops more tutored skills, passing through a phase of virtuoso razzledazzle, then ending with more subtle and thoughtful musicality. Hyla has written a demanding piece, but one that provides a satisfying experience for both performer and audience.
Drury completed his homage to Ott with a compelling performance of Ravel’s pianistic tour-de-force, “Gaspard de la Nuit.” Ravel had the fastidiousness of a painter giving shimmering life to water nymph “Ondine,” showing the bleak emptiness of “Le Gibet” and impish darting of “Scarbo.” No other work exploits the colors of the piano’s sounds more effectively, and few other pianists can project those colors more sensitively than Drury.
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