Clare Longendyke

Pianist Clare Longendyke gave the inaugural concert in the University of Chicago Presents "Sounds/Sites" series.

Since having to cancel all fall concerts with audiences, University of Chicago Presents has turned to local artists and streaming to bring music to their subscribers. Last Friday, they introduced a new series, "Sounds/Sites," which allows artists to perform in locations not always available to UCP and puts the spotlight on university-affiliated musicians.

Clare Longendyke, who is piano artist-in-residence as well as the director of the university’s chamber music program, gave a recital of the music of Emily Koh, Amy Williams, Claude Debussy, and Robert Schumann, beginning in Rockefeller Chapel and concluding in the penthouse of the Logan Center.

Koh’s "reitario'" (the composer’s own neologism) opened the concert. This brief, four-minute work is quiet, still music which gradually builds in speed and complexity. The ponderous solemnity is enlivened by a flurry of grace notes — combined with Longendyke’s loving attention, it just managed to hold mine.

Longendyke was masterful with “Estampes” by Debussy. She fully captured the atmospheric quality of the music in a performance of great virtuosity and delicacy. “Pagodas” had watercolor softness, with her rapid ascending and descending passages having the flowing quality of water. "Gardens under the Rain" evoked a powerful downpour, followed by reflections of the sun on blooms covered in raindrops.

"Piano Portraits, Book 2" by Amy Williams was a world premiere. Each of the five pieces in this suite is a musical picture of someone influential in the composer’s life, including two grandparents and a high school teacher.

“Hibbard” is built around a single note constantly repeated. Longendyke gave this idée fixe as much variety and color as she could, with changes in length, touch and intensity, as well as lending the fast-paced chatter interspersed in the piece lots of energy and bounce.

“Nils” featured studied fragility by the pianist, transforming note clusters into whispers, rendering them into the amorphousness of half-remembered conversations from a dream. The way she gently pressed into the piano keys was fascinating.

The final portrait, “Allen”, opened with explosive chords and then became a kind of dialogue between the keyboard and the inner workings of the piano. Longendyke reached inside the instrument to pluck the strings or to tap or tamp them, alternating this with conventional play on the keyboard. The total effect of the piece was vivid protest and bewildering anger.

The concert concluded with Robert Schumann’s “Kinderszenen” (Scenes of Childhood). The composer created a group of vignettes that the pianist must render so that we recognize the joy, desire, anticipation and silliness of childhood. Longendyke succeeded with an approach that was simple and direct.

In “Of Foreign Lands and Peoples” she used a head-on approach, with nice use of rubato. “A Curious Story” was boldly expressed with the simplicity of a child and embellished with pert, martial rhythms. “Catch Me” was fast fun, with bracing, clear runs.

There were no tantrums in “A Pleading Child”, only tender wheedling. “Happy Enough” was energetic enough, and played with vim. There was childlike pomposity in “An Important Event” as well as good emphasis.

"Dreaming" (Trämerei in German) is the most famous of these short pieces, employed by many of the great pianists since Schumann wrote it. Longendyke was not as moving as some of her predecessors, but she avoided sentimentality and offered an enjoyable and creditable interpretation.

Longendyke created a vivacious scene of a kid popping out of a cupboard to startle an unsuspecting victim in “Frightening Someone”. She enveloped you in quiet darkness in “Child Falling Asleep” and you could easily imagine the child’s mind wandering just before slumber.

The concert was recorded at four different times, one for each composer, and at different times of day. This meant that Longendyke could wear four different outfits, and she did: A navy blue, sleeveless, floor length gown for Koh; a clarion red lace dress with plunging V-neck and V-back for the Debussy; a black pantsuit with billowing trousers and a wide brown belt notched at her back for Williams; and a charcoal gray evening gown with black accent stripes studded with glittering rhinestones for the Schumann. 

The camerawork by Aphorism Productions had a cinematographer’s sense of the interesting. Shots that displayed Longendyke as she played also captured her reflection in the lid of the piano, placing her in a frame that looked out the glass windows of the Logan penthouse, with the high-rises skimming Lake Michigan, and juxtaposing the twinkle of her rhinestones with the out-of-focus blur of the Hyde Park night lights.

But the camera also highlighted what a musician or music lover would like to see: a close-up of Longendyke’s hands as they fought for real estate on the keyboard when both left and right were playing notes close together, the shape and force of her hands as she made powerful attacks versus cautious ones, and the concentration on her face as she pummeled the keyboard, with a simultaneous view of the hammers moving inside the piano.

The next concert in this series will feature cellist Seth Parker Woods. Visit chicagopresents.uchicago.edu for more information.

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