The Art of Listening in Review

The Art of Listening in Review

The Art of Listening- Chopin: Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31
Javor Bračić, piano
National Opera Center, New York, NY
October 8, 2017

 

Mr. Bračić, has created a series and a format that aim to “change the way you think about classical music.” Based on my experience this past Sunday, I’d say he’s well on his way as a persuasive music educator, and he is a very capable pianist. The series has been reviewed favorably elsewhere in this journal.

 

When I saw the repertoire choice, Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31, my immediate reaction was “Oh no, not that warhorse,” but my worries were unfounded. He is one of only two pianists I’ve ever heard who played the opening theme in the proper “questioning” way that Chopin was always asking for—and with no rhythmic distortion. The other pianist was the estimable Krystian Zimerman. Because of his fleet fingerwork, many passages also seemed more “playful” (scherzando) than usual. As Schumann said: “It remains an utterly compelling piece; one could compare it to a poem by Lord Byron: so tender, coquettish, and affectionate—yet so full of scorn.”

 

He began by dividing the work into its major sections and giving a sort of gentle exegesis of Chopin’s process and possible meanings, but his engaging, soft-spoken manner, and his ability to involve the audience created an ease that drew everyone right in, regardless of their prior music education or experience. Everyone’s input was valued, there was never any condescension or feeling of “this way is right and that way is wrong.”

 

After a full exploration, he then concluded with a complete performance, very well-rendered, especially after having talked for nearly an hour. Not everyone has this double ability to speak well about music while remaining a super executant, but Mr. Bračić, definitely has it. I see that a future event will focus on Samuel Barber’s Sonata for cello and piano. This is to be commended, as the more “modern” repertoire needs even more advocacy.

 

I should mention the format was gracious too (despite the limiting piano quality of the National Opera Center, which Mr. Bračić, took in stride with no apparent difficulty): the audience mingles and chats, with wine and cheese served both before and after.

 


The Art of Listening in Review

The Art of Listening in Review

The Art of Listening
Javor Bračić, piano
National Opera Center, New York, NY
September 17, 2017

 

The 7th floor Rehearsal Hall at the National Opera Center was a perfect venue for this most interesting hour- long event, an interactive investigation and performance of Chopin’s Nocturne in C# minor, Op. 27 No. 1. During the half hour before the scheduled start, pianist Javor Bračić mingled with the gathering audience while encouraging them to sample the wine and cheese set out in the back of the hall. As there is no raised stage in this space, the piano was at audience level, making for a continued intimate connection between performer and audience. I especially liked the fact that the piano was turned diagonally so that there was no “keyboard-side,” allowing all audience members the coveted view of the performer’s hands.

 

As stated in the event’s publicity material (notice I do not call this a “recital”) Mr. Bračić wishes both to break down the wall between performer and audience, and to give his listeners a deeper understanding of what they are hearing. It is a pleasure to say that he succeeded in both endeavors.

 

After a brief statement as to how the session would be organized, we heard a masterful performance of Chopin’s Nocturne in C# minor, Op. 27 No. 1. (But this was just a taste of Mr. Bračić’s pianism. I look forward to hearing a full recital.) He then asked the audience for any thoughts about the piece. After a silence, which felt longer that it really was, people began to overcome their shyness and spoke. Words like “sad,” happy,” “victorious,” were followed by stories people thought the music evoked. I, being a trained musician, thought major, minor, modulation, ternary form. I had to say to myself: “Stop! Just see what Mr. Bračić will do.”

 

Soon, after playing the opening two measures of the piece (the left hand playing just C#’s and G#’s,) he asked if the music was happy or sad. Silence followed. Both Mr. Bračić and I knew why. I raised my hand and said “We don’t know yet.” As I had just stepped on his line, Mr. Bračić made a joke about the showoff in the audience and proceeded to add an E, the first note of the right hand. “Sad,” said the audience, for this made the chord C#-E-G# – a minor triad. The next note in the right hand was E#, which then created a major triad. This was a brilliant way of introducing major and minor, concepts which are very important to understanding this Chopin Nocturne.

 

The concepts of polyphony, modulation and chromaticism were introduced in equally clever and easy- to- understand ways. (Upon re-reading the previous paragraph and seeing how convoluted it is, I won’t try to explain how he did it.)

 

The hour ended with another beautiful performance of the Nocturne. Three more events in the series will take place this season at the National Opera Center, when works by Chopin, Mozart and Samuel Barber will be performed, discussed and elucidated. I wish him continued success in this laudable project.

 


Javor Bračić, Pianist in Review

New York Concert Artists and Associates presents: Javor Bračić, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
October 22, 2013

Recital debuts can be a dicey proposition in New York, depending on what other concerts and events are scheduled. Learning that a young Croatian pianist would be giving his New York debut in Weill Hall the same night as the much-heralded and fashionable Yuja Wang would play next door at Stern Auditorium, I imagined that a half-empty hall might await him. How wrong I was! Mr. Bračić’s sold-out house left a virtual mob swarming around the box office, hoping for tickets from last-minute cancellations. As the evening progressed, it became clear why: Javor Bračić is a pianist who possesses a deep, genuine musicianship and an outstanding technique that serves the great music he chooses. He honors both listener and composer with his intelligent, committed interpretations, and he offers a thoughtfully constructed program with elegance and humility. It was heartening to be reminded that such an artist is still a draw and that the “competition” for listeners is not always a zero-sum game.

Mr. Bračić began with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Major, WTC II (BWV 870), which was at once noble and sensitive, with not a note out of place. Moving on to Haydn’s Sonata in D Major, Hob. XVI: 42, he sustained musical tension and interest through its rather long Andante con espressione, right through to the last note of the Vivace assai. Occasionally I wanted ornaments to be more singing in the first movement, and less subservient to the meter, but that was about the only quibble one could have – and a very personal one at that. The delicacy and precision were outstanding.

Moving to later style periods, Mr. Bračić tied his first half together to the Bach and Haydn by performing Debussy’s underplayed Hommage à Haydn (1909) and the even less well known Hommage à Bach (2001) by Croatian composer Davorin Kempf (b. 1947). In between old masters and homages came a World premiere of a work entitled Entwined, Disquiet  (2013) by Rosalie Burrell (b. 1988). At times searching and at others explosive, the two movements explored a tonal world that verged on orchestral, bearing hints of Messiaen and even Scriabin, though without being derivative. Ms. Burrell is still quite young, but already emerging as quite a colorist. I would have enjoyed some information on the piece, but Mr. Bračić, playing from score, appeared to meet this new work’s challenges beautifully, with considerable expressiveness.

As far as the homages go, I’ve never completely grasped the Haydn connection in the ever so brief Debussy work, apart from some tenuous structural likenesses and passing elements of humor and surprise, but it is immediately appealing and was played convincingly by Mr. Bračić. The Bach tribute by Mr. Kempf is far less elusive. Crisp mordents, preceding impassioned scalar writing, hearkened back to Bach’s Toccatas (notable the BWV 565 Organ Toccata in D minor), while quieter counterpoint and sequential episodes were set ingeniously amid some highly adventurous, clearly twentieth-and-twenty-first-century composition. Virtuosity abounded, and Mr. Bračić was on top of it all with dash and drama. Hints of the B -A-C-H theme by Bach himself (based on the tones B-flat, A, C, and B-natural) emerged amid dissonant writing that at times resembled a Bach festival recalled through a dream, all brought to an end with a nod to Bach’s characteristic Picardy close. It is a work I’d like to hear again, especially thanks to Mr. Bračić’s superb performance.

The program’s second half consisted of the Brahms Piano Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 5, a feast of some of the noblest, warmest, richest piano writing in history, and Mr. Bračić was well suited to it all. Some minor glitches arose – as happen to almost all pianists – but most seemed here to stem from over-straining for power against the piano’s somewhat resistant treble register at climaxes. If those moments can be conquered with the majesty shown elsewhere, Mr. Bračić will have one of the best Brahms F Minor Sonata performances around. As it is, I would hear him again in a heartbeat. His audience seemed to agree, earning an encore of a small Ravel work – you guessed it!- Hommage à Haydn.