|How a girl led a local pianist to Grieg|
How a girl led a local pianist to Grieg
Musicians love to hand you a repertoire list as long as a Zulu spear, so why did pianist Nicholas Roth spend the entire summer of 2006 diving into 66 works ? 210 pages of music ? by a single composer, Norwegian Edvard Grieg?
Before giving his final answer, Roth coyly polishes his chest of secrets.
?I love these pieces,? he says, referring to the lyric miniatures of Grieg, a heartfelt musical diary covering 30 years of the composer?s life. They?re modest works, short on thunder and glitter, but when it comes to beauty, clarity and balance, they are hard to beat.
?There?s a certain candor ? there?s no B.S. going on there,? Roth says.
Cabin fever sufferers aching for a walk in pine-filled woods could do much worse than check Roth?s unique piano recital coming up Sunday at First Presbyterian Church?s Molly Grove Chapel. One of Grieg?s vignettes, ?Woodland Peace,? is a perfect evocation of northern forests, right down to the sudden pauses hikers make to hear the rustlings and chirps around them.
Roth, a Michigan State University music graduate now teaching at Drake University, spent last summer riding his bicycle around the Iowa countryside and sheltering indoors in groves of Grieg. The most obvious reason for Roth?s monomania is that he was commissioned by engineer Sergei Kvitko at Lansing?s Blue Griffin Studios to put together a complete set of the lyric pieces.
The results on the CDs are quietly spectacular. The music evokes a kaleidoscope of moods, from wistfulness to regret to joy to melancholy, all infused with Grieg?s matchless grace and nobility of expression.
?It?s ambitious and a little crazy,? Roth says of the project.
At Sunday?s recital, Roth will perform a selection of 20 or so of the pieces and talk about his rewarding immersion into Grieg?s world. The success of the CDs, as well as Roth?s Grieg recitals at Drake, proves that classical piano doesn?t have to be fraught with thunderheads or weighted with squirming bags of notes to please audiences.
?Most of my concerts have so much bombast in them,? Roth says with a laugh. ?Beethoven, Prokofiev and so forth. Besides, anytime you do a recital devoted to one composer, you?re taking a chance, but people love this music.?
Roth supposes audiences are responding to Grieg?s authenticity and honesty. He explains that Grieg went through the obligatory motions of studying music in Germany, but hated it and escaped to find his own voice.
So Roth got a commission to record them. But really, what drove him to see this huge and unusual project through?
Cherchez la femme.
?When I was 13, we had a Norwegian exchange student ? a girl,? he recalls, quickly reeling off a serpentine female name.
Before you can say ?How do you spell that?? Roth is rummaging deep in the memory chest.
?She was a gifted pianist and singer, and she stayed with us for a year,? he says. ?She brought goat cheese, which I hated, and beautiful Norwegian chocolates, a little troll doll, and some Grieg lyric pieces which she played for us. I never really forgot that. It was really special.?
As he pauses, you can almost hear the Laterna Magica flicker in his mind. ?Yeah,? he adds slow
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