Ginastera's Piano Concertos
Exactly what a music school ought to do
There are many things a school of music ought to do, high among them preparing performers, producing concerts, training scholars, holding discussions, and disseminating information.
But if you ask me, the top thing a school of music ought to do is serve the music, and from that point of view the U-M School of Music's December extravaganza celebrating the music of Argentinean modernist composer Alberto Ginastera is exactly the sort of thing a music school ought to do.
Being Argentina's top twentieth-century classical composer doesn't mean Ginastera is well known here. But once you hear his uniquely exhilarating fusion of classical forms with its blazing colors, fiery melodies, fierce harmonies, and particularly its sensuous rhythms, you never forget it.
The extravaganza's central event will be the first performance of all three of Ginastera's piano concertos in one concert in Hill Auditorium on Saturday, December 10, with the University Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kenneth Kiesler and U-M alum Barbara Nissman as the soloist.
Nissman, a bravura pianist with charisma to burn, has been associated with Ginastera's music since she was a student here and played the First Piano Concerto with the composer in the audience in 1970. She met him afterwards, they hit it off musically, and he later wrote his Third Piano Sonata--his final work--for her.
Most music fans of a certain age and disposition likely know Ginastera's Piano Concerto No. 1 from 1961, or at least its finale: the diabolical Toccata concertata later transformed into "Toccata" on Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery LP. And at least some classical music fans already know his Concerto No. 2 from 1971, though only in the drastically revised form the premiere was presented in, of all places, Indianapolis. This concert will feature the premiere of Ginastera's original version prepared from the score given to Nissman by the composer.
Almost nobody knows Ginastera's Concierto Argentino, his Concerto No. 0 from 1935, for the simple reason that he wrote it when he was
nineteen, heard it performed, and then withdrew it before publication. Nissman found the manuscript years later in Philadelphia, where it was part of a trove of South American music collected by the WPA, and while the composer thought of revising it for her, he never did. Ginastera's late widow granted Nissman the right to make its first recording and the exclusive right to perform the work in its original form.
This being a U-M concert, naturally there will be ancillary events: a Nissman master class, a brown-bag lecture, and an all-Ginastera concert by the Percussion Ensemble and the University Philharmonia Orchestra on Friday, December 9. The master class may be intense, the lecture may be informative, but the percussion concert ought to be a blast.
[Originally published in December, 2011.]