Mendelssohn Club offers two workshops, followed by a duo concert

Mendelssohn Club offers two workshops, followed by a duo concert

By Friday, November 10, was a special day at the Mendelssohn Club. Pianist Ann Epperson led two workshops, morning and afternoon, and then performed in a fine duo concert in the evening, giving music devotees a day to remember and a lot to think about whenever they hear two or more artists collaborate musically.

By Georgia Pampel

Music Critic

Friday, November 10, was a special day at the Mendelssohn Club. Pianist Ann Epperson led two workshops, morning and afternoon, and then performed in a fine duo concert in the evening, giving music devotees a day to remember and a lot to think about whenever they hear two or more artists collaborate musically.

We used to call the fellow at the piano an “accompanist,” suggesting that he played a secondary, even subservient role, “coming along for the ride,” so to speak. However, Epperson reminded us that when Beethoven composed what we now think of as his violin sonatas, he called them sonatas for keyboard, with violin accompaniment, thereby suggesting his view of the importance of a serious piano participation.

When Ann Epperson trained at Juilliard in piano, she did not risk admitting her interest in ensemble playing. Attitudes back then perpetuated the idea that only solo piano counted as a worthy goal. After graduating with her master’s degree, she finally felt free to pursue the idea of elevating the role of the pianist in ensemble work, and eventually set up the first college level major program in the subject at the Cleveland Institute of Music. She changed our language to call the music “collaborative piano,” reflecting a new focus. She added that even those of us who play only as an avocation might have more fun doing it with friends, and ensemble work gives a pianist access to works by composers who might not have written much for solo piano.

Coaching artists in the two workshops (high school students in the morning and adults in the afternoon), she shared with the audience many points to enhance our musical awareness. The performers must each be sure of where the main musical line lies, so that the pianist is not shy about taking the lead when the score gives it to the piano. But all must also know when the piano must back off when another instrument has the lead melody. Any instrument may be carrying the intervening harmonic support, in a subdued manner, but often the bass line needs to receive more stress, as it may be the surest support for any melodic line. While the right hand is usually the lead voice in solo piano playing, it must often take a secondary role when the left hand in the bass has the stronger musical force.

If the pianist’s self-image is as an “accompanist,” there is a tendency to follow a hair’s breadth behind the soloist; instead, the musicians should try to get “inside” each other’s musical space, to be clearly together. They must listen closely to one another to spot any change on pace, accent, dynamics. And at the end, all the closing notes should fearlessly declare a clear ending.

In the evening’s performance, Epperson was joined by Rockford Violinist Tatiana Keriz, who plays with the Rockford Symphony and teaches at the Music Academy. They had barely one day to work together and develop a program. They delighted the audience with their demonstration that true collaboration is part of any fine ensemble artistry.

There was never a moment’s doubt that these two were each confident of their own musicianship while ever sensitive to the merging of the two voices into the composer’s intended rendition. Opening with the first of the Beethoven sonatas, a light and airy work, they continued with the Cesar Franck Sonata, which challenges both musicians with its technical and musical riches. They followed the intermission with a selection of familiar old favorites from Fritz Kreisler, numbers that often crop up as encores at the end of a concert, but were incorporated into the body of this concert, bringing them into focus as interesting pieces in themselves, but also dodging the usual call for an “encore,” when the limitations of one day’s acquaintance and rehearsal certainly might restrict the prepared repertoire.

It was a double treat for us all, both to hear Epperson demonstrate her own piano mastery applied in a collaborative performance, and to hear Keriz as a very capable soloist. Arriving in Rockford a few short years ago from Ukraine, Keriz is a welcome addition to Rockford’s musical society and artistic life.

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