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April 26, 2010

Weekend concert scene (Part 1): Pianists Jenny Lin, Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia

I decompressed from a short vacation by heading back into the thick of things over the weekend, catching a musical Friday night (more on that anon) and then three concerts in a 22 -hour stretch Saturday-Sunday (not that I'm looking for a medal or anything -- I just don't want you to think I've been lounging around eating bonbons).

The first of the concerts afforded me an opportunity to hear keyboard talents of considerable note in an exceedingly imaginative program. Saturday night's performance, part of the An die Musik Live series, was built around Bach, without actually any 100-percent authentic Bach being played. This was, in essence, a celebration of counterpoint and transcription.

The first half of the concert featured the Stephanie & Saar Duo. Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia, who studied at Peabody, have been building a fine career built around duet and two-piano repertoire.

There is such a large amount of terrific music for four hands -- utilizing one or two keyboards -- and we don't get to hear nearly enough of it in concert. For this appearance, Ho and Ahuvia explored mostly off-the-beaten-path items by Bach (and a couple by Frescobali), as transcribed by important contemporary composer Gyorgy Kurtag.

These well-matched artists found considerable expressive depth in Kurtag's version of the Sonatina from Bach's "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit," and drew out the piquant imitation of organ sonorities in Kurtag's treatment of Bach's chorale "Durch Adams Fall." They also brought  technical flourish to the C major Prelude and Fugue, BWV 545, originally composed for organ and transcribed by F. X. Gleichauf.

The rapport between Ho and Ahuvia was readily apparent throughout their portion of the program; their music-making placed added value on elegance and subtlety. The two were joined for one short Bach/Kurtag item by Jenny Lin, and the six hands at one piano produced delightful sonorities.

Lin, who also did some of her studies at Peabody, has established a significant presence in the piano world. She focused here on the Preludes and Fugues composed for piano by Shostakovich in homage to Bach. These works, too, deserve greater attention, and Lin, who has recorded all of them, is clearly equipped to be their champion.

She chose five for this program and created vivid experiences out of each, from the shadowy eloquence of No. 1 in C to the tense drama of No. 24 in D minor, which achieves a level of profundity equal to that in the greatest of Shostakovich's symphonies and chamber works. The pianist's handling of bravura outbursts was as confident and sure as her sensitive phrasing in more lyrical passages. She got deep behind the notes to extract the emotional heart.


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:02 AM | | Comments (2)


Fantastic pianist! Makes me speechless!

We had the pleasure of hosting Stephanie and Saar for the Museum's Masters in Music chamber series on March 21. ( The Museum has an exceptional acoustic space where performers and audience really get to know each other. We sure would love to entice Baltimore music lovers (and you, Mr. Smith) out to Montgomery County to encounter this musical gem.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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