At some point in the 1960s, Father Eugène Merlet, a Capuchin-Franciscan priest and an organist, asked himself a simple question: “How can young and talented musicians share their gifts, receive recognition, and see the joy their efforts have inspired?” His answer was Pro Musicis. Founded in 1965, it was created to present concerts not only in the great halls of the world, but also for audiences who seldom, if ever, have the chance to hear live classical music: “in prisons, hospitals, homes for the aged and disabled, substance abuse treatment facilities, inner-city schools and shelters for the homeless.”
Pro Musicis followed the North Star to Boston last Saturday evening, January 23, to launch its annual concert series here with one of the winners of its International Award—the pianist Maya Hartman, at Pickman Concert Hall, Longy School of Music. It was an auspicious beginning. Ms. Hartmann’s credentials as a virtuoso pianist were fully evident, but she displayed them with quiet assurance and command. No extraneous movement or flying body parts here; Hartman doesn’t need them. She keeps her hands close to the keys, remains calm and poised at the instrument, and lets her fingers and the music do all the walking and talking.
Her choice of program was excellent as well. It began with the Boston premiere of Noam Sivan’s Improvisations on Two Bach Chorales, a quirky set of riffs on Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “Sheep May Safely Graze,” with a few other familiar Bach tunes thrown in for good measure. This was followed by a fascinating juxtaposition of etudes by Sergei Rachmaninoff (the Etudes-tableaux Op. 39, nos. 1, 3 and 5) and György Ligeti’s Etudes, Book I (number 4, “Fanfares” and number 5, “Arc-en-ciel”). These two sets are arguably the best piano etudes written in the 20th century, and certainly some of the most difficult. Ms. Hartman dispatched them with aplomb. The first half closed with a somewhat colorless reading of Haydn’s Fantasie in C Major, H. XVII: 4, but after intermission we were treated to one of Elliott Carter’s finest compositions from his late period (or would that be middle, or early middle? It is hard to tell with this 101 year-old composer, who is still writing great music). “90+ for Goffredo Petrassi” was composed in 1994 to celebrate the birthday of another youngster, the nonagenarian Petrassi, and as Dr. Richard E. Rodda quotes Carter in his excellent program notes, it was “built around ninety short, accented notes played in a slow regular beat…against which the context changes character continually.” Hartman played more than ninety notes, many more, and again with ease.
The program closed with Chopin’s Sonata in B-flat minor, op. 35, after which Ms. Hartman graciously singled out the Executive Director of Pro Musicis, John Haag, for his 20 years of devoted service to this noble organization. According to the notes, Pro Musicis has “presented its artists in more than 1,800 concerts in Europe, Asia and North America.” We can all look forward to the next concert, in Boston on February 13, which features another Pro Musicis winner, Lydia Artymiw.