Awadagin Pratt made his first wide impact on the American classical music scene with his debut CD, “A Long Way from Normal,” a punning reference to his childhood in Normal, Illinois, and his dreadlocked appearance. While primarily active as a pianist, he graduated from music school with three degrees, in piano, violin, and conducting, and he is also an active conductor. A Professor of Piano at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, he also runs a piano festival on Long Island, and tours widely. Having previously heard him only on recordings, I was greatly looking forward to his debut at Maverick Concerts in Woodstock on August 16th. He definitely did not disappoint.
Pratt’s first half listed seven pieces by seven composers*. Before beginning, he told the audience that he would not be playing them in printed order. I recognized opener as Phillip Glass, typically devoid of content although almost made interesting by Pratt’s nuanced, involvement. He segued into Couperin.
After that, he lost me for a while, as he continued connecting numbers into a medley. Some improvisation must have been going on, since at one point he began the famous First Prelude from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier before going off on tangents, not alighting on familiar ground until arriving at Chopin. But it was an interesting experience, listening to beautiful playing of music I couldn’t identify, enjoying what I was hearing without the intellectual reinforcement I usually get by knowing the composer.
Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor took up the second half. The technical demands of the masterpiece invariaby serve musical purposes, which Pratt’s masterfully brought out. He dug deeply into the complex emotions and content of the Sonata, and he has the resources to meet its technical demands head-on and without flinching; he expressed the drama across a wonderful dynamic and tonal range. Maverick’s Yamaha piano stood up to Pratt’s demands very well, as Pratt delivered an extremely gratifying and memorable account of the sonata.
Pratt had one last surprise for us. William Grant Still’s Summerland, which had been listed for the first half, came instead an encore. Bravo. Bring Pratt back soon.
* Philip Glass: “Opening” from Glassworks (1981)
Peteris Vasks: Castillo Interior (2013)
Couperin: Les barricades mysterieuses
Fred Hersch: Nocturne, from Three Character Studies (2004)
Chopin: Nocturne in B-flat, Op.62 No.1
Rachmaninov: Prelude in D, Op.23 No.4
Tchaikovsky/Pletnev: Intermezzo from The Nutcracker
Leslie Gerber, who lives in Woodstock, New York, has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.