IN: Reviews

Conservationist Pianist Changes World


The beguiling Mahani Teave enchanted a capacity audience at Shalin Liu that included many young people during Sunday’s stop on her 3-month American-Canadian tour, which began September 9th in Kansas City. Teave’s path in music and activism is inspirational. She became riveted by the piano when the first one arrived in her far-away childhood home, Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile) when she was 9 years old, she became avid student, taking to the keyboard almost as if knowing it from some prior existence. She rapidly progressed beyond available resources in her Polynesian home, so her family relocated to mainland Chile to further Mahani’s musical education. She ultimately graduated from the Austral University in Valdivia, Chile; the Cleveland Institute in the US and the Hanna Eister Musik Hochschule in Germany and was recognized with awards such as the APES Prize in Chile, Claudio Arrau International Piano Competition and a burgeoning concert career.

While her early post-conservatory career progressed, she felt drawn to return home to Rapa Nui in order to bring classical music to children there and to honor and support her roots. So, at age 30 she returned to co-found the first-ever classical music school, Toki, which combines conservation efforts with music—a successful plan, in which she is aided by her husband and numerous others. At age 40, she has become a beacon for the arts, for her culture and for conservation, not only in her native Easter Island, but worldwide.

Her approach to repertoire is strong, lively and varied; her persona, comely, articulate and charismatic. The afternoon began with a spirited rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue in D Minor (BWV 903), played with facile verve. In the three-sectioned Fantasie, Teave set out the prelude authoritatively, followed by the recitative. And her playing in the final portion, a combination of the elements displayed, was masterful. The Fugue was clear and entertained with its own three sections, articulated clearly with a touch that combined a light touch with authoritative statements as needed.

After Chopin’s lovely B-flat minor nocturne, Opus 9, number 1, the first of a trio dedicated to Madame Camille Pleyel, wife of the renowned piano manufacturer, Teave followed with two mazurkas from Opus 67—no.2 in G Minor and no. 4 in A minor. Among Chopin’s 59 mazurkas, these were late works, published posthumously. The cantabile of no.2, written later than no. 4, provided lyrical phrasing, with a touch of regret; And no. 4 similarly succeeded in conferring a kind mood. Chopin’s Opus 60 F-Sharp Major Barcarolle has multiple undertones—it evokes wistful beauty, with its left hand anchoring the lilting wave-like feeling to counter the haunting and dramatic yet wistful higher register. Alas Chopin wrote only this single barcarolle, with its bel canto strains and erotic intimations. The first half concluded with Chopin’s vigorous B Minor Scherzo, Opus 20, No.1.

The signature of this romantic yet pointed program followed intermission, beginning with I He A Hotumatu’a, an ancestral Rapa Nui melody in E Flat Major, described as the de facto national hymn of the country, often played after the formal national anthem. The appealing piano version heard here in Rockport, has been adapted by Chilean composer, Jose Miguel Tobar (b. 1956), for piano and tells the story of King Hotu Matu and his people finding Rapa Nui as a home. The simple melody with some variations, is quietly appealing. This was followed by Suite Rapa Nui by Chilean pianist composer, Alejandro Arevalo, based on two folk songs.

In closing Teave presented three well-appreciated romantic works—First, she offered Franz Liszt’s Ballade Number 2 in B Minor, S. 171—a demanding, varied combination of moods and technical challenges ranging from brooding tantrums to delicate lyricism, which has aptly been described as turning the piano into an orchestra. Teave is more than up to the challenge of this and other romantic works and clearly enjoyed communicating the panoply of moods.

The concert ended with two of the six Moments Musicaux Opus 16 by Rachmaninoff—Number 1 in B-Flat Minor, and Number 4 in E Minor. Number 1, an Andantino, donated a quiet and lovely moment before the Presto of Number 4, reaching a fitting summit.

Following a foot-stamping, brava-filled audience response, Teave graced the crowd with two well-received encores—an emotional rendition of Chopin’s Etude Opus 10 No. 12, followed by an express-train version of Schubert’s E-flat major Impromptu Opus 90 No. 2 (D899) played nonetheless with fine phrasing.

Like many in the hall, I wished the afternoon would linger. Happily, Teave returned to greet well wishers, especially children, and to sign programs. Her tour, which will no doubt grow admiration of her distinctive accomplishments, continues through November 11th.

Julie Ingelfinger studied piano at the Hartt School of Music, Aspen Music Festival and School and at Harvard. She enjoys her day jobs as professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, pediatric nephrologist at Mass General Hospital for Children and deputy editor at the New England Journal of Medicine.

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1 Comment [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. An excellent review of a magnificent pianist. I’m so glad of her success because she is a real artist concerned more with the music than with anything related to her own name or fame. In addition, a true model for her many Rapa nui students. Congrats!

    Comment by Juan-Pablo Illanes — September 29, 2023 at 10:28 pm

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