“Symphonic Dances” lights up Chapel

 

From 8 to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26, the Lawrence Memorial Chapel was filled with the wonderful, resonant sounds of Associate Professor of Music Anthony Padilla’s piano performance. The recital, entitled “Symphonic Dances,” featured orchestral transcriptions—either piano pieces arranged for orchestra, or orchestral pieces arranged for piano. Between each piece, Padilla provided the audience with some background, showing clips of the other arrangements and telling a bit about the pieces’ and composers’ backstories.

He began with a selection by Edvard Grieg: “From Holberg’s Time: Suite in Olden Style” (Op. 40). It became immediately clear what separates Padilla from other pianists. Not only is his technique impeccable, but he interprets the pieces he plays uniquely, each note inlaid with personality and emotion. Grieg’s “Holberg Suite” juxtaposes many different styles—alternating between light, fluid runs and stoic, grand chords, sometimes upbeat and joyous, other times grave and tragic—Padilla performing all of them with soul. It is fitting that he chose to program orchestral pieces such as this one; he is able to, by himself, create an orchestra out of the piano, easily constructing varied, distinct voices out of the notes on the score.

Following the Greig was Ravel’s “Miroir”: “Alborada del gracioso.” Making it look easy, Padilla’s fingers moved quickly and effortlessly across the entire keyboard, from the short staccatos in the bass to the delicate melody in the upper register, fashioning a magical, darkly playful mood. Even as the piece grew more frantic towards its end, Padilla did not, always maintaining an air of simplicity and always appearing to be thoroughly enjoying himself as he played.

The tone remained playful as the next piece, Copland’s “El Salón México,” remained true to its composer’s style—quirky and off-color. Fun contrasts abound throughout the piece; surprising, dissonant chords shock the audience out of a trance created by the simple, Mexican folk tunes surrounding them; slow, smooth, expressive passages suddenly transition into lively, short, accented licks, and vice versa, always keeping the audience on their feet. The most fun for me was in watching Padilla raise himself completely up off of the bench to slam back down on that last, humorously cacophonous chord, and, sharing in the joyous atmosphere as he smiled, I and the rest of his audience laughed.

I sat completely enraptured for the rest of his performance, which was admittedly less humorous but assuredly no less lively or entertaining. The brilliance of Padilla’s final two impressive pieces had me completely engulfed in the experience of watching and listening. Chopin’s “Andante spianato and Grande polonaise brillante” (Op. 22), an odyssey through romantic melodies, cascading runs, and truly brilliant statements, was nothing short of a marvel. Granados’ “Los Requiebros” from “Goyescas, Los Majos enamorados” was an enchanting journey through colorful variations on an elegant theme—all the unique shades of which were amply vibrant, thanks to Padilla’s skill. Both pieces were performed with such emotion that I could not help being hopelessly drawn in. I am grateful to have been able to attend Padilla’s performance and hear such incredible renditions of these pieces, and would suggest to anybody that, the next time the opportunity arises, they do the same.

 

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