Professors of piano give duo recital

At all hours of the night, far past the limits of the Conservatory life, the sounds of hard work rustled, the turning of sheet music echoing through the halls. On Sunday, Jan. 26, all the hard work came to fruition, as Associate Professors of Music Michael Mizrahi and Anthony Padilla gave a recital with senior piano performance major Peter Lagershausen turning pages.

Many will remember the last time Lagershausen turned pages for a guest recital at Lawrence Fall Term. Lagershausen committed nearly every page turning mistake known to page turners, and invented quite a few others. He turned when only halfway down a page, he forgot to turn when there were repeats, and at the end of the piece, he turned to the back of the book, even though the page was marked “end.” He later said of his page turning, “It was not good.” Yet there he was, back on stage, turning pages with junior Claire Ricketts. Would he live up to the challenge?

It would take a lot of effort. Mizrahi and Padilla had a lengthy program spanning two hours. They began with a cheery piece for four hands, the overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein. The recital then took a more somber tone as the professors regaled us with Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances.” This three-movement piece was long enough to take up most of the first half of the recital, leaving just enough room for Astor Piazzola’s glorious “Libertango.” The festivities reconvened after a brief intermission with another Bernstein piece, “Mambo” from “West Side Story.” This was followed by Copland’s “El Salon Mexico,” and then Padilla and Mizrahi dazzled with the world premiere of a piece by Associate Professor of Music Johanna Metcalf, “The Undreamt of Center.” They rounded out the night with a grand suite, “Barber’s Souvenirs,” and another Piazzola piece, “La Muerte Del Angel.”

It was clear that the two professors had put a lot of thought into their programming. The mirroring of the two halves of the recital, both starting with an energetic, dance-like Bernstein piece and ending with a work from the great Piazzola. These vigorous, snappy pieces anchored the two large works that made up the bulk of the recital, the “Symphonic Dances” and the “Souvenirs.” Bookending each half of the recital thus served as helpful transitions for the audience in and out of the difficult and lengthy main pieces and served as counterweights to these pieces, keeping the recital from becoming bogged down. Both of the large works were collections of dances, and the recital as a whole had a dancing mood, with tangos, mambos, symphonic dances and dance suites. In contrast to the other pieces, “The Undreamt of Center” had no dance-like qualities, making it stand out from the other pieces and heightening its virtues. The piece was atonal, although it did have a recurring chordal bass, and shimmered, possessing a remarkable warmth of spirit. 

The performance was well balanced and powerful, with the ever-ferocious Padilla driving the music with powerful motions of the torso and the arm, matched note-for-note by Mizrahi, who harnessed and rode the music like a great chariot. At the beginning of the recital, they implored the audience to think of the recital as taking place in a drawing room, among an intimate gathering of friends (with the exception of Rachmaninoff) and this was made possible by their masterful balancing of sound, which kept what could have been a cacophony of dueling piano noise to instead a harmonious interplay of sound, feeling as if it was being played by a single artist. The timbre of the two pianos used exuded a gloom, a rich darkness lacking in warmth, which gave each piece a singular melancholy and strangeness. It was as if we were lying in bed at night, listening to the far-off music of the countryside we yield every evening to shadows and gloom. 

The music on stage was a gloriously pure experience, uninterrupted by page-turning folly, as Lagershausen executed his duties with aplomb. This was made even more difficult, he said, because he was on the wrong side of the piano. “I was on the right instead of the left, where a page turner usually is,” he said. “And it really messed with my brain. At one point I grabbed a left page by the right corner where it didn’t turn. It was like reading a manga.” Said audience members, “He was quite good.”