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Keyboard Revelations

Time is short, so let me just say this flat out. If you don’t have tickets yet to hear Kristian Bezuidenhout at the 2016 Berkeley Festival, get them now.

Kristian Bezuidenhout 2010Photo: Marco Borggreve

There are rare performances that go well past great, beyond memorable, surpassing even some ideal of “perfection.” They are revelations, fundamentally changing how we perceive music. Each of us has experienced a few of these “aha” moments, epiphanies that open us to the essential nature of a thing. But when you see the greatest artists of your generation all having the same epiphany, all shaking their heads in disbelief along with you, it’s time to take notice and spread the word.

That was my feeling at and after Kristian Bezuidenhout’s debut fortepiano recital at the 2014 Berkeley Festival. As I was leaving St. Mark’s, awestruck at what had just happened, I ran into one of the great keyboard experts in North America. He saw my expression and just said flatly, “Before today, I never saw the point of the fortepiano. I can never say that again.” Somewhat later, I heard another eminent musician, this one known for work on quite a different instrument and the music of a completely different era, proclaim that Bezuidenhout’s recital was the best concert (period) he had heard in his life. And then, an actual fortepiano player said, “I never knew the instrument could sound like that.”

Since I haven’t asked their permission to quote these folks, I won’t name names. But I stand behind every word of it. Nor can I improve or elaborate on the case Bezuidenhout himself makes for his instrument. Listen to him demonstrate and discuss it in his own words.

Rachel_Podger_photo72This video offers an introduction to the nature of the fortepiano and its historical importance as an ideal vehicle for interpreting Viennese Classical music. It cannot possibly give you a full sense of what Bezuidenhout does with the instrument. Nor can any recording. Following his concert I went to the Musical Offering and bought 2 CDs from Bezuidenhout’s exhaustive Mozart discography. They are exquisite and insightful interpretations, and I play them often, but they cannot begin to capture the nuanced beauty of the sound he evokes in a live performance.

I haven’t touched on what Bezuidenhout does on the harpsichord, an instrument on which he is equally brilliant and on which he will perform with violin powerhouse Rachel Podger, one of the greatest string players alive today, in a program of Bach sonatas.

Performances like these are what make the Berkeley Festival unique. Both Kristian Bezuidenhout and Rachel Podger were here this past season, each performing in concert with our great Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. And certainly they will be back again. However, it is unlikely you will have opportunities to hear them with the intimate clarity of a solo or duet recital as you can this June.

Kristian Bezuidenhout will perform a program of Mozart, Haydn, and C.P.E. Bach on fortepiano, Thursday, June 9, at 5:00 p.m., in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Later that evening, violinist Rachel Podger will appear as featured soloist with Voices of Music  (8:00 p.m. in First Congregational Church) performing works of Bach and Vivaldi. Bezuidenhout and Podger will appear together in a duet recital of Bach sonatas for violin and harpsichord on Saturday, June 11, at 8:00 p.m., in Berkeley’s First Congregational Church. Order tickets online, or phone the Berkeley Festival Box Office at 510-528-1725.

—Jonathan Harris

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