The Clayton Piano Festival, now in its third season under the artistic direction of founder Jonathan Levin, has been bringing classical music to the rural community since 2012. This year, the festival brings concert pianists to the Clayton Center Performing Arts Auditorium, and on Tuesday's special occasion, to the historic Wagner House in the heart of downtown. This gorgeous columned southern home plays host to community events once each month and proved a perfect venue for Tuesday's intimate recital. Guests were greeted at the door by owner and operator Kelly Norman, who invited them in to complimentary hors d'oeuvres and table seating. Patrons wishing to be closer to the action seated themselves in the quaint spindle chairs set before the baby grand piano near the front window of the Wagner House.
As Julia Mortyakova finished Impromptu, No. 5 from Cécile Chaminade's Concert Etudes, Op. 35, her exploitation of Chaminade's dynamics and full range of the piano keys had most of the audience as close to the music as possible. The artist's following set explored the versatile compositions of Chaminade; from the illustrative movements of "Automne," evoking imagery of falling leaves and strong autumnal wings, to the melodic Thème Varié, Op. 89, to the wittily, if startling, punctuations of "Étude humoristique," Op. 138.
Mortyakova; who currently serves as the Chair of the Department of Music for the Mississippi University for Women, went on to describe how Chaminde's talent and compositions garnered the respect and admiration of such world leaders as the Pope and Queen Victoria. However, as time and social interests threaten to forget such a significant historical figure, particularly for women in music, enthusiasts like Mortyakova have taken strides to remind audiences of her noteworthy body of work.
Mortyakova continued the second act of her performance with Margaret Bonds "Troubled Water" from Spiritual Suite, paying homage to one of the most influential African-American female composers in the classical world.
Mortyakova concluded the evening with two pieces of particular sentimental value: "Rhapsody for Julia," in its world premiere at the Clayton Piano Festival, and Suite for Piano were both composed for the pianist by her mother, Olga Harris (the last student of Khachaturian). The poignant pieces examine the range of a mother's emotions accompanying the birth of a daughter. "Rhapsody" begins with a steady pulse of bass notes, symbolizing a new heartbeat, the pianist explained. The Suite continued with a steady left hand in the Prelude, evolving into furious tempo with the Toccata and finally a marriage of the two with the Basso Ostinato.
With the performances of compositions from each of the three significant women showcased Tuesday evening, Julia Mortyakova provided an experience rich with history and genuine sentimentality with the skill of an expert and the love of a daughter, all to the loyal Clayton community.
The Clayton Piano Festival concludes with a performance by Milton Rubén Laufer, formerly of Raleigh, on October 10 at 7:00 p.m., in the Clayton Center Performing Arts Auditorium. For details, see the sidebar.