Bob Hinkle and Kimberly Hughes, owners of the White Horse Black Mountain, have a great thing going in this tiny, picturesque mountain town. Primarily a venue for the performing arts, the WHBM also plays host to various community events and film screenings, all offered in a cabaret setting with drinks and light refreshments. Once a Chevrolet dealership, the space has been converted to a performance space with lively acoustics and a grand piano. Daniel Weiser’s partnership with WHBM to stage there a few of his Classicopia series of chamber music concerts is another win-win situation for area music lovers who are looking for a unique experience of the classical repertoire.
Weiser has quickly made his mark on the Asheville music scene as an accomplished pianist, entrepreneur, and music educator. He is a passionate advocate for classical music and creating new opportunities for hearing it in non-traditional settings. For this concert he teamed up with his friend of long standing, pianist Philip Liston-Kraft of Boston, for a “Four-Hand Fantasy” program of keyboard duets. Liston-Kraft is a renaissance man with an astonishing array of accomplishments (degrees in law and medicine, works as a Senior Associate in the Research Ventures and Licensing Office of the Massachusetts General Hospital, but also teaches German, and is a professional ballroom dancer). Oh, yes — add playing a mean piano to his list. Individually, each is an accomplished artist; together, they are simply a force of pianistic energy.
The program consisted of recognizable and accessible music, some originally for other media; two were dance sets. In the first half we heard the Three Spanish Dances, Op. 12 by Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925), pieces in a light, popular style. The lightness of these confections was followed by the deeply serious and ever lyrical Fantasie in F minor, Op. 103, by Franz Schubert. Weiser’s remarks concerning each piece were insightful, especially concerning this work, where he read from Schubert’s tortured letter of 1824 concerning his diagnosis of syphilis and the deteriorating state of his health. One was left to imagine the connection of this despair with the pathos of the piece written in the last year of Schubert’s life, and the general connection Schubert maintained throughout his life to songs. The finely nuanced performance was the musical highlight of the afternoon. Closing the first half was another flamboyant crowd pleaser, Malagueña, the sixth movement from Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona’s Suite Andalucía (1927).
“Tea for Two,” from the film No, No, Nanette was the charming and danceable opener after intermission, a fluffy foil to the technical barnburners concluding the program. The Five Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 of 1869 by Brahms were each given beautiful characterizations within a range of tempi con rubato. The players’ ensemble and their matching of musical intention were especially fine in this set. The program closer was a scintillating, wickedly intricate duet version of "Rhapsody in Blue" by Gershwin student Henry Levine. Weiser was right — the duet version without the orchestral colors really lays bare the richness of its musical content. The pianistic demands of the piece were ample, and we were richly rewarded by their execution of this difficult work, though by this time the high treble was slightly out of tune.
I found it refreshing to hear music in this more relaxed setting. There was some ambient noise, to be sure — a few words of kitchen conversation, some doors slamming, the occasional muffled noise of the street — but I didn’t feel it took away from the experience, and the audience, including some children, was held enthralled. Music making/hearing is so often divorced from real life, formalized into a starchy affair that can feel exclusive. How nice to hear this wonderful program presented in such a natural and unpretentious way!