A packed house of approximately 200, limited by space and "reservations only," applauded the return of pianist Frederick Moyer to Ocean View, a community of residents 55 and over in Falmouth, Maine. Moyer usually makes it a point to take his current concert program to the Great Hall at Ocean View when touring Maine. The November 18 concert with champagne reception was an energy-infusing musical experience. The clever theme of the program was "musical experiments" of the composers he had selected, actually beginning and culminating in experiments of his own.
The finale, Piano Concerto in a minor, Op. 7, by Clara Schumann (1819-96), was performed in the large hall albeit with no orchestra pit, Therefore, in limited space, the soloist performed with orchestra-on-computer. The computer orchestration process credited in this case to Dan Kury is called "sampling." Moyer had hired a Boston cellist, William Rounds, to record the extensive cello solo to give the proper interpretation. Due to the variables in absolute piano solo intervals of any concerto, he had rigged a mouse that he could operate as a foot pedal, enabling the orchestra entrance in each required instance. The sound level of the computer orchestra was balanced perfectly, the piano lid being set on the short stick. The total effect was maintained carefully and at a level appropriate to the fine acoustics of the ample recital room.
Moyer had played this Clara Schumann piano concerto with the Boston Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra. Following that experience, since he didn't know of another orchestra that would be programming it any time soon, he came up with the idea of the computer arrangement in order to keep this treasure alive in his repertory. It was the afternoon's ultimate example of an experiment that worked. Clara Wieck had written the concerto between the ages of 14 and 18, reportedly, but since she was not skilled at orchestration, her father engaged his piano student, Robert Schumann, to provide that expertise: call it an experiment! The collaborators were later married, of course, and the work credited to Clara Schumann.
The Wieck-Schumann experiment worked in contrast to the Beethoven experiment of Thirty Two Variations in c minor, a failed attempt that the composer knew enough not to repeat. In fact, Beethoven was said to be embarrassed by it. Very admirably played, the brief variations did become boring by the time the thirty-second was performed; Beethoven had better things to do with his time thereafter. Moyer had described them as "perhaps written for people with short attention spans!" The performer's spontaneous oral program notes were engaging.
The "experiment" by Max Reger was a Scherzo for left hand alone, one of Four Etudes. It was performed glibly and effortlessly. The pianist explained that it works because the melody is planned principally for thumb and forefinger while fingers 3, 4, and 5 jump around to provide the accompaniment.
The artist then augmented his program theme and played skillfully Chopin's "Black Key" Etude in B flat, Op. 10/5, as an unprogrammed bonus, demonstrating the composer's experiment of writing a work entirely on the black keys.
Moyer played a crowd pleaser, "Claire de Lune," with artistic restraint and suspenseful hesitation so as to enrich this familiar program music, demonstrating the success of Claude Debussy's "experiment": impressionism. One could virtually experience the moonlight – and one could hear people in the audience saying so as soon as the applause had died down.
Nothing, however, was more moving than the opening selection, Mendelssohn's Song Without Words in E, Op. 19/1. The melody is the setting for Biblical words at the beginning of a hymn by Laura Lee Randall ("This Is the Day the Lord Hath Made," Christian Science Hymn No. 342, to the tune "Angel's Song") that expressed the essence of the sunlit Maine noonday setting in a beautifully appointed room full of music lovers. From the beginning of the program, the music poured forth from the grand piano, richly interpreted by the artist. The experiment of the art of programming concert music thus began to take shape as the selections unfolded one by one.
In response to an extended standing ovation, Moyer, whose grandfather was the late North Carolina dramatist/activist Paul Green, displayed his versatility. He reached back to the jazz repertoire of his youth and delivered a superb rendition of "Stella by Starlight" that clearly punctuated the program.
*Note: We are pleased to welcome back Mary Elizabeth Nordstrom, our former Pinehurst/Southern Pines representative, now living in Maine. She continues to be active in music as a performer and advocate of "Handel on Hunger" performances to benefit the needy. A letter on this worthy program appears in the December issue of The American Organist.