Last year Kathleen Spencer, who runs the Early Music Series at St. James Episcopal Church, was attending an early-music festival in Berkeley, California, and Kristian Bezuidenhout was performing a recital.
Spencer was sitting next to Robert Mealy, director of the Juilliard School program of Historical Performance.
When the recital was over, she turned to Mealy and said, “I can’t believe what I just heard. I’m overwhelmed.”
Mealy replied, “It’s the best recital I have ever heard.”
Bezuidenhout is one of the leading fortepiano players in the world. He travels across the world and is always a hot ticket. He will perform at St. James on Monday at 7:30 p.m.
“His interpretation is intellectual yet very human,” Spencer says. “Mozart has a lot of humor in his music and Bezuidenhout understands that. It’s an intellectual understanding of the music that is just so right.”
The Times of London has written: “(He is) one of the foremost, and arguably the most brilliant, of today’s fortepiano players.”
Spencer concedes that the fortepiano is “an acquired taste.”
Invented in 1700, it was popular until the early 19th century. Unlike a piano, the fortepiano is made entirely of wood and therefore is much softer. Spencer recommends sitting close at the St. James concert, though she adds that the fine acoustics make the church the perfect venue.
“It’s been called a little twangy, but once you hear it, you don’t want to hear this music any other way,” she says.
The program includes a variety of sonatas, rondos and suites by Mozart and Carl Phillipp Emanuel Bach (Johann Sebastian’s son), which would have been composed for the fortepiano.
Bezuidenhout has noted that he would try playing Mozart on a modern piano, and it just wasn’t right. The music is meant to be played on a fortepiano, and it makes all the difference.
So how is it that the man considered by many to be the most brilliant fortepiano player in the world is coming to St. James?
“I was so attracted to his interpretation, so I took a deep breath and contacted his agent,” Spencer says. I told her, ‘This is how much money I have in my budget. If he ever has the opportunity to come to Lancaster, that would be wonderful.’ ”
As it turned out, Lancaster’s ideal geographic location is our good luck.
His tour was taking him to Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington and Montreal. His agent said they could fit in Lancaster.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Spencer says. “In New York, you’d be paying $85 for a ticket, and here it’s $20.”
This marks the first solo performance of the Early Music Series.
“I believe that all of us attending (the audience averages about 130 people per concert) have learned a lot over the course of five years. We have grown into this. We are ready for this.”
Spencer notes that St. James has become a popular venue for musicians.
“They always comment that they love playing for the audiences at St. James because the audiences are so supportive of what they are doing. They feel they are with them.”
The series will continue with a holiday concert on Dec. 20. The Inwood Consort comprises students and graduates of the Historical Performance Program at Juilliard. One of the members is Paul Morton, the son of Dr. Holmes Morton, of the Clinic for Special Children. He plays the theorbo, which is an enormous lute.
On March 11, “Perpetual Motion: Galileo and his Revolutions” will feature a multimedia concert of 17th-century Italian music accompanied by images from space.
Writer Dava Sobel (who wrote “Galileo’s Daughter” and “Longitude”) will talk about the coinciding revolutions in science and music. Musicians include Sarah Pillow, soprano; Mary Ann Ballard, viola da gamba and Ronn McFarlane on lute. He will be taking on the guise of Vincenzio Galilei, Galileo’s father, who was a musician.