February 2, 2014

Benjamin Hochman at Kennedy Center

Benjamin Hochman played a challenging program at Kennedy Center yesterday

KNUSSEN	Variations  
RZEWSKI	The People United Will Never Be Defeated  
BRAHMS	 Variations on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24

Here's a sample of Frederic Rzewski playing part of the same piece that Hochman performed.

Though most of the program was recent music, what I mostly found challenging was the form Hochman chose to highlight—variations. I really love The Goldberg Variations, but I think that's where my appreciation of the form begins and ends. So much of this music feels like wheels spinning, the composer seemingly endlessly showing off his cleverness or giving performers a chance to show off what they can do. I probably shouldn't be so dismissive. In a review of the same program, Boston Classical Review noted Hochman's playing

The strength of Hochman’s playing lies in his shapely phrasing and fluid touch that gives his technique more of a poetic grace than sparkling clarity....

Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24, which followed, showcased the pianist’s dexterous phrasing

The review also noted that

[Hochman's] two solo recordings, for instance, explore the similarities in the music of Bach, Berg, and Webern, as well as Schubert and György Kurtág.

We've been hearing performers who explore the repertory this way a lot. Last year, Inon Barnatan played a decontructed version of John Dowland, and we just heard David Greilsammer compare Scarlatti and Cage.

FWIW, Benjamin Hochman is another pianist who tweets

Performers were not nearly so accessible when I started attending recitals. Now they've got web sites and blogs, YouTube videos, and social media accounts. I think that's a good thing.