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Scott Watkins: Blog

Howard Hanson's Piano Concerto

Posted on October 16, 2014
The newest addition to my repertoire. Playing it for the first time Saturday October 25 with the incredible Brevard Symphony Orchestra (brevardsymphony.com) and their conductor, my friend, Christopher Confessore. While doing some research on the concerto, and Hanson, I discovered that the composer himself played it once - and only once - with The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra on July 23, 1950. A review of the performance, written by David Holden on July 26, says that "Mr. Hanson played the piano part with intensity and vigor." The program notes describe the concerto as being "unmistakenly American." Here is the full review:

Howard Hanson's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra had the central position on the program withthe composer himself at the keyboard. In contrast to the Britten Concerto played a week before, this is not primarily a bravura work. A poetic musical idea is fundamental to this work, and its pyrotechnics are only the expression of that thought. The work is couched in post-Romantic, terms. Crescendos to big sonorities and slow passages associated with soft dynamics are the most overt evidence of this style. But his use of this style is cooler and more light-hearted than in his other monumental works. If his great use of rapid repeated notes tinges the concerto with reminiscences of Gershwin's [Concerto], Mr. Hanson remains a warmer and more personal
composer. It seems to your reporter that the scoring of the first two movements was too heavy for the piano. The last two were in better balance. Mr. Hanson played the piano part with intensity and vigor. There were no cadenzas and the close incorporation of piano with orchestra made it impossible to characterize this performance further.

I'm absolutely thrilled to have added this beautiful and unjustifyably neglected American piano concerto to my repertoire and look forward to playing it again - and often!

Hope to see you at The King Center for the Performing Arts, Melbourne, Florida, on Saturday evening, October 25, 8pm.