April 7, 2016
Last Sunday afternoon, those music enthusiasts who remained undeterred by the sudden snow and cold weather outdoors managed to make the trek to Wellin Hall to witness a rare thing indeed: a free concert. Each year, the Barrian Ranjin Shute Memorial fund sponsors a free piano concert and master class with piano students. This year, pianist Dr. Scott Marosek, a New York state native who once studied with our own Sar-Shalom Strong, returned to the Hill to perform a selection from composers such as Haydn, Liszt, Debussy and—surprise!— boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons.
The audience was perhaps slightly smaller than the usual Wellin crowd, most likely as a result of the inclement weather—certainly not for lack of performer reputation. Marosek is much admired within the Clinton community, and was greeted with warm applause as he walked onstage to perform his first piece, Haydn’s “Sonata in E Flat, Hob XVI:49.” Comprised of three movements of varying tempos, the piece is still mainly upbeat, major and frequently styled with staccato accents. Marosek performed each section with deft attention to detail, displaying particular skill and comfort during a tricky section in the second movement that required the left hand to pass over the right to play a high melody over rolling chordal patterns beneath. He did not make as much as he could have out of the chord at the end of the second movement, which might have been allowed to hang in the air for a moment longer. One can hardly blame him for hurrying a bit to begin the next movement, however; there was a very disruptive ruckus going on backstage that made lingering in quiet moments much less appealing.
In fact, much of the audience was experiencing a similar sense of rushed agitation. The noise backstage, sounding like a beginning drummer trying out a couple new ideas, or perhaps a McEwen delivery arriving on squeaky wheels, was incessant and impossibly distracting. At each lull, every tender moment, the backstage racket interrupted the audience’s attempts to sink into the music. When asked post-performance about his reaction to the noise, Marosek replied good-naturedly, “It was fine—I learned to practice as a kid with a relatively large family, so I got used to playing through the noise!”
It’s true that the pianist performed admirably under very strange conditions. It was later discovered that the sound was a result of the unusually strong wind that day blowing through smoke pockets in the roof—nothing we shouldn’t have expected from our weather here at Hamilton, in other words. Marosek maintained his cool through Liszt’s “3 Sonetti del Petrarca, S. 158,” gracefully evoking the piece’s essence through to a very touching finish.
After allowing a moment for the audience to wear out its polite applause, Marosek dove into Debussy’s “Selections from Préludes, Book I.” Each prélude was relatively short compared to the rest of the selections. Marosek seemed to play each with affection, drawing out its unique contours and harmonic qualities carefully. His elegant treatment of some of the murkier chords appearing in Préludes III and IV in particular reinforced his previous shows of speed and dexterity with a propensity for subtlety and nuance. Once the last préludes were finished, he joked, “Those last two préludes, about wind and snow—I planned those just for you!”
He returned to the bench for one last piece: Albert Ammons’ “Swannee River Boogie,” based on Stephen Foster’s “Old Folks at Home.” An upbeat tune written much more recently than the rest of the program, the bluesy boogie bit showed off Marosek’s diverse capability, and was a lot of fun to listen to. “I thought the audience would like something a little fun at the end—kind of a programmed encore or sorts,” he told me over email afterwards. The audience certainly did enjoy the tune, and applauded with enthusiasm at the end of the set. In spite of the distracting noises the wind was causing backstage, everyone seemed to agree that the concert was enjoyable overall.