According to Sammy Cahn, “love is lovelier the second time around.” If it be true about the superiority of second-time experiences, then local audience members have a real treat in store for them as they welcome back to Aiken as the featured performer in the annual “Winter Nocturne” the noted Lithuanian pianist Edvinas Minkstimas.
A native of Kaunas, a major center of Lithuanian cultural life since the 15th century, Minkstimas made his stage debut at the age of 14 with that country’s national philharmonic. Eventually he came to the United States where he earned a D.M.A. at Juilliard. He now teaches piano, serves on various prestigious boards and judging panels, and concertizes around the world. In 2014 Minkstimas first came to Aiken to perform at the Etherredge Center.
Next Thursday, Minkstimas returns to our fair city once again to headline the popular annual keyboard recital at USCA. For his Jan. 31 performance, he has selected an appealing variety of works. The first half of the program will feature selections by Schumann, Ciurlionis and Gershwin; the second half is devoted exclusively to the music of Franz Liszt.
Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbundler Dances” will get the evening off to a romantic start. Written in 1837, this suite of short pieces was conceived, in part, to replicate the shifting moods of a wedding eve party. The principal theme is based on a mazurka, a Polish folk dance, composed by the piano prodigy Clara Wieck, whom Schumann married that same year. The term “Davidsbundler” refers to an imaginary music society Schumann invented as a means of defending the validity of the music created by his contemporaries.
Also in the first half of the program will be selected works by the very influential symbolist painter and prolific composer Mikalojus Ciurlionis – the national art museum in Kaunas is named for him – and “Three Preludes” by George Gershwin. The latter is a set of three short jazz-influenced works composed in 1926 and first performed in public by the composer himself.
The second half of the program is devoted to music by Hungarian composer and legendary piano virtuoso Franz Liszt. With his matinee-idol good looks and musical showmanship, Liszt was a sensation in 19th-century European capitals during his years of stage performance. Presumably the first pianist to appear alone on stage – one of his most famous quotes is “the concert is me” – Liszt established the model for all other solo piano recitals to follow. He played from memory, exhibiting a dazzling technique and charisma that drew huge audiences of sometimes hysterical fans. The term “Lisztomania” was coined to describe the devotion exhibited by his most ardent followers.
Minkstimas will return to the stage after intermission to tackle the most popular of Liszt’s Hungarian rhapsodies, the second of 19. Composed in 1847 and later arranged by him for orchestra and also piano duet, the “Hungarian Rhapsody #2” has two sections. The first, labeled “lassan” after the slow section of the Hungarian folk dance known as the czardas, offers a dramatic introduction to the work as a whole; the second section, labeled “friska” after the traditional fast section of the czardas, provides a lively conclusion.
The next two pieces are based directly on Liszt’s years as a concert celebrity. The “Tarantella” is inspired by a melody collected by the French composer Guillaume-Louis Cottrau while resident in Naples. The traditional tarantella is a dance characterized by an upbeat tempo and tambourine accompaniment; Liszt himself undoubtedly heard many versions of this folk dance idiom during the time he spent in Italy with his mistress, the author Marie d’Argoult, who wrote under the pen name Daniel Stern. The “Tarantella” appears among the works he collected under the title “Years of Pilgrimage,” encompassing the four years of the composer’s affair with the countess, during which she gave birth to three children by him, including their daughter Cosima, who eventually married Richard Wagner.
The last scheduled work on the program is Liszt’s “Spanish Rhapsody,” yet another piece inspired by his career as a touring pianist. He wrote this particular work during an 1845 tour of Spain and Portugal.
Tickets for the Jan. 31 recital, which begins at 7 p.m., can be purchased by visiting the Etherredge Center website or calling the box office at 803-641-3305. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the annual Winter Nocturne provides the perfect occasion for announcing a milestone in the history of USCA’s music program. Indeed, as part of this year’s annual keyboard concert, a representative from Steinway and Sons in New York will be in Aiken to announce the establishment of USC Aiken as an All-Steinway School, the only public-assisted college in our state to be so designated. On behalf of the university, Dr. Sandra Jordan, chancellor, will formally acknowledge this prestigious new status made possible by the generous support of Ben Cox, the founder of the Winter Nocturne series, and a host of local donors.