Visiting pianist delivers crisp, upbeat performance

Pedja Musijevic peformed a selection of energetic pieces at Brooks-Rogers on Saturday night. Photo courtesy of washingtoncollegenews.blogspot.com
Pedja Musijevic peformed a selection of energetic pieces at Brooks-Rogers on Saturday night. Photo courtesy of washingtoncollegenews.blogspot.com

Last Saturday night, the energized and engaged sounds of Pedja Muzijevic filled the musically anointed space of Brooks-Rogers. Muzijevic, a visiting artist and pianist showcased his crisp, electric talent throughout the night, performing works ranging from Haydn’s upbeat “Sonata in G Major” to 8 of the 20 movements of Schumann’s Carnaval, op. 9. Critics laud Muzijevic as a “thinking musician,” with a captivating stage presence revealing the prosperous fruits of a 35-year-long career. Throughout this career he has and continues to perform at festivals such as Tanglewood, Spoleto and Mostly Mozart. Likewise, his symphonic engagements are similarly impressive. He has performed with the Atlanta Symphony, Residentie Orkest in the Hague and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra among others, also committing to solo recitals at such venues as The Frick in New York City and the National Gallery in Washington D.C. It’s not a surprise that The London Financial Times deemed him “a virtuoso with formidable fingers and a musician with fiercely original ideas about the music he plays.” The pianist certainly demonstrated some of these original ideas, interjecting the musical component of his performance with witty, intellectual comments on the histories and characters of the pieces he was to play. Through his ongoing commentary shone an enviable passion for his profession and art. Having played the Haydn sonata as commanded in an “allegretto e innocente presto” manner, initiating the performance’s playful, jovial, energized tone, Muzijevic announced that he was going to play a piece by “John Cage, my other crush (Haydn being the first).” Muzijevic then traced the history of his relationship with Cage, claiming that he played only one piece of the composer’s during his educational years but was converted to a devout following by his burgeoning career working with dance. As Muzijevic put it, Cage and Philip Glass are “the two composers foremost tied to dance. But perhaps the climax of the artist’s interaction with Cage came at a festival at which Muzijevic presented a proposal which he considered to be “guaranteed rejection.” Yet the program, proposing a performance conducted for four pianos, three differently prepared and one entirely unprepared as well as a toy piano, was approved, which Muzijevic joked was almost to his regret. In this non-traditional setting, he played “Winter and Spring” from Cage’s The Seasons, the piece he went on to entertain Brooks-Rogers with. But before he could launch into its vigorous sounds, he made one last quip that the piece was a slight misnomer as “this year we seem to have only one season.” The piece carried the already vigorous tone of the night. It had a syncopated beginning, punctuated by abrasive punched chords and a slightly jarring quality. Muzijevic’s fingers were jaunty yet strong. Apart from the rolling, sweet section at the conclusion of the piece, this was not a musical setting in which the audience could blissfully sink into an oblivious daydream. Muzijevic did not calm or soothe but energized. The next four pieces claimed a similar effect. The artists introduced Liszt’s “Schlafos! Frage und Antwort”, Morton Feldman’s Intermission I, Liszt’s Bagatelle sans tonalite and Wagner and Liszt’s “Isolde’s Libestod” in one joint introduction, moving to then play the pieces in one continuous stream. The spoken commentary was characteristically amusing. Muzijevic called Liszt the “Michael Jackson of his time,” claiming he spent his life “conducting, teaching and fathering many children around Europe.” Feldman on the other hand, was honored with a more technical description as a composer who “explores sounds and silences and how we react to those.” With Wagner, the remarks turned back to humorous with Muzijevic claiming that some of his compositions should bear a “do not try this at home” warning label yet saying that his chosen piece was in some ways the “ultimate homage” to the composer. Liszt’s two pieces were interjected most appropriately by Feldman’s Intermission I. All three carried distinctly modern sounds, revealing the link between the 19th century Hungarian composer and the 20th century radical, avant-garde American Feldman. The music carried a distinct atonality, lifting the audience with its building, crescendoes and vital sounds. Wagner and Liszt’s “Isolde’s Liebestod”, with a name that translates as Isolde’s “love death,” the finale of the 1859 opera Tristan and Isolde providing an appropriately climactic end to the first half of the performance. The second half continued the jovial tone, with Schumann’s Carnaval, op. 9, from the flirtatious “Coquette” to the calm and deliberate “Eusebius.” The set of 20 short pieces depicts revelers at Carnivale, a festival prior to Lent, a most appropriate concluding subject matter to what was a generally a buoyant, crisply executed night from a talent we hope to see again soon at the College.