GetClassical in School is an ambitious new initiative to bring accomplished professional classical musicians into schools, exposing students to an art form many of them may have no other opportunity to experience. The program marked its kickoff with a concert November 19 by Taiwanese-American pianist Ching-Yun Hu, one of the first virtuosi to participate.
Before her concert Hu spoke warmly of her recent experience speaking to and performing for the youngsters. If she is representative of the quality of talent GetClassical in School’s founder Ilona Oltuski is recruiting (see the website for the full and impressive list of artists who have declared interest), her concert augurs well for the school effort.
The location, the German Consulate in New York City, corresponds to Oltuski’s inspiration, an established German program called Rhapsody in School. The modest concert hall was packed as Hu opened a program that leaned toward the extravagant with a Liszt onslaught. She applied an elegant touch to the rippling pastoral ecstasies of “Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este,” showing mastery of the full romantic style the busy piece demands. Two Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs followed, including the “Erlkönig,” which sounds like it requires superhuman effort: Are there more than two hands on the keyboard? The evidence of the eyes proved otherwise. Nobody was up there but Hu.
While Liszt expanded on Schubert originals, contemporary composer Jeremy Gill contracts a Bach cantata, “Wie selig sind doch die,” galvanizing the music with explosive and chromatic attacks even as he transcribes the multipart original for piano. Hu’s beautiful New York premiere performance verged on the epic, the spirit of Bach calling out constantly from what proved to be an expansion within a contraction.
The Gill piece was a standout in an evening of fine performances that continued with “Le festin d’Escope (Aesop’s Feast)” by Charles-Valentin Alkan. Hu delivered this set of trickster’s variations on a theme with gusto, taking obvious joy in its flashiness.
Hu rounded out the set with Chopin’s Sonata No. 3. By that time I was not surprised to find she has a solid aesthetic feel for that composer’s colorful melodies, romantic pianistic bravado, and in-your-face key choices. (B-flat minor? Seriously?) She gave us lush color in the first movement; sparkling dexterity and a hint of fragility in the second; a transportive, beyond-lovely performance of gentle depth in the third; and rumbles and crashes of thunder brought out with joyous force in the finale. Altogether this was one of the finer Chopin performances I’ve heard in recent seasons.
A brief onstage interview with Hu and Oltuski followed the concert. As the GetClassical in School website explains, the program’s “school-time experiences are not formal concerts, nor are they academic music lessons either. They are a direct experience as to how music moves you. Topics covered include: How does a musician achieve his/her/their instrumental skill? When is a performance considered successful? How can you understand the bigger context surrounding a performance choice?”
Visits to schools from artists participating in GetClassical in School are free for both public and private schools, and GetClassical is seeking additional private sponsors for the program, which is currently operating in New York City and may expand to other locales. For more about GetClassical in School, and contact information if you’re a student or educator interested for your school, visit the website.