gil kalish

We’ll be hearing a lot about the centennial of Igor Stravinsky’s landmark ballet score The Rite of Spring next year, but I wish equal attention had been paid to this year’s centenary of an equally radical musical advance — though one far less influential because it was hardly heard at the time. Pianist Gilbert Kalish’s stirring performance of the great American composer Charles Ives’s tumultuous Concord Sonata at Portland International Piano Festival Thursday conclusively demonstrated not just how revolutionary an achievement the nearly hour long work is — but also its rough-hewn beauty, probably more evident 100 years after its creation than it was to the stuffy New Englanders of Ives’s time. In Kalish’s able hands, Ives not only evokes what turn of the century Massachusetts and its famous residents looked like, but also how they thought and how he felt about it all.

Few performers would even attempt such a complex masterwork, and not many more could handle Schubert’s equally ambitious last sonata. Kalish played both — a choice that proved unfortunately more adventurous than satisfying, because hearing the two back to back might not have been exhausting for the 77 year old piano legend but it sure was for some in the audience. Shorter, lighter weight works might have complemented the Ives better. As it was, Kalish delivered a performance of Schubert that was more thoughtful than passionate, and a little pedantic, more like giving a tour of a monumental edifice than truly inhabiting it. But Kalish’s spectacular, moving Ives performance alone was worth the price of admission, and another triumph for PPI.

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