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The Abby Whiteside Foundation Presents John Kamitsuka, Pianist, at Weill Recital Hall

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The Abby Whiteside Foundation
(Whiteside Foundation Website)

John Kamitsuka, Pianist
(Web Page)

Weill Recital Hall
(Carnegie Hall Website)

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 17, 2015


Toshiyuki Ozaki (b. 1946): ”Isolation” for Klavier (1981).
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, “Appassionata” (1804–1806).
Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953): ”Romeo and Juliet”, Ten Pieces for Piano, Op. 75 (1937).

Once in a blue moon, one is fortunate to attend a concert of such meaningful impact, that it replays continuously in the mind. Magnifying that experience can be an emotional intimacy with one of the performed works. Just this serendipitous experience happened tonight, like a “mid-spring night’s dream”, to paraphrase the title of a Shakespearean play and ballet. And, it just so happened that tonight’s, personally familiar work was the Suite of Ten Pieces for Piano, from which the orchestral score was built, from the ballet, Romeo and Juliet, based on another Shakespearean play. In tonight’s program notes, written by John Kamitsuka, an artist of rare presence and mastery, we learn that Prokofiev had completed his commissioned ballet score in 1935 for the Kirov Ballet, but the ballet was first seen in 1940 at the Bolshoi. So, Prokofiev elaborated on and expanded his original piano score, making it “more pianistic”, rather than chronologically following the Shakespearean plot, debuting the Suite in concert in 1937 . And, there’s the serendipity, as last night I saw (and heard) the ballet, Romeo and Juliet at American Ballet Theatre at The Met, and tomorrow night, will do so again, to see a different cast. Mr. Kamitsuka truly made each scene spring from his Steinway keyboard with choreographed pulse.

As Mr. Kamitsuka had already completed the Ozaki and Beethoven works, when he tackled the Prokofiev, after intermission, he was primed to focus on the dramatic musical nuances. Even as I sit, here, writing this review, I begin to hear the music again, rushing, character by character. He plays lyrical street scenes of the Veronese crowds, with grandeur, joy, and his own upbeat smile. He musically re-envisions Romeo, with Benvolio and Mercutio, holding arms, prancing, and kicking high. He adds fervor to Mercutio’s pulsating solos. To create the musical arrival of the Capulets’ guests at their ball, arriving in elegance, in satin costumes, Mr. Kamitsuka waxed poetic. He proceeded to evoke the sword-fight scenes, followed by Mercutio’s dervish death and Tybalt’s torturous demise, with pronounced magnitude and momentum.

At this point, we have already heard the reverent and quiet, Friar Lorenzo’s parish scene, the lavish, propulsive, Capulet march in synchronized steps, and Romeo’s Montague masked trio of pals, taunting and evading Tybalt and the Capulets. Mr. Kamitsuka’s piano keys glistened like crystal, in the “Lily Dance of the Maidens”, and the Suite ends, rather than in the tomb, with Romeo’s farewell to Juliet, with sensual adoration and longing. In the Capulet march, Mr. Kamitsuka expands the tonal weight and atonal pitch with poignancy and power. This piano Suite is mesmerizing, especially for a balletomane, in the midst of the Met season.

Earlier tonight, Mr. Kamitsuka began with Toshiyuki Ozaki’s ”Isolation” for Klavier, composed in 1981. Mr. Kamitsuka’s notes describe “Isolation” as having warnings, a “wise man-prophets quality” in the theme, with an indicated “molto expressivo” on the composition. Rather than analyze the various, musical “episodes” in the program notes, I enjoyed the work in the gestalt. “Isolation” has a highly contemporary motif, with pregnant pauses, contemplative phrases, and intense staccato chords. It’s moody, with waterfalls of repetitive scales and racing passages, seemingly across the entire keyboard. In the first half of the piece, the music builds, considerably, in volume, for a gripping effect.

Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata, which followed the Ozaki work, opened with the “Allegro assai” movement. This was performed with the utmost confidence, as Mr. Kamitsuka propels the theme with a train of emotions. The program notes indicate that Beethoven composed this piece, during his self-salvation, battling depression from his growing deafness. Mr. Kamitsuka describes the Sonata as a psychological and artistic process that leads to Beethoven’s acceptance of “mysteries with faith and hope”. The “Andante con moto-attacca l’Allegro” seemed to have enormous deliberation and depth of sadness, as well as reverence and yearning. The final “Allegro ma non troppo-Presto” was ebullient and swirling, ravishingly racing across the keyboard, with the theme reinventing itself, seamlessly.

Mr. Kamitsuka was invited back to the stage several times, by vocal accolades and endless applause. We were treated to three encores: The Chopin Étude No. 3, Op. 10, with its poetic, romantic theme, Prokofiev’s Toccata in D minor, Op. 11, an exciting and especially challenging piece, with left and right hands shifting keyboard positions, amidst musical momentum, and, finally, Ibert’s The Little White Donkey, a rambunctious, frolicking work. Kudos to John Kamitsuka.

After this thrilling recital, I asked Mr. Kamitsuka to send his comments on tonight’s program choices. His response is copied below.

“Regarding the programming- I try to include a living composer on my programs, so this year it was the Ozaki piece. Last spring during a walk, I had an intuition about what the Appassionata was expressing so I decided to work on it and include it on the program. The complete Prokofiev Suite is rarely played, and after playing Prokofiev's Sonatas I was drawn to the Suite because it has such a different character from the Sonatas. The Toccata as an encore was a continuation of highlighting Prokofiev's many facets. The Chopin Etude was chosen as a way to alleviate the sadness of how the Prokofiev Suite ends.”

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at