For the professional musician, a Carnegie Hall debut is a momentous occasion. To some, it's a milestone that marks a foray onto the international stage. Yet for others, it goes beyond personal accomplishment, instead providing the opportunity for musical growth: both for the performer as well as for the concertgoer who may be hesitant to stray from the standard repertoire.
"I'm very excited about this," said Jeremy Denk, who is making his solo recital debut in Carnegie Hall this November. "I have a certain sense of responsibility about this concert."
For Denk, who has appeared at Carnegie Hall in chamber music with violinist Joshua Bell and cellist Steven Isserlis, the chance to pair two unlikely piano sonatas in his Carnegie Hall recital allows him the opportunity to champion one of his favorite composers, Charles Ives. Denk argues that Ives's other career: that of an insurance salesman: has become a "musical soundbite" that makes him easy to dismiss as a composer.
To counteract such typecasting, Denk has coupled Ives's mammoth Sonata No. 2: subtitled "Concord, Mass., 1840 _60" by the composer: with Beethoven's equally colossal but more familiar "Hammerklavier" Sonata. Like Beethoven's work, Ives's "Concord" Sonata is not for the faint of heart, which may explain why it's not often programmed. "A lot of people: my colleagues included: look at the morass of notes and they give up," Denk said.
Denk likens Ives's music to "a puzzle that reveals its secrets slowly," and a "cocktail of compositional genius, exuberant joy, and audacity." For him, the sonata's second movement is the most striking, demanding hair-raising moments of virtuosity while also delving into not-so-subtle musical discord. "Ives tries to hide the beautiful parts by decorating them with ancillary dissonances," Denk said. "But at the core you find this very expressive and lyrical movement [that] leaves you a tremendous amount of leeway, and yet it all somehow feels like an improvisation."
Unlike Denk, Jennifer Montone is not championing specific composers, but rather an instrument that rarely gets exposure on the solo stage. As principal horn with the Philadelphia Orchestra, she is no stranger to Carnegie Hall, but her recent recital debut in October was the first time she appeared in a chamber setting tailored exclusively to the French horn.
"I was ecstatic," said Montone. "People usually consider the traditional solo instruments of piano, violin, and cello to be what they likely choose to go see, so this recital was an amazing opportunity for a horn player. I'm grateful to Carnegie Hall because I know this was going out on a limb."
She offered a provocative mix of music to showcase the fluid and lyrical nature of the horn. Montone was joined by pianist Cecile Licad and tenor Richard Croft in a program that included works by Bozza, Schubert, Saint-SaêŠns, Schumann, and Britten, among others.
One of the more unexpected pieces on the program was a world premiere by David Ludwig. "David writes music that makes sense to your heart and your brain the way all great composers do," Montone said. "This [particular] work delved into some of the special effects offered by the French horn."
The opportunity to break free from the standard repertoire is also a welcome departure for bass-baritone Eric Owens. "It's such an honor," Owens said, as he continues to plan his Carnegie Hall debut. "And Weill Recital Hall is the perfect venue for me because it is so intimate."
The first half of Owens's April recital will include a cycle of Brahms songs and Schubert lieder. He has yet to pick the repertoire for the second half, but promises to include a few surprises.
Jeremy Denk will debut in Zankel Hall on Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at 7:30 PM. Jennifer Montone's debut was in Weill Recital Hall on Wednesday, October 22. Eric Owens will debut in Weill Recital Hall on Friday, April 24, 2009 at 7:30 PM.