On Wednesday, March 11th, renowned musicians Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu performed in St. Mary’s Hall. The concert included a solo piece for each performer and a piece commissioned especially for the duo.
Jeff Silberschlag introduced them, noting that Nakamatsu, the pianist, was on the faculty at Julliard and that clarinetist Manasse was playing at the Lincoln Center the following day.
Manasse did most of the talking when he and Nakamatsu were on stage, appearing more at ease than his counterpart and joking with the audience. That lasted until Nakamatsu’s solo performance, when he joked with the audience about Manasse’s love for speaking.
The first piece, a duet by Burgmuller, was full of movement. The performers had the same style of playing, capturing the energy of the piece in each note. The third piece was by Mendelssohn for solo piano. Nakamatsu’s hands were a blur during the performance and it was easy to tell why he was considered a world-class pianist.
Manasse explained that his solo, a piece by Kovacs, was originally intended as an etude, but that if it was “performed with humor and a bit of fantasy as Kovacs said was necessary” it was fit for the concert stage. His performance certainly was fit for the concert hall, as he brought the same energy and enthusiasm to the Homage to Bach as to every other piece that evening.
The final and most entertaining work was called Four Rags for Two Jons. Manasse explained that there were originally only supposed to be three rags, but the composer enjoyed writing them so much that there ended up being four. Manasse and Nakamatsu had the audience snapping their fingers during the second, and when they ended the audience applauded for so long that they returned to the stage twice more.
“We really love the rags because they’re pieces that were written for us,” said Nakamatsu. They’re fun – they’re an opportunity to play something different. We get to have fun on the stage in a way that in a very traditional concert with very traditional repertoire you don’t get to do.”
They were brought together by their manager on the basis of their playing styles. “It was his idea that based stylistically on how we played individually, he thought that we would play very well together. And he was one hundred percent right on that one,” said Manasse. “In terms of the similarities, we both seem to have a desire for a pure aspect of the instrument and the music so to speak. It just coincides very well in terms of the tonal concept and how we shape phrases.”
“It’s kind of a new experience as a pianist because it’s really the first,” said Nakamatsu. “In terms of working together, it’s really a collaboration in the closest sense. Two people have very similar ways of thinking about a score. We do have very similar sensibilities.”
The similarities come through in their performances. “They have a stage presence like I’ve never seen before,” said first-year Emily Skeen. “They play beautifully together and it helps keep the audience engaged.”
Jon Manasse and Jon Namakatsu’s 2008 CD, Brahms Sonatas, was given rave reviews in the New York Times and named one of the ten best overall of the year.