On Saturday, Feb. 4, Brian Ganz, pianist and Artist-in-Residence here at St. Mary’s, performed in St. Mary’s Hall to preview his performance at the Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda. Ganz returned to the Strathmore on Feb. 11 to continue his project to perform all the works of 19th century Polish-French composer Frédéric Chopin.
Ganz’s performance at the Strathmore was his second in his decade long project to play all works by Chopin with the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Ganz invited everyone to come to the Strathmore to see his performances and provided flyers for publicity. He said all members of the audience should distribute them “where is appropriate… or not too inappropriate,” a comment which received laughs from the audience.
Ganz announced the theme of this performance was “Dances and Fantasies,” in which he would be playing the three genres that Chopin “enjoyed composing the most.” Ganz explained that with Chopin’s music, there is “always a tremendous amount happening beneath the surface.”
After playing two Polonaises, Ganz performed the Fantasy in F minor from Op. 49. He said this is a type of piece “which affords the composer a certain degree of freedom.” Before playing, Ganz said to the audience, “I hope you will enjoy this journey.”
Ganz then performed Impromptu No. 2 in F-sharp major from Op. 36 and Fantasy-Impromtu from Op. 46. To end the first half of the performance, he played the Waltz in A-flat major, requesting that the audience “imagine dancers dancing to a Waltz and what they’re listening to” as a way to prepare for the piece. Ganz explained how this piece is a fairly difficult one to play because there are different rhythms in the left and right hands.
During intermission, senior Jessie Blair stated, “[Ganz] is fun to watch. It’s so entertaining to watch him play. It’s almost like watching a sentence form… You know when he’s finished with a piece, you can see it in his face.”
“I love piano; I used to play piano,” said sophomore Eric Burns. “So far I’m very, very, very impressed [by Ganz]. He’s incredible.”
“I feel like I’ve gotten arthritis just watching,” said Blair in reference to how Ganz’s hands are practically a blur as he plays his pieces.
After intermission, Ganz performed the Polonaise-Fantasy from Op. 61, which was, according to Ganz, the “last large scale piece for solo piano” composed by Chopin. Ganz admitted he did not like this piece when he originally learned it as a teenager but has since come to enjoy and understand it more. For this piece, Ganz encouraged the audience to “dream along with Chopin.”
Ganz then played a series of four Mazurkas, which are quintessential Polish folk dances. According to Ganz, “the dance originated outside Warsaw, where [Chopin] grew up… He spent the second half of his life away from home, so writing Mazurkas was very special.”
The last piece Ganz performed, Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante from Op. 22, was composed by Chopin in the era “when he was still trying to decide if he wanted to be a solo performer,” said Ganz. In total, Chopin performed in concert only 33 times, which is a quarter to half the size of a single performing season, according to Ganz. Chopin eventually decided not to be a soloist because to him, “performing was pure torture,” said Ganz. However, deciding not to be a solo performer gave Chopin more time to compose, allowing his music to mature more quickly.
Ganz played all of his pieces without any audible mistakes and came back after a lengthy applause to perform a “goodnight kiss” for the audience. The audience gave Ganz a standing ovation, which he responded to with a bow and a huge smile.
All performances by Ganz take place in St. Mary’s Hall and are free and open to the public.