Courtesy of Cornell University

January 31, 2019

Cornell Piano Recital Opens The Season for Barnes Hall

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Relaxing — that’s the type of music I expected from “Fugitive Resonance: The Piano in the Early Twentieth Century,” a weekend concert series in Barnes Hall presented by Cornell’s Department of Music. Featuring internationally acclaimed pianist and composer Jocelyn Ho, as well as students from the studios of pianists Xak Bjerken and Ryan McCullough, the series consisted of pieces from pieces from composers like Claude Debussy and Arnold Scheoenberg. Although Ho is known for his tranquil nocturnes like “Claire de Lune,” the lecture-recital showcased a dynamic array of moods.

Joshua Sadinsky ’19 imagines Debussy’s Les Collines d’Anacapri as a work inspired by his visits to the coast town of Anacapri, Italy, where the alternating currents of cool and warm, serene and trepidatious are prominent in the prelude’s contrasting rhythms. Similarly, performer Thomas Reeves grad, a Ph.D. student in the Center for Applied Math, describes Poissons d’or as a piece having “playfully ornamented pentatonic scales [that] help make this piece the most whimsical of the set.”

The Blüthner piano used in the festival has an additional string on the upper pitches which shortens notes and creates a rich, complex tone that Debussy loved, says Prof. Roger Moseley, music, director of the Cornell Center for Historical Keyboards.

“The piano offers performers and listeners the opportunity of exploring new dimensions of piano sound while also opening up historical perspectives on how this music was played and heard in its own day,” Moseley said.

In Program I of the series, soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon sang cinq poémes de Charles Baudelaire in its original French. Gibbon’s vocal range and skill are unquestionable, but her choice of morose melodies and singing a language largely unknown to the audience did not connect well. Rather than perform five lesser-known pieces, one or two more popular ones would have maintained interest and prevented some listeners from leaving in between her songs.

Programs II and III featured violin and piano pieces from Wayne Lee and Mike Lee, respectively. Program IV presented pieces from the Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen in Wien. According to Bjerken and Moselesy, Verein shielded avant-garde composers from the attacks of traditionally oriented Viennese critics and concert-goers. Verein is an appeal to open-mindedness and a warning against a rush to judgment.

The trills and undulating patterns captured my imagination, but they also helped drift one audience member to sleep. After dozing off, the man’s snores resonated through Barnes, disrupting the performance. This reaction only speaks to the power of the music.

Caeli MacLennan ’21, a horn player in the Cornell Symphony Orchestra, called out, “It’s a good thing if people fall asleep. Some of the pieces are lullabies, so that means it’s working!”


Ariadna Lubinus is a sophomore in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at [email protected]