The William S. Newman Artists Series has broken new ground thus far this season, getting off to a good start with an October 14 all-contemporary music program and then offering the local debut of pianist David Korevaar on November 3. David Who? Korevaar, b.1962 in Madison, Wisconsin, was already studying with the great Earl Wild when he presented his first recital - at the age of 14. Six years later, still working with Wild (and with Juilliard composition teacher David Diamond), he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees. He's performed widely with big-name ensembles, including the domestic group Hexagon (there's one in Europe, too), and he's made a batch of recordings, several of which were on sale during his Hill Hall recital. Like many other young lions, Korevaar has a website (http://www.jecklinassociates.com/korevaar.htm [inactive 5/04]). He's currently serving as a member of the piano faculty of the University of Colorado (Boulder).
His engagement in Chapel Hill came about through somewhat circuitous circumstances. Long-time UNC Professor Michael Zenge retired several seasons ago and surprised many Triangle residents by escaping almost immediately - to Santa Fe. In New Mexico, he's been attending (as opposed to giving) lots of concerts; among the people he's heard there are NCS Associate Conductor William Henry Curry, who was one of the New Mexico Symphony music director candidates. On a trip to Denver, he heard Korevaar, and it didn't take long for him to recommend that the W.S. Newman people snap him up for the series here.
Korevaar's program was impressive enough on paper and even more impressive in the flesh. He began with Chopin's Preludes, Op. 28 - all 24 of 'em. These were beautifully delivered in ways that enchanted listeners and made clear the composer's intent and mastery, too. Performances of the complete set are still somewhat rare although hardly unheard of; Korevaar's account stands out among the handful of other area renditions we've heard in a quarter-century of reviewing.
Chopin is known for his innovative approaches to both composition and the keyboard, and in addition to preludes, his mazurkas and etudes (or studies) are universally admired. In the wake of the preludes, however, Korevaar offered mazurkas and etudes by other composers --Szymanowski and Dohnányi, respectively. We've been known to drive a lot farther than we had to on the night of November 3 to hear live performances of music by Szymanowski; the mazurkas realized by Korevaar on this occasion--four from a set of 20 that form Op. 50--would have made the trip worthwhile, had he played nothing else, for in his realizations of them, the guest artist ratcheted up the excitement by several notches, at least.
The grand finale was Dohnányi, whose music, too, is rarely heard hereabouts. That great master's Six Concert Etudes must rank among the most difficult - and dazzling - compositions of the 20th century, and Korevaar tossed them off as if they were child's play. Granted, he stopped mid-way to remove his coat, commenting that he was warming up (!). His playing suggested a report of an early-'50s Raleigh recital by William Kapell, whose performance of Liszt's Mephisto Waltz was jokingly criticized by the late Frank Jefferson, a Capital City pedagogic icon, as "too slow"; one wonders if anyone has ever managed to play the Dohnányi set with such astonishing velocity while concurrently making every note "tell" the way Korevaar did. Certainly the composer's own performances of the last three, preserved on an old Lp, don't begin to convey the excitement that the visitor generated in Hill Hall on this occasion. The encore--a Bach prelude--unwound the enthusiastic crowd, the members of which otherwise would surely have had a hard time sleeping after Korevaar's amazing display of virtuosity and musicianship. The fact that Korevaar played everything from memory, and that there were no apparent slips, was merely icing on the cake, but come to think of it, even an experienced page turner would have been hard pressed to keep up with him--and would probably have spent most of the evening on his or her feet! At the end, Korevaar richly deserved the standing ovation he received-and the repeat bows the audience obliged him to take. Don't miss this guy when he returns; he surely will.