By: Iride Aparicio

Photos Courtesy: The Steinway Society

SILICON VALLEY, CA-- Music that belongs to different Musical Styles, or Eras, is seldom heard in a single Classical piano concert, but virtuoso pianist Jon Nakamatsu gave his audience the opportunity to listen to three Classical Eras of music during his Live and Live streamed concert at the Hammer Theater Center in San José, on October 1st. The pianist started his concert with a Berg's Sonata belonging to the Nineteenth Century Music Era, backtracking it to (1780 to 1830) the Classical Era of Brahms and in between playing the music belonging to to the Romantic Era of Chopin (1830-1900).

For those music lovers who may be unfamiliar with Concert Pianist Jon Nakamatsu, we can say that he is from California, and a graduate student from Stanford University from where he has a BA in German and a Master degree in Education. As a Concert pianist, he is also the only American gold Medalist to win the top honor at the tenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition since l981.  Nakamatsu travels extensively in recital tours, and has given concerts in New York's Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, in Boston and in Chicago. His European concerts include: Paris London and Milan.  The pianist has also has played with string quartets, is a member of the Manasee/Nakamatsu duo and had toured extensively with the Berlin Philharmonic. Because of his piano expertise since 1997, Nakamatsu serves as a juror in International Piano Competitions including the one from the Julliard School in New.York. His recorded music is recorded exclusively by Harmonia Mundi USA.
His piano playing mastery, the elegance in his concerts' presentation and the clarity of sound in his playing had earned Nakamatsu the name of "The keyboard aristocrat," among some music critics.

His San José concert included: Nineteen Century Music in the Sonata for Piano, Op 1 written by German composer Alban Berg (l885-1935) that he based on the sounds of Strindberg's 12 tone scale, which is a musical scale of 12 semi-tones that may start on any note in the piano and moving up by a half steps until reaching its octave, (the note from where it started, but one octave higher. (Example: from A to G# which is the 12th step before going back to A an octave higher.)

His second piece, after a short intermission, was Johannes Brahms, (1833-l897) Sonata No 3 in F Minor, Op 5, belonging to the Austrian Classic Romantic Period, and he ended the program with the so called Instrumental ballads and Polish music of Frederick Chopin (l810-1849).

© Maggie Estes.jpg

In his short introductory talk with the Audience, Pianist Nakamatsu explained that the Berg and the Brahms compositions he was playing, shared something, that was not musical, in common. Both pieces were written when both Berg and Brahms were in their twenties, and both composer composed their pieces with the purpose to present them to their mentors: Robert Shuman, Brahms' mentor, and Arnold Schoenberg, who was Berg's mentor and teacher. The last similarity. was that after both composers wrote these pieces, neither Berg nor Brahms ever wrote another piano sonata during their lives.

To describe Berg's Sonata for Piano Op 1 to those who are unfamiliar with the sound of the twelve tone scale is not easy, because the sound is not melodic, may clash, at times, and some musicians even consider the clashes distasteful.

So, we could say the Berg's sonata, which is not melodic, may be described as a series of chords, moving up or down the scale at different speeds, some fast and others slowly. and that in spite of being called "A Sonata," Berg did not follow the structure of a sonata classical Sonata form,  represented in written music  as  (ABA)  with A indicating the  Exposition, B the  development and A the  Recapitulation, or repetition of the theme. Berg Sonata did not have a theme we could recognize at first hearing.

We also determined that Berg's Sonata must be very difficult to memorize , because not being melodic the pianist cannot memorize its melody, and his execution require a complete mastery of not only the keyboard but of volume, because the piece changes rapidly from soft to loud and and also its temp, which may go from Largo to Presto in a matter of seconds. And the piece had a variety of different dissonant and assonant chords, some difficult to play, and changes of mood which causes its listeners to project many images in their heads.

At times it pauses, as if the melody is struggling trying to reach the high tone, and after reaching it, a chord, screams in a dissonant tone. At other times, the chords show anger, and as their volume increase from pp to FF (very soft to very loud) bursts into a dissonant chord, before returning to the low calmer tone. And in its few beautiful sounding sections, the pianist, moving his fingers very fast on the highest piano keys, very fast but softly, must create a sound similar to the sound baby birds make when chirping, making some of us wonder, what was Berg thinking when he composed this piece.

After a short intermission, we came back to listen to Nakamatsu's interpretation of Brahms, Sonata No3 in F Minor, Op 5 which he played with all his movements: The Allegro Maestoso, that was written for a master organist or keyboard player,with the required mastery, increases in its tones and movements which change volume from piano to Forte as the music burst into powerful chords, and scales which in Nakamatsu's interpretation allowed us to hear the sound of every note clearly. His Andante moving in a slow tempo, his Scherzo, fast and energetic his Intermezzo well paced and the pianist ended his version of the work with an impressive Finale.  


But in this particular concert, where pianist  Nakamatsu demonstrated to his audience  his Piano playing mastery, was in his interpretations of Chopin's piano pieces: Fantasy in F minor, Op 69, Nocturne in B Major, Op 9, No 3, Scherzo NoFantasy in F minor, Op 69, Nocturne in B Major, Op 9, No 3,  and Scherzo No4 in E. Major, Op 54.  His big and powerful hands, the dexterity of his long fingers, and his complete control of the music, brought Chopin to life. We did not hear Chopin's music, we were allowed to experience Chopin's soul. His interpretation of Chopin's music was Jon Nakamatsu's best rendition on that night. And he most be aware of it, because his masterfully Chopin's Nocturne, which he used as his second Encore to end his concert was well paced, well interpreted, was marvelous.  

For information and to purchase tickets for future concerts in the Steinway Society Bay Area 28th Season Concert Series go to: https://steinwaysociety.com/tickets/.