Andre Watts In Concert and Conversation

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Donald Isler
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Andre Watts In Concert and Conversation

Post by Donald Isler » Tue Apr 09, 2019 12:24 pm

Andre Watts In Concert and Conversation
Terrance McKnight, Host
Merkin Hall, New York City
April 6th, 2019

Scarlatti: Two Sonatas
Haydn: Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI/48
Liszt: En Rêve
Liszt: Concert Etude No. 3 "Un Sospiro"
Chopin: Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 1
Chopin: Etude in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 25, No. 7
Chopin: Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23

This program was divided between performances of pianist Andre Watts, and discussions about his life, and career with Terrance McKnight, of radio station WQXR.

McKnight said he first met, and heard Watts when he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He had already been exposed to gospel music, popular music and some classical music. But when he heard Watts he realized that "This is the musical world where I want to live!" McKnight went on to express his gratitude for Watts having listened to his graduation recital program, as he prepared it, and for his help and encouragement over the years. He even turned a currently used expression, "White Privilege," on its head by saying that knowing Watts had exposed him to "Black Privilege."

"Black Privilege?!" What's that?

"When I came to the artist's room at a Watts concert, the guards always figured I somehow belonged there" he explained.

Watts and McKnight did not discuss racism at length, though they talked about growing up in environments that did not have the highest respect for Black boys who were serious students of classical music. But, though this African American pianist (Watts) made history, especially when he burst forth on the scene at the age of sixteen, playing the Liszt E-Flat Major Concerto, substituting for an ailing Glenn Gould, he speaks of music in universal terms. "Music makes a perfect common denominator" he said. "All people laugh and cry. Music is 'received' by all people, and brings out these emotions in them."

Watts was one of four winners at the 1962 Young Peoples' Concert auditions of the New York Philharmonic. But it was when he was later asked by Leonard Bernstein to substitute for Gould that he became a sensation. "There would be concerts on Thursday and Friday, and we would record on Sunday" he was told. That early 1963 performance, recorded for television, was my first exposure to Watts. His career took off from there.

Sitting on stage with Terrance McKnight, Andre Watts' comments indicated a rather modest demeanor, thoughtful and quiet, trying to find just the right words for the stories he was telling.

Though he's had a big-time career ever since 1963 I've somehow only heard him once or twice in concert since then. My loss! But, I wondered, how does the 72 year old Andre Watts compare with the 16 year old I remember?

Whereas he impressed with his brilliance as a young man, today one notes the elegance of his playing. His fingers work just fine, but it is the refinement in his playing that one notices. He is not an "extremist" who feels the need to play faster or louder than everyone else, though he CAN play fast and loud. One notices that the playing is always in good taste, and the music, as he plays it "makes sense."

The first Scarlatti sonata was slow, sensitive, intimate, and very individual. The second, much faster sonata was witty, and emphasized repeated notes. Interestingly, Watts played this one without pedal.

The first movement of the unusual two movement Haydn sonata seems improvisatory, but is kind of a set of variations on a theme which comes back rather dramatically in major and minor, and with filigree passagework, chromaticism, and chords. I was a bit surprised how fast Watts played this, though it "worked." The contrasting second movement was jolly, yet nuanced.

The two Liszt works were beautifully played. En Rêve was lovely, with sounds like magic bells, and Un Sospiro was alternately powerful and lyrical, but always expressive.

The Chopin Nocturne on this program was also included in a concert I heard Watts play many years ago. I remember being impressed by how he played it then, and was impressed again this time. Everything seemed to come forth in an organic manner, it was tautly held together, and there was a wonderful "arrival" in C-Sharp Major at the end.

The Chopin Etude, sometimes called the "Cello Etude" was very idiomatically played, demonstrating the pianist's understanding of this music.

The concluding G Minor Ballade began in an improvisatory, and somewhat quieter manner than one sometimes hears it, but became more powerful later on, though Watts never felt the need to impress with excessive speed. It ended strongly, and Mr. Watts' enthusiastic audience responded with a standing ovation.

Donald Isler
Donald Isler

Ricordanza
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Re: Andre Watts In Concert and Conversation

Post by Ricordanza » Thu Apr 11, 2019 5:21 pm

Thanks for your review, Don. In addition to a couple of concerto appearances, I've heard Watts twice in recital--once in the 1980's and then in 2014. He remains one of my favorite pianists.

Rach3
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Re: Andre Watts In Concert and Conversation

Post by Rach3 » Fri Apr 12, 2019 2:49 pm

Yes,thanks.By pure luck, I heard the Young Persons concert on tv ,and then again by pure chance the following NYPO radio broadcast when he filled in for Gould, both in real time.Bernstein called him a “Persian prince.” About 15-20 years ago, I and another cm friend were able to locate 2 of the 3 young girls who also played on that tv concert, Mozart PC 23. Always admire his playing.He did a great solo lp of Gershwin,too.

John F
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Re: Andre Watts In Concert and Conversation

Post by John F » Sat Apr 13, 2019 4:42 am

André Watts has dropped out of sight in recent years. He's had health problems since 2002 and is now teaching at Indiana University. But it's a comedown for an artist of his standing to play at Merkin Hall, a pocket-sized venue (450 seats) two blocks north of Lincoln Center, instead of Alice Tully or Zankel Hall.
John Francis

Rach3
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Re: Andre Watts In Concert and Conversation

Post by Rach3 » Sat Apr 13, 2019 1:56 pm

The 1963 Young People's Concert, sound not very good, but worth hearing.Watts starts at about 33:30 in.The NYT critic said he played the Liszt PC #1 ( at the subsequent NYPO subscription concert where Watts filled-in for Gould ) more as a tone poem than concerto.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjGFSzQBjYc&t=249s

Rach3
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Re: Andre Watts In Concert and Conversation

Post by Rach3 » Thu Apr 18, 2019 9:54 am

Interesting , Watts did not play the Grieg Concerto until he was over 50.I did hear him give a great reading of the MacDowell PC # 2 on tv, live with the Detroit Symphony in 2013,only a snippet of which is at YT:

https://www.orsymphony.org/concerts-tic ... interview/

Rach3
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Re: Andre Watts In Concert and Conversation

Post by Rach3 » Thu Apr 18, 2019 10:00 am

Sorry,forgot the MacDowell snippet link :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6c13-TOAr4


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