Whitehall-Coplay Press

Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Michael Gurt Michael Gurt

PSO favorite in all-Beethoven

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 by The Press in Focus

Pianist Michael Gurt and the Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra, under the direction of Music Director Allan Birney, perform an all-Beethoven concert, 7:30 p.m. April 20, First Presbyterian Church, Cedar Crest and Tilghman streets, Allentown.

As Lehigh Valley audiences have gotten to know Gurt during his long association with the Sinfonia, they have come to love not only his insightful playing and whirlwind encores, but also his larger-than-life personality, Louisiana accent and the time he takes to meet and chat with any listeners, especially students.

"Michael is a dream soloist for a conductor," said Birney. "He not only has a tremendous presence and command of the repertoire when he's in the spotlight, but he's also a wonderful chamber music player perfect for collaborating seamlessly with our chamber orchestra."

Birney heard pianist Michael Gurt play in recital during a festival at Amherst College in Massachusetts a couple of decades ago. Birney invited Gurt to perform as soloist with the Sinfonia, and what developed is a relationship of mutual respect and genuine friendship among Gurt and the musicians.

The Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58 on the program is probably the most unusual of Beethoven's five piano concertos, according to Birney, and is many people's favorite.

The piano begins alone, very delicate and exposed, high and seraphic, with Beethoven treating the piano like a violin. As the piece continues, the piano and orchestra play back and forth, almost as if in different realms, but gradually the piano overwhelms the orchestra and the two merge musically. The final Rondo is fast and furious, "in an elegant sort of way."

The concert opens with a work for orchestra, Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 in B Flat, Op. 60, which was written at approximately the same time as the Piano Concerto No. 4 (1806). Both are middle-period works of the composer and reflect his position as a standard-bearer for Romanticism.

This piece is not played nearly as often as most of the nine symphonies. There are hummable tunes and numerous instances in which the various instruments take turns with solo passages.

Gurt is Paula Garvey Manship Distinguished Professor of Piano at Louisiana State University. In 1982, he won First Prize in the Gina Bauchauer International Piano Competition. He has performed as soloist with major symphony orchestras across the United States and internationally, and has made solo appearances in Alice Tully Hall, New York City; Ambassador Auditorium, Los Angeles; and Capetown, South Africa, among others.

Gurt has recorded on the Naxos, Centaur and Redwood labels.

Tickets: PASinfonia. org, 610 434-7811, and at the door.