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PGC Blog
Art triumphs at the McCarter over pain, disease, anguish, and suffering

Ralph Malachowski

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posted by Ralph Malachowski on May 9, 2018 10:30am | comments


The McCarter Theatre Center presented pianist Jeremy Denk in recital on May 1, 2018. Mr. Denkís program included Mozartís Rondo in A Minor, K. 511, Prokofievís†Visions Fugitives, Op.22, Beethovenís Sonata No. 30, in E Op. 109, and Schubertís Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960.

Mr. Denk, a distinguished pianist, has been awarded the MacArthur Fellowship as well as the Avery Fisher Prize for his exciting, innovative work in music. Princeton audiences were not disappointed this lovely spring afternoon. Jeremy Denk immersed himself in the exploration of death, the process of painful death, and the triumph of the human spirit in the face of incipient mortality. Mozartís Rondo is no happy affair, but a seething examination of the consolation of death. Beethovenís Sonata No. 30 is one of his last works, a mystical, ineluctable challenge for the greatest pianists. Prokofievís Visions Fugitives, rarely heard, reminds us of the mystical realms of Debussyís Pelleas et Melisande more than the realities of the Soviet Union. Pointedly, Mr. Denk eschewed his original concluding work by Schumann, to present the agonizingly emotional Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960, written weeks before Schubertís grisly death.

Intriguingly, both Mozart and Schubert died of tertiary syphilis, and this recital pointed to the possibilities this illness could cause geniuses to record for posterity. Mr. Denk commented to the audience about a few of his ideas. He incited us to believe that the singing, dancing, melancholy of the music could be the diseaseís giddiness and rushing of blood, while the headaches and sensations of disgust at the sight of food and other delusions could indeed have found voice by these masters, especially in the Schubert. Mr. Denk chose to disrupt the melodic line to great effect with numerous hammer blows at the keyboard during the Schubert. Was this musical innovation, or a comment to the world about frequent sharp, agonizing pains, about how the world now was felt, heard, and experienced by the artist?

Mr. Denk spoke at length about his opinions and feelings about the works. Like a seducer, he whispered his innermost feelings to the audience. He impishly relished talking about the Schubert sonata, Schubertís death, and whatever we chose to think about it was totally up to us.

The Schubert sonata concluded the afternoon, and by this time the Princeton audience was totally and irrevocably impregnated by Mr. Denkís magic spell. It was then that the unexpected happened. The magnolia trees which had innocently stood about the Princeton campus perfuming the balmy air sprang to life. Rushing into the auditorium, the trees spared us from disintegration, bringing us back to the living world, kissing us with their tender petals. This miracle, no doubt attributable to Saint Harvey Milk, allowed the audience to come alive again to applaud the vigorous, dynamic recital we had lived through. We were all better able to face life after being terrified, soothed, and consoled.

The McCarter Theatre Center presents music, dance, theatre, and allied arts. For example, for our LGBTQ+ readers, there will be a Pride Night, May 17. For information about this season as well as next season, visit

NOTE: Opinions are those of the author, and not necessarily those of or of any organization or business that the author is assosciated with.

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