Pianist Michael Arnowitt, a resident of Montpelier for 35 years and now of Toronto, is returning to Vermont for his second set of solo recitals this fall.
“‘Crossroads’ is quite different from my last program,” Arnowitt said recently. “The program I played in September was a lot of colorful and imaginative pieces of music. This is more personal and expressive. I think the music on this program is more emotionally moving, deeper and more profound. I hope that’s what people are in the mood for. We’ve been going through a very emotionally moving time period.
“I think it’s highly personal music that composers put their all into,” he said.
Arnowitt will present his new program “Crossroads” at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Burlington; and at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 11, at the Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph. Performed will be music of J.S. Bach, Debussy, Mahler, Schoenberg, Arthur Lourié and Victoria Poleva.
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was not known for piano music, rather, as one of the greatest symphonists. And perhaps his greatest was the Symphony No. 9 in D Major, and the first movement, Andante comodo, in particular. For the second half of “Crossroads,” Arnowitt will perform the 25-minute movement transcribed for piano by United Kingdom pianist Iain Farrington.
“I think a lot of musicians would say that Mahler’s greatest musical achievement was the first movement of the Ninth Symphony,” Arnowitt said. “(Composer) Alban Berg wrote the greatest commentary on it. He went to the premiere of it and wrote a letter to his wife and daughter that it is all about life and death, and Mahler’s admiration of nature.
“Mahler was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition, and his score of the Ninth is littered with little marginal comments where he’s saying ‘farewell,’” Arnowitt said. “I find this music just utterly riveting and moving.”
Arnowitt often has performed piano transcriptions of major symphonic works.
“I’m sure that dates back to my envy of my fellow musicians who were in symphony orchestras,” he said. “I don’t have any way to play in Mahler’s Ninth Symphony — or any symphony, for that matter.”
Arnowitt was something of a prodigy, having performed as soloist with Boston Symphony twice in his youth. Still, for most of his career he lived in Montpelier, traveling to perform around the world, only recently moving to Toronto. For quite a while, he has been suffering from growing blindness, yet he has found a way to continue performing.
The legendary flutist, pianist and composer Louis Moyse said while in his 90s: “During my long musical career, I have met few really great artists in the various disciplines of the field, and I am very pleased to name Michael Arnowitt, pianist and musician as one of them. He expresses his art on the highest level. I have great respect for his interpretations and his way to communicate to any audience his feelings through his love for music.”
“I’m playing two pieces by a current Ukrainian composer, Victoria Poleva,” Arnowitt said. “I did play a number of pieces by her on my September programs, and I remember one person in the audience came up to me and commented on how soulful her music was.”
Arnowitt will perform her Sonata No. 2, “quasi una fantasia” (2011), and “Ischia Island” (2019).
“There’s a spiritual side, a dramatic side, a mysterious side I guess, a romantic side,” he said. “I would say the Sonata quasi un fantasia is influenced by Beethoven, but also by Bach. There are some common elements with Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin. It’s a tremendously moving piece of music with a lot of emotional depth.”
“Ischia Island” was not on any previous program.
“It’s nice to feel a little connected to Ukraine,” Arnowitt said. “A couple of weeks after the war broke out, she was able to find safety in Germany. She personally sent me these pieces.”
Another composer Arnowitt is championing is Arthur Lourié (1892-1966) who as born in the Soviet Union and moved to Paris, where he was in Stravinsky’s circle.
Arnowitt will perform his Mazurka, Op. 7, No. 1 (1912), Intermezzo (1928) and Marche from Quatre pièces (1927).
“His music, I just find absolutely captivating,” Arnowitt said. “All of his pieces are just a little different from each other, which I find quite an unusual thing in composers. Over the last 10 years, people have been rediscovering this composer.”
Arnowitt will open the program with “My Favorite Fugues,” four selections from J.S. Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” Books 1 and 2. Also on the program are: Claude Debussy’s Étude No. 3, “Pour les quartes” (1915); and “Arnold Schoenberg’s Piano Piece Op. 11 no. 1, and Six Small Piano Pieces Op. 19.”
“I know a lot about music. I know a lot about the details of composition, about harmony, about motifs. I know about sound and tone color,” Arnowitt said. “I know a lot about the nitty-gritty of music, but I still have felt my entire career, and I still feel to this day that the reason we perform is not to do with any of this technical stuff, it has to do with communication of human emotions and human experiences.”