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Jeremy Denk to end “Best of All Possible Worlds” at Carnegie Hall

Pianist Jeremy Denk – once
an almost underground secret kept among music insiders – has broken into much
wider public consciousness in the last few weeks, not only because of his
triumphant series of solo recitals in Buffalo, Boston, Washington, and New York
(all of which were lavishly praised in hometown newspapers famous for national
readership), but because of his well-written and widely-read blog.

 “Think Denk”, the artist’s personal weblog
musings, received an unaccustomed number of hits when his “interview” of a
then-candidate for Vice President of the United States of America about Ludwig
van Beethoven’s mammoth Op. 106 piano sonata, the “Hammerklavier” (a
cornerstone of piano literature and of Denk’s tour program) showed up on the
blog and went viral.  A New Yorker preview of Denk’s
Carnegie Hall recital by Alex Ross, the magazine’s music critic, featured the

pianist Jeremy Denk has established himself as perhaps the leading
humorist-intellectual of the classical-music blogosphere, if that is not too esoteric
a category.  … He will play one of the most demanding recital programs in
recent memory: the ‘Hammerklavier’ and Charles Ives’s no less monumental
‘Concord’ Sonata.  Prior concerts have suggested that Denk has the chops,
the brains, and the heart to pull it off.  Whether Palin will attend is
unknown at this writing.”

 Remarkably, Denk was making his debut in this
Carnegie Hall solo recital, which was presented by the hall itself on November
11, although he had often played chamber music and concertos, and annually
partnered violinist Joshua Bell, on one or another of its stages.  Denk,
not faint-of-heart, chose to perform two enormous, revolutionary, pieces for
his evening out, each nearly an hour in length, and composed a century apart.

 The New York Times review of
the concert read, in part: 

Denk paired [Ives and Beethoven] in his exciting sold-out recital at Zankel
Hall on Tuesday night.  In the engaging program notes that this
intellectually curious pianist wrote for the occasion, he made a case for these
works, written roughly a century apart, as creative soul mates, ‘too dangerous,
wild, asymmetrical, elusive’ to be monumental. …

“I am
tempted to continue letting Mr. Denk do my work for me and just keep borrowing
his keen observations.  But the real argument for the linkage between
these pieces came with Mr. Denk’s thrilling performances.  He played these
daunting scores, each about 45 minutes, from memory, bringing a rare combination
of command and spontaneity to his dynamic performances.”

 The Boston Globe had written
earlier of Denk’s “unerring sense of the music’s dramatic structure and a great
actor’s intuition for timing.”  And the paper’s review of his
program at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – a few days before and
identical to the one he played at Carnegie Hall – said:

pianists have the fearlessness to do what Jeremy Denk pulled off … Hearing [the
Ives and Beethoven] in tandem made for a richly satisfying program, especially
with the intelligence, sensitivity, and commitment of Denk’s playing. … Hearing
the ‘Hammerklavier’ directly after the Ives made Beethoven’s work feel freshly
rambunctious and daring, and Denk’s boldly conceived, sharply etched account brought
those qualities to the fore.  The pianist also seemed keen on finding
moments of playful cross-pollination between the two works.” 

 Denk’s repertoire choices for his D.C.
pre-New York recital were described in an eloquent Washington Post review:

on these titans on the same program is a little like running back-to-back
marathons. … Denk has the chops to muscle his way through them
without breaking a sweat.  What made his performance so compelling,
however, were the intelligence, lyricism, and transparency that illuminated
everything he touched.  His attention to detail only heightened the
unfolding drama – one unexpected staccato in the midst of a cascade of notes, a
lyrical melody able to assert itself within a welter of hyperactivity and, in
the Beethoven, the powerful and authoritative mastery of silence.

“When he
wants to, Denk has the kind of touch on the keys that seems to draw the
sound from the piano.  This sort of anti-percussion gave both the Ives and
the Beethoven third movements an almost vocal quality
.  Beethoven may
have tailored this sonata for the percussive force of the piano, but his rage
raged more powerfully because, in Denk’s hands, his moments of repose were so

“For this
concert, Denk provided the most interesting and well-written program
notes I’ve ever read

 For a final warm-up in chilly Buffalo, Denk
played the “Hammerklavier” but was asked to pair it with Schubert’s equally
monumental Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960 instead of the thornier Ives –
resulting in two big works in the same key written in the same city about a
decade apart.  A Buffalo News review pointed out the
program change: 

Jeremy Denk is on his way to Carnegie Hall… . I loved hearing these two sonatas
together, comparing and contrasting, reveling in their mercurial nature. 
And the rest of the crowd seems to have agreed with me.  I have
never seen a more rapt audience

“Denk is
an unusual pianist.  He is intense but not introverted
He has a fine-tuned sense of timing and proportion, but he also pays exquisite,
unhurried attention to the music’s details
.  That was clear from the
first phrases of the Schubert, which were beautifully shaped. … 

“As an
encore, Denk played the slow movement of Charles Ives’s ‘Concord’ Sonata, the
piece he originally planned on playing here in its entirety.  He made it
charming, embracing the music’s wit and lyricism.

worry about that Carnegie Hall gig, Mr. Denk

good to go


Denk Returns to Carnegie Hall for its “Best of All Possible Worlds”

On December 13, Jeremy Denk joins singers
Susan Graham and Rod Gilfry and conductor/pianist Robert Spano for the grand
finale of “The Best of All Possible Worlds,” Carnegie Hall’s tribute to the
late Leonard Bernstein.  Denk will accompany a selection of Bernstein’s
songs and he will play the composer’s energetic transcription of his long-time
friend Aaron Copland’s El salón Mexico.

 Jeremy Denk earned a double-degree in
Chemistry and Performance at Oberlin College Conservatory before taking a
master’s degree at Indiana University, a PhD at Juilliard, and a coveted Avery
Fisher Career Grant in 1998.

 His blog is at and
his concert schedule may be found at


December 13: Zankel Hall, New York, NY
“Leonard Bernstein: The Best of All Possible

Bernstein: Arias & Barcarolles and
other songs
Susan Graham and Rod Gilfry 
Robert Spano and Jeremy Denk, pianists
Members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic

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