Andre Watts Sunday May 21, 2006
Andre Watts Plays it Perfect
By Glen Creason
How appropriate that the great artist Andre Watts performed from works of true genius, including the very best composers of piano music for the Wayne J. Shilkret Memorial Tribute Fund Benefit Concert on Sunday. The fund is the wonderful idea of the Friends of the Cerritos Center to celebrate the extremely important role of this former director in developing the cultural powerhouse that has become of the most important theaters in the West. The Tribute Fund works toward supporting musical education projects, helping to create opportunities for future musical artists and possibly even another visionary like Mister Shilkret. In his tenure, from 1997 to his untimely death in 2001 the Center thrived and presented seasons of perfect balance between the popular and the culturally invigorating. Alongside acts like Willie Nelson, John Denver or Loretta Lynn Shilkret gave us Kathleen Battle, Betty Buckley, the Buena Vista Social Club, the Dance Theater of Harlem and Jose Carreras. Moreover, the man was known for his class and grace under pressure in the Fine Arts field. As the poet said about both men “and thus he bore without abuse, the grand old name of gentleman.”
Thus, one of classical music’s elegant standard bearers represented the Cerritos gentleman with a program and performance that did them both proud. Beginning with two rondos from Mozart (in D Major K. 485 and in a minor, K. 511) Maestro Watts was in top form moving from the intense yet playful first piece through the deeply melancholy second with a velvety touch that made it seem as if his right hand only poised over the keys while the notes flowed out. In Beethoven’s Sonata in D, Opus 10 no. 3 Watts once again was challenged by the technical demands of the gusto of the dynamic opening Presto and the ringing audience cell phone evident in the solemn Largo. After the sobering Largo the allegro of the menuetto was like a romp in a meadow but the sweetly lyrical Rondo: allegro was superb. The first half finished with a Schubert Sonata in a minor D, D.784, opus 143, a forgotten “oddity” exhumed in the 20’s to demonstrate the prolific composer’s true genius in this form. The rather stern beginning gave way to sublime expressions of emotion and the final Allegro vivace was so bold as to get the audience to sit upright and be astounded at the closing crescendo.
The second half was even better, sending up technical challenges that would break any but a true master. Mr. Watts colorful Nocturne in c-sharp minor, Op. 27, no. 1 by Chopin was simply exquisite but the Ballade no. 1 in c minor bloomed from an intimacy to a glorious sonic voyage. The playing of two pieces from Ravel’s “Miroirs” once more was pristine, actually sending birds fluttering around the hall in “Oiseaux tristes” and creating a natural dreamscape in “La Valle des cloches” The finale of Debussy’s “Danse” was playful and lively enough to lighten the hearts of all in the appreciative audience. The elegant Andre Watts, bowed politely, strode to the wings and returned for one triumphant romantic piano (possibly a Chopin etude)encore which punctuated a wonderful afternoon perfectly.