Keyboard Conversations is an audible feast at George Mason University

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Entertainment,Music,Marie Gullard

France's Impressionist movement in art gave the world Monet and Renoir. Musically, it gave the world Claude Debussy. The composer's dreamy, other-worldly pieces, especially those written for the piano, brim with imagery.

This year is the 150th anniversary of Debussy's birth. Pianist Jeffrey Siegel is also celebrating 20 years of his widely popular programs, Keyboard Conversations. The auspicious pairing of the late 19th-century composer and the 21st-century musician and commentator was inevitable. "Claude Debussy -- Clair de Lune and Beyond" is the latest program in the keyboard series and will be presented Sunday evening at George Mason University's Center for the Arts.

"We will hear 'Clair de Lune' and several of Debussy's most famous and well-loved pieces, such as 'Girl with the Flaxen Hair' and 'Fireworks,' but we'll also hear pieces that are off the beaten track, but with the same melodic quality and the same sensuous sound as in his very famous ones," Siegel explained. "[Debussy] always said throughout his life that his goal was to give pleasure to the listener, and I always feel with this composer, if you're hearing his music, it's a feast for the ears ... a musical smorgasbord, so to speak."

To that end, the feast also includes the humorous "Homage to Samuel Pickwick," inspired by the Dickens novel, and a very sumptuous work titled "The Isle of Joy," which Siegel unabashedly calls "an X-rated piece of music."

Onstage
Keyboard Conversations
Where: George Mason University Center for the Arts, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Info: $19 to $38; youth through grade 12 half price with an adult; 888-945-2468; cfa.gmu.edu

"This is one of the most sensuous, orgiastic pieces of music ever written," Siegel continued. "And when you know what this piece is about, what inspired it and what it is actually replicating in musical tones, it [becomes] one of the most exciting [works] in the literature."

Knowledge is what Keyboard Conversations is all about. For 20 years, Siegel has explained -- briefly and in nontechnical language -- the back story of the work before performing it. He insists his programs are not lectures with musical examples, but rather concerts with a preface of commentary, and, as such, the formula has been working for 20 years and counting.

"What I'm trying to do with these programs is to make the [listening] experience more inviting, more attractive and more meaningful."

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Author:

Marie Gullard

Special to The Washington Examiner
The Washington Examiner