Markus Groh makes musical connections

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Entertainment,Music,Emily Cary

Pianist Markus Groh, an unabashed fan of Franz Liszt, will treat his Kennedy Center audience Saturday to two of the nine sections of "Annees de Pelerinage," one of the most exciting examples of the composer's gift for painting musical scenes.

"Piano literature is so vast that you can choose any configuration," said Groh, speaking from his home in Berlin. 'What I don't like is a program that has no connections, so I have chosen Liszt for that role. He was a child prodigy and a visionary who opened up the piano in many ways. He was influenced by Chopin and the music of the 19th century. In a way, he almost sounds like an early Debussy. He lets the piano speak in so many different ways and has a very creative way of transferring works by others to his very own style, as in his transcriptions.

"Through his transcriptions, Liszt made time to bring works he thought were great to others. There was no radio then or any way to hear music except in the concert hall. Schubert's songs became popular because of him, and he performed the piano arrangement of Berlioz's 'Symphonie fantastique' almost 15 years before the orchestral version was published. I will play his transcription of 'O du mein holder Abendstern' from 'Tannhauser,' as well as his paraphrase of a theme from Verdi's 'Rigoletto.'

Of the seven works Groh has chosen to span the history of the piano, the Bach Partita No. 4 written for the harpsichord around 1728 and Beethoven's Sonata in A major begun in 1816 represent the composers' productive middle years. Jumping forward more than a century, Paul Hindemith composed Sonata No. 3 before leaving his home in Germany for Switzerland and eventually coming to the United States. It evolves into a fugue reminiscent of Bach and Beethoven.

Onstage
Markus Groh
» Where: Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, 2700 F St. NW
» When: 2 p.m. Saturday
» Info: $38; 202-785-9727, 800-444-1324, 202-467-4600; wpas.org, kennedy-center.org

The most recent work on the program is "Levante" for piano solo written by Osvaldo Golijov in 2004. The virtuoso piece is based on a chorus from his "St. Mark Passion" composed in 2000 to honor the 250th anniversary of Bach's death. It incorporates jazz, blues and the tango from his native Argentina. Now a professor of music at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., Golijov studied with George Crumb at the University of Pennsylvania. The high-profile composer received a MacArthur Fellowship and two Grammy Awards in 2007 for his opera, "Ainadamar," one for the Best Classical Contemporary Composition, the other for Best Opera Recording. Among his commissions are multiple works for the Kronos Quartet and soprano Dawn Upshaw.

Groh's busy career takes him to concert and recital halls around the world. But one of his joys is spending time each summer at his own Bebersee Festival in a lovely wooded area about 60 miles from Berlin. There, he and his friends perform music suggested by a theme. This year the focus is on big legends who died in the recent past, their special personalities, and and their connections to musicians and others who knew them.

"I want the Kennedy Center audience to enjoy the music I've chosen," he said. "It's quite a difficult program, but Washington is a place where you can play great music because the people are concentrated on understanding. They will pick up many subtle nuances along the way and experience some new aspects of the music. For example, Golojov's 'Levante' is fun to play. I love his chamber music and want people to listen to and enjoy it."

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