This Week at the Annapolis Symphony:
Brian Ganzs Big Surprise
by Brent Seabrook
Brian Ganz wonders what will happen when he steps onto the stage at Maryland Hall this weekend. He knows hell wave to the audience and nod to guest conductor Arthur Post before he sits down at the piano. He knows hell play Fryderyk Chopins Piano Concerto in E Minor, backed by Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. He knows hell play the same notes that a thousand pianists have played, the same notes hes played himself a dozen times before.
But he also knows those notes are merely steps on a path. He has no idea where that path might lead.
Ive played this piece many times, Ganz says, and every single time I notice new things. As I was practicing earlier, I noticed a small difference between two very similar phrases in the second movement. One phrase includes a brief silence known as a rest but its not written into the other phrase. I never fully appreciated that silence. I experiment with how to highlight it and make that silence apparent to the listener. It seems minor, but those things add up.
Such attention to detail has earned Ganz nearly hyperbolic praise from critics around the world. But hes never rested on his laurels. Like athletes, there are three types of musicians: those who lack talent and rely on hard work, those who get by on talent alone and rarest of all those blessed with talent who work hard anyway. Ganz falls into that category. To raise the level of his playing to dizzying heights, hes worked hard to develop the talent he was born with.
On the piano of his grandfather, an accomplished keyboard player, Ganz played his first note. His parents nourished his play, and at nine, he was playing in earnest.
A little on the late side, he says, explaining that most kids who go on to have a career in music start as early as three seldom later than seven. But I was blessed to have magnificent teachers and the support of my family to help me make up for lost time.
A second incentive was Chopin, whose music Ganz fell madly in love with in his 11th year.
Repaying his debt, Ganz is now a teacher, nurturing students at St. Marys College in Maryland. On top of teaching, he makes time for his own career, with the demanding travel schedule of a solo performer. But there was a time when he wasnt sure he would keep performing at least solo.
I had my first recital when I was 12 and performed fairly consistently from that point on, he says. My teacher invited her manager to hear me, and her manager took me on. I earned a little money to help offset the cost of all the lessons I was taking.
But the cost of constant performance eventually outweighed the gains.
There was a period where perhaps we overdid it, in that I was a little over my head, Ganz says. It was a little bit as if Id never paused and looked at the big picture, so when I was 18 I had maybe the equivalent of a midlife crisis. I felt like I needed to stop. I needed a break.
He stopped playing solo for the next seven years, entering instead a period of intense spiritual growth.
Playing piano was no longer as satisfying to me and as nourishing for me, he says. I felt I needed to grow in other ways.
Turning inward, Ganz spent hours in prayer and meditation. To support himself, he taught piano privately. When he performed, he played chamber music disappearing into the orchestra. He studied liberal arts at Catholic University for two years but didnt take a single music course.
Then I felt called back into solo playing, he says. I felt I did have a gift that I wanted to share with the world.
His manager was happy to take him back. Ganz gave the first concert of his second career in 1985.
When I was a young man I performed a lot, but I didnt have the flexibility of soul to feel peace in the deep challenges of a solo performing career. On his return, he performed from what he calls a place of greater inner flexibility.
The challenges he speaks of come from within.
Some of the very characteristics that helped you get you where you are high standards, a willingness to work hard and be extremely judgmental of oneself have to be transcended in performance, Ganz explains. I mean, you get on stage, and you never play a piece as well as it can be played, or even as well as you can play it, so one has to be very accepting. You have to let go and love and celebrate.
Thats just what Ganz hopes to do this weekend at Maryland Hall. Not that hes forgetting the concertos technical demands.
A great deal happens in both hands, he says. At times a sort of parallel virtuosity is required. Its hard to play, in other words. But harder still, Ganz says, is to play without pride or fear, only with love and the desire to communicate. Ive glimpsed it during performances a moment of freedom and joy that was ecstatic but I havent been able to sustain it for an entire performance, and may not be able to in this lifetime.
The mere possibility that Ganz could sustain that freedom and joy for an entire performance, a single movement or even a single phrase draws music lovers in droves to Ganzs performances. For if he gets there, we might too.
Brian Ganz is soloist on Chopins Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. 8pm, Nov. 22 & 23 @ Maryland Hall, Annapolis; $25-35: 410/269-1132.