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Monday, May 27, 2024

Esteemed Pianist Serenades College

Friday Jan. 12, pianist Shai Wosner graced Robinson Hall at the Kevin P. Mahaney ‘84 Center for the Arts. He arrived in all-black, and as the lights dimmed and the hall applauded, Wosner took his place by the grand gold Steinway. As his fingers began to slide and glide on the piano, I slowly fell into a reverie.

Wosner’s renditions of Schubert’s piano sonatas are consecutively violent and delicate, loud and soft, and exaggerate both aspects. The fingers came down hard on the keys, and the pianist’s body mirrored the aggression of the louder parts. These powerful and passionate sections often took us by surprise, as a result of Wosner’s deliberate decision to enhance the contrast.

Wosner was at his best, however, when the piece got softer, subtler, faster. Then his fingers would glide and upon closing your eyes you really would be transported to the fantastic, the ethereal. Then the piano would sing, and you could dance.

In Wosner’s own words, these six sonatas are like, “six thick novels, rich with insights about the human condition.” They have an “enveloping quality” which gives him a sense of “communing” with the audience. On Friday night, as he gradually moved into yet another of the softer sections of the “Fantasie” (Sonata No. 18 in G Major), I began to understand what he meant.

This performance was part of his recently launched recital series “Schubert: The Great Sonatas.” Since the beginning of his career, he’s engaged with the composer’s music and has been described by Gramophone as a “Schubertian of unfaltering authority and character.” In the 2017-18 season, he will go on to perform Schubert’s last six piano sonatas in New York, Washington, D.C. and other venues throughout the United States and Japan.

A resident New Yorker, Wosner was born in Israel and received a comprehensive education in music from a young age, first at home and later at The Juilliard School. Currently, other than performing extensively on the classical music circuit and recording with Onyx Classics, he also sits on the faculty at the Longy School of Music in Boston.

As the pianist in the annual Sophie Shao and Friends concert, Wosner has performed here in Middlebury before. Deeply impressed by his skill and talent, the then series director Paul Nelson immediately engaged him for a solo recital. Now, after the multiple standing ovations Mr. Wosner received here in the MCA on Friday night, I have no doubt we will see him again in the (hopefully) near future.