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Benjamin Smith at the Piano: StirlingFEST brings it home!

StirlingFEST's classical performance featuring Benjamin Smith and a program of popular beloved works by Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin brought the audience at St. John's Anglican Church in Stirling this afternoon to its feet. But for me the most exciting part of the program was the final work, Leo Ornstein's Sonata No. 4 (c. 1924). Ben told us a little bit about this work, its origins in Ornstein's explorations of the new musical language being developed by Debussy, Ravel, and Satie as well as Jewish and Russian influences from his formative training. When Ben sat down at the piano and began to play this final selection, once dubbed "Futurist" , now '"Modernist", it all became clear: Ornstein owns Ben's musical soul. The first movement of the Ornstein, evocative of Debussy its widely spaced harmonies and almost quoting Clair de Lune, was interesting enough. Even more exciting was to see this virtuoso pianist open up as a musician, tossing off the techical challenges like child's play such that the listener heard only the effect, not the effort. But the second movement, with its opportunities for sounding the different registers of the piano in contrast and collussion, invoked the pianist's ear for a polyphonic concept of colour and suggested a whole new plane of listening. By the third movement, suggestion became an imperative fully realized by Ben as he brought forward the composer's intentions. In places the result was deeply moving, in others just plain fun. Progressively, the overall effect grew ncreasingly complex and profound. The last movement in particular indicated Ornstein's compositional tendency to juxtaposition rather than develpment, yet under Ben's hand the statement attained coherence as a whole for a convincing and meaningful expression of creative intention.

I just loved this piece of music and Ben's way of bringing it life. Ornstein died in 2002. He was an artist of our times. The work was written in 1924, between two world wars, on the heels of pogrum, revolution, world-wide economic depression, genocide and the rise and fall of a two totalitarian regimes. As such Ornstein's artistic expression is informed by the chaos of 20th century politics and the ethos of modernity. Ben brought to its performance a clarity of sound evident in the precise delivery of the Beethoven Bagatelles with which he opened the concert, the grasp of musical structure and technical mastery in evidence in his performance of Schubery's Fantasy in C Major and the attention to complex voice leading he showed in the Chopin Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66 that followed. All the factors that mark Ben Smith as a superb pianist came together in this final program selection in a way that could only leave the listener wanting more and excited about classical music in the modern era. Congratulations StirlingFEST on choosing an excellent soloist. QSCM followers - make note: Benjamin Smith will be BACK. Expect to see him in QSCM's programming soon!

Pianist Ben Smith (Centre) with StirlingFest Ex.Dir Robert Wright (Left) and Host, Eric Friesen (Right) enjoying post-concert refreshments at St. John's in Stirling ON

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