Admirers around the world have been celebrating the 100th anniversary of Sergei Prokofiev's birth this past week, and pianist Gary Graffman offered the Russian composer, who died in 1953, an appropriate and elegant gift Saturday night.
Graffman performed Prokofiev's rarely heard Piano Concerto No. 4 for the Left Hand with the Westminster Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Jeff Manookian.Though Graffman, who is presently the director of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, has created a legacy through his recordings and performances with the world's major orchestras, his career was interrupted in 1979, when he lost the use of his right hand.
His passion for music helped him to return to the stage, playing the few concertos that are composed for the left hand.
It is possible that Graffman's apparent intimacy with the keyboard comes from the fact that there are so few concertos for the left hand and he has learned them all well.
But it is more probable that this expertise comes from years of building a relationship with an instrument that seems to be virtually a bodily extension, so easily does he pick out the notes and chords.
Prokofiev did not make it easy. A good portion of the piece is written in the treble clef, and the composer wanted the concerto to sound as if the pianist had two good hands.
Graffman, now in his 60s, reached all the necessary heights and at times his agility made it seem as if there were really two hands playing.
Prokofiev also did not make the orchestral accompaniment easy. But, despite the general lack of precision and ensemble, Graffman was able to help the orchestra through.
Though Prokofiev probably did not write this concerto for as small a group as the Westminster Chamber Orchestra (about 35 members), they made a good effort for a young, new community orchestra.
The orchestra also performed Saint-Saens' Symphony No. 2 and a premiere work by Manookian titled "Endless Are The Clouds."
The Saint-Saens, once again, lacked the precision and ensemble that may come with time as members of the 18-month-old orchestra continue to play together. But it is a bright, fun piece down to the tarantella-style fourth movement.
Manookian's work was a minimalistic ride through the clouds that featured a very rhythmical piano underscoring, with flashes of light here and there from the strings and harp. The piece is scored primarily for strings, with some help from the piano, harp and a triangle.
In addition to celebrating Prokofiev's birth, the evening was an opening concert for the new Jewett Center for the Performing Arts on the Westminster campus.