I’m not too knowledgeable about classical music but I love solo piano, so went to see Jerome Rosen last night at the Goethe-Institut in Boston, a German culture center on Beacon Street in the Back Bay. He played five pieces by all German composers — Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Alban Berg (new one to me) and Chopin — plus an encore of Chopin’s famous Waltz in E minor to a small audience in a medium-sized white room on a Steinway grand. It was exactly the kind of setting the pieces in which were originally performed: a smallish chamber with excellent acoustics.
Classical concerts for me are a lot about trying to focus on the music and the atmosphere instead of letting my brain wander to what I did that day, will do in the future, or whatever. It’s like meditating: I have to keep reminding myself of where I am and to pay attention to the sounds of the music instead of let it be a soundtrack to my thoughts about other things. When I was able to do that, I enjoyed the elegant, simple wall carvings of oak leaves and musical instruments in white plaster all around the walls in the simply but elegantly ornamented room.
I was glad to be able to tell the difference between Bach and Beethoven, for starters. For me, Bach is like jazz and Beethoven is like rock music. Bach’s Partita No. 3 in A minor just simmers along at its own tempo, reaching minor crescendos and lulls but always moving at a constant rate. It’s simple-sounding, though obviously way more complex to play than most other music written for solo piano. Kind of unemotional and controlled, yet I have to imagine a lot of emotion went into Bach’s composing. Beethoven, on the other hand, is kind of like purely emotional ballad rock-n-roll, with a lot more legato (that pedal that makes the notes flow together), with showy runs and a lot of piano-pounding parts sometimes verging on the melodramatic. Rosen played his Sonata in E, which I mention not because I know that sonata as opposed to any other sonata (except, of course, the so-called “Moonlight” one, Sonata in C sharp minor No. 14) but just so if anyone else knows it they can identify.
Rosen himself, now about 70, was a violinist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 27 years until 1998, where he was Assistant Concertmaster who switched to mostly piano since his retirement. He now lives in Jersey City to be near his granddaughter, and serves as music director for the Independence Sinfonia Orchestra in Philadelphia.
In addition to being an amazing pianist (I’ve never heard him on violin, but I assume he’s amazing on that, too), he did an enormous service to thousands in the Boston area by being a founding member of the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for atheists and agnostics which meets in Cambridge on Tuesday nights, the only such meeting in the area.