La La Land Is Where You Choose To Embrace It!

Sam Black

Kathy and I wandered into a movie theater early on Friday afternoon, and watched LA LA Land, a sentimental story about a jazz pianist, a talented playwright/actress, and their charismatic, but unrealistic romance. Frankly, it was a very satisfying movie in many ways. The story line was refreshing, the musical score by Justin Hurwitz was very compelling, and the final fantasy between these two lovers was the highlight of the movie. I personally think of Los Angeles (LA) as far less enchanting than Duluth, MN, but I know other people (millions of them) that have a different opinion. While thoroughly enjoying my couple of hours at the movie house, I was quite happy to wander back out into the wintry sunshine of the east hillside, thank you.

LeAnn House with family and friends, including J.S. Bach
LeAnn House with family and friends, including J.S. Bach

Four Decades, Four Keyboards, Of Scholastica Music

The center point of my weekend was the almost gala style concert at The College of St. Scholastica on Saturday night. The house was close to capacity, which is quite rare for a faculty recital, though this particular performance deserved the full house. After thirty-eight years, LeAnn House is retiring as Professor of Keyboard (and much more). Of course, a broad spectrum recital would be in order for this celebration.

LeAnn House celebrating Joy at the Keyboard
LeAnn House celebrating Joy at the Keyboard

Four keyboards had been prepared for this recital. A large harpsichord, a Fortepiano (by Richard Sorenson), a Bechstein grand piano from the 1870s, and a concert Steinway piano from the later 20th century. Over the years, House has developed her own sense of comfort at each of these very different instruments.

Beethoven shimmering with rapid fingers

House chose to play the complete “Moonlight” Sonata by Beethoven at the Fortepiano. The thin, delicate, sound of this instrument, similar to what Beethoven might have played, offers a very crystalline approach to the tonal ambiance of 1800. Much energy is still required for this sonata, but the effect is much more intimate than a modern piano can offer.

The beautiful instruments from Bechstein
Later, House was joined by tenor William Bastian, who is also planning to retire after this academic year. Together they shared four songs by Hugo Wolf, and one by Reynaldo Hahn. House sat at the gorgeous Bechstein, so that we understood how much had changed between 1800 and 1900 in the sonority and development of the piano. The fullness of the Romantic harmonies, and the ability of the piano to project sound across the auditorium had become a reality during the century.

Sonority from the modern Steinway

During the center of the program, House went to the modern Steinway and shared three Preludes by Claude Debussy, a collection of nocturnal musical sounds by Bela Bartok, the two songs (sung by Bastian) that House had composed herself in the late nineties. For sure, this contemporary instrument has won its place in the concert halls of the world, but something of the earlier intimacy has been lost.

Articulation requires a harpsichord

The opening and closing of this delightful and varied recital featured the two-manual harpsichord similar to what Bach and Telemann might have known in the early years of the eighteenth century. The sound is plucked, rather than hammered, and is therefore quieter. This rich harpsichord offers a very resonant sound however, since it is slightly longer than the Fortepiano. For this combination of pieces, House was joined by Shelley Gruskin on flute, Penny Schwarze on gamba, Rebecca Gruskin on natural horn, Steve Highland on violin, Ronald Kari on viola, and Betsy Husby on cello. All these instruments were designed to replicate 18th century originals, so once again, the sound was delicate, and crisply transparent.

Joy at the Keyboard has certainly been the life of LeAnn House, and we were treated to three hundred fifty years of varied music as she drifted from one keyboard to the next. While the concert and the reception was spectacular, House will probably continue to play, and even perform. How does one stop doing what one’s life has always been about? I wish LeAnn House a wonderful retirement, and a continued JOY at all sorts of keyboards in the coming years.