It was the day before Xmas..
For over a week the Loop seemed to be crawling with Xmas shoppers. At the German-styled Christmas market in front of the Daley Center it seemed as though one needed to be a needle to wend into the sales areas. A “genius” sitting in his second floor perch of the Michigan Avenue Apple store said that morning that the crowds were so thick he hadn’t been able to see the sidewalk outside the store for days.
And then there was the weekly Dame Myra Hess Concert in stunning Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center—an oasis of calm as Christmas Eve approached and the bustle of Loop last minute shoppers was in a frenzy.
Our ears and spirits were in the hands of award-winning pianist Yana Reznik, who in even a brief conversation conveys her orientation to human emotions. That too was the hallmark of her performance where she seemed to summon the feelings of each composer as he put his score to paper. This was a performance where the feeling of each piece was paramount.
Explaining her choice of program, Reznik says “The Foundation asked me to play on Xmas, one of the biggest celebrations of the year. It was fun to choose the program thinking ‘What would I like to listen to when making holiday plans?’ I aimed for a program that was upbeat and varied, Christmassy but not strictly Christmas music.”
First in her program was Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite” with an arrangement by Mikhail Pletnev that Reznik learned specifically for this performance. When the familiar “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” filled the hall it was an especially warming reminder of the season.
Because Rachmaninoff is her favorite composer she then chose his “Prelude No.5 in G minor, Op. 23” and “Humoresque in G Major No. 5, Op.10”. Reznik explained, “His is so dramatic but this piece is above all joyful.”
For contrast, next came Piazolla’s “Adios Nonino Tango Rhapsody” and then the finale was the familiar and favorite “Rhapsody in Blue for Solo Piano” by Gershwin.
Reznik summarizes her program choices by saying, “This whole program is an encore program in that each piece could stand alone as an encore...It’s challenging for me, both emotionally and physically, to play these all together one after another. …This is meant to be an entertaining program, for enjoyment.
“Playing Gershwin is so much about crossing over. He is one of the people who said classical is great but then also crossed over to jazz. He was criticized for this back in the day but his “Rhapsody in Blue” proved his point and years later everyone loves this piece so much. Today there is lots of jazz in classical music.
“Playing Rachmaninoff I’m always aware of how interesting, challenging and dramatic his life was. Many people come here from different countries and people also move so much—leaving much behind. He was never able to go back to Russia and there is so much sadness and melancholy in his music.
“Piazzola’s life story is that of someone who was saved by the positive energy and healing of music. His family had left war and economic turmoil in Argentina. When he grew up living in Greenwich Village in New York City he played a lot of tango and classical music and it kept him off the streets and out of the gangs. “
Explaining musicians’ lives and how it affected their compositions or performances is less a sideline for Reznik than other musicians. Building on past efforts in this direction, she hopes to launch a 2015 videocast series where she is the talk show host, helping to make classical music more accessible to all.
Describing this mission and her plans Reznik says, “I strongly believe that classical music itself is not a dying art form but that we have failed as musicians to present it in a contemporary fashion that our generation can relate to. We are competing with other industries. We need to have people feel a connection to music by the way we present it—so people can connect more with the musicians themselves and look at them as human beings and not just machines.
“I’ve been creating programs that break that boundary. I am trying to bring people closer to the musician’s life and what they go through in their daily life. We are not a weird species. We also have our passions and life stories, just as the audience members do.”
Reznik’s new show along these lines will be announced soon on the Yana Reznik website. Plans include setting up live interactions with the audience via Twitter during broadcasts of concerts. Musicians talk about their daily lives, with Reznik playing the role of the talk show host, a part she feels very comfortable assuming.
Look also to Chicago-Splash for links to recorded episodes of the Yana Reznik show in the future.
Photos courtesy of Yana Reznik, unless otherwise indicated