Thursday, May 5, 2016

Pianist Buechner raises the rafters in Gershwin’s Concerto in F with the PSCO

I thought that I had heard most of the fantastic pianists who reside in the Pacific Northwest, but now I have to add another, Sara Davis Buechner, to my list after hearing her deliver an electrifying performance of George Gershwin’s Concerto in F with the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra at the First United Methodist Church on Friday evening (April 29th). Buechner, who maintains a busy performance schedule and teaches piano at the University of British Columbian in Vancouver, played Gershwin’s jazzy concoction immaculately, excelling in the buoyant, rhythmic passages as well as the slow, lyrical ones. She impressively closed out the first movement with a blitz of octaves and chords that elicited spontaneous applause from the audience. Her relaxed playing fit bluesy second movement like a cool breeze, and she sprang into the ragtimey third with an intensity that brought the piece to a splashy end.

Principal trumpeter Joshua Silva deftly expressed the sultry and languid trumpet solos in the second movement. The duet between Buechner and principal flutist Liberty Broillet danced with great sensitivity. Music director Steven Byess let the orchestra swell too loudly during the forte sections, overwhelming the sound that Buechner generated even though she was bearing down on the keyboard mightily. But those huge crescendos were the only sections to quibble over, and the audience responded to the collaboration with a standing ovation that was well deserved.

In addition to the Gershwin, the concert featured three pieces by American composers. The most interesting one was the brash “Dreamtime Ancestors” by Christopher Theofanidis. He wrote the work in 2015 for a commission from the New Music for America organization, which enlisted 53 orchestras to play it by 2017. In this concert, “Dreamtime Ancestors” received it Oregon premiere.

Inspired by Australian aboriginal creation myths, “Dreamtime Ancestors” sought to convey a connection between people and their ancestors that would extend through all of time: past, present, and future. From the text printed in the program, the ancestors included non-human forms such as the “Crocodile Man Ancestor.” The piece had an episodic nature displayed some brilliant writing for each section of the orchestra. One of the most compelling passages set the violins and flutes in a melody that was pinned against a different melody from the French horns and trumpets. The orchestra, guide expertly by Byess, played some subdued, dissonant passages that had an intriguing, magical quality. Massive and thick building blocks of tonality seemed a bit plodding at times, but the piece ended with a crescendoing, ascending line that suggested a bold hopefulness.

The concert began with a snappy and lively rendition of Bernard Herrmann’s Prelude to “North by Northwest, and that was followed by sensitive treatment of Charles Tomlinson Griffes’s tone poem, “The White Peacock.” In the Griffes, the orchestra excelled in creating a floaty, opaque atmosphere with a well-balanced sonic blend. Concertmaster Dawn Carter executed a silky solo and principal oboist Brad Hochhalter delivered several lovely passages wonderfully.

Returning to guest pianist Buechner, I would be remiss if I neglected to mention that she started her life as a man. She was born David Buechner, and won the 1984 Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, a Bronze Medal in the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, and has made numerous recordings. As far as I know, this was the first time that I have heard a concert by someone who has had a sex change, and for the record, it was first class. Hopefully, Sara Davis Buechner will be back in town for a return engagement sometime soon.


MJ said...

Thank you for more of your great reviewing. FYI, while you were not aware of the fact, you have reviewed many local concerts that included transgendered artists, as there are several longstanding members of the Portland musical community who are. Sara is certainly an excellent person for a first impression, though!

Unknown said...

Nice review! In my opinion, having a transgendered soloist truly has no bearing on any performance...

bob priest said...

One person i know that attended the show reported that he found Sara's exaggerated performance persona hugely off-putting.