Piano Program Transverses Eras


Through balance and contrast, Professor Ruthanne Schempf performed a program of impelling piano pieces from three different eras to SUNY New Paltz faculty, students and musicians in Shepard Recital Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

The first piece performed was Johann Sebastian Bach’s “English Suite No. 2 in A-minor,” a piece that she had begun to work on with her late mother. Despite its minor key, the tempo and harmony are notably cheerful.

Next, she performed Robert Schumann’s “Kreisleriana, Op. 16” — a set of eight “Fantasie-like movements” — which was composed over six days in the spring of 1838, and reflects the composer’s mad personality and inspirations.

Second-year contemporary music studies major Keith Downs said this was his favorite piece, particularly the second movement “Sehr innig und nicht zu raschand,” and the way Schempf transitions into it from the first movement.

“[She is] fast-paced and flying high and backing away into a contemplative state,” she said.

The final piece Schempf performed was Maurice Ravel’s “Valses nobles et sentimentales,” which she described as “crunchy harmony…very colorful and attractive and yet somewhat appallingly dissonant.” She said she thought the piece shows how “Ravel thought about the piano     more orchestrally.”

Third-year jazz studies major Misha Savage said his technical proficiency is only matched by her “very, very conscious awareness of dynamics.”

“She definitely knows how to craft waves that really get the nuances of emotion,” Savage said.

Schempf suggested that jazz musicians would be particularly attracted to the Ravel piece, and Savage said he agreed.

“She wasn’t lying [with] the beautiful voicing and very jarring effects,” Savage said.

Downs said he personally appreciated the “wide variety of intensities, juxtaposing a dire urgent message in calmness with playful, rambunctious energy,” achieving “a lot of fast-paced polyphonic textures with acute precision.”

Schempf said she practiced numerous pieces and chose the ones that fit best for this particular concert.

“It’s like going on a date,” she said. “You go on a lot of blind dates, then, oh! This is the one, these are the ones. In this combination.”

These pieces are significant because they “inspire the imagination,” according to Schempf.

“I’m attracted to music that is descriptive, that has associations…things other than just sound,” she said.

Blending the technical and the dynamic, Schempf said the concert was meant to be a “musical adventure” for those who attended.