Despite the cold weather, a substantial group of students and off-campus visitors came to the Jewett Arts Center to attend Geoffrey Burleson’s piano performance on Saturday, Feb. 28. The auditorium was filled with a crowd eager to hear the renowned artist perform. Geoffrey Burleson is a pianist who has performed internationally in numerous famous venues including Carnegie Hall in New York City and the American Academy in Rome. Aside from performing, he teaches piano at Princeton University and is an associate professor of music and director of music studies at Hunter College of the City University of New York. He came to Wellesley to perform seven pieces, ranging from composers from the 1800s to the late 1900s.
Burleson started the concert with the lyrical and melodious “Jeux D’Eau” by Maurice Ravel. Composed with inspiration from Liszt’s “Les Jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este,” Ravel adopted Liszt’s flowing, complex style which Burleson executed brilliantly. The pianist demonstrated his sheer talent as his hands crossed over each other, playing each phrase with incredible precision and speed. Piece after piece, he demonstrated his prowess in a wide range of musical genres as he performed a sonata by a contemporary American composer,Vincent Perischetti, and “Pour le Piano” by French impressionist composer Claude Debussy.
During the intermission, the auditorium was abuzz with praise and talk of the program’s seamless flow and Burleson’s technical mastery. Following the intermission, he continued with another ethereal piece by Maurice Ravel and a resonant scherzo by Camille Saint-Saëns. After the hearty applause, Burleson walked back onstage and introduced the next piece as an “avant-garde,” “experimental” piece created for the piano and boombox by Jacob ter Veldhuis or Jacob T.V. — the composer’s name was ironically fitting for this piece, given that it incorporated sounds from a TV infomercial for a weight-loss waist vibrator. The boombox was set up, and various snippets of the infomercial’s host played over and over, accompanied by Burleson on the piano. Essentially the entire piece was composed around the voice inflections and enthusiastic remarks of customers on the infomercial, and the entire package was confusing, to say the least.
Toward the middle of the song, the technician came onstage and interrupted the performance, declaring that there was some technical difficulty with the sound system. As the audience looked around uneasily, Burleson patiently waited as technicians transferred the audio to different speakers. It was an awkward interlude, but Burleson’s casual manner and ability to delve right back into the piece was impressive nonetheless. Members of the audience tapped their feet to some catchy beats, but the whole of the song was humorously difficult to understand and enjoy. Many parts of the song included a woman’s voice exclaiming “Oh my god!” in discordant repetition as Burleson accompanied her on piano with impeccable synchronization.
I appreciated the innovation of the composer incorporating a traditionally classical instrument with the technology; the music was vaguely reminiscent of songs by experimental techno artists that incorporate similar samples in their music. With Jacob T.V.’s “Body of your Dreams,” Burleson dramatically changed the conventional flavor of the concert established by Debussy and Saint-Saëns; however, I still appreciated and applauded the bizarre, unorthodox piece for what it was.
Burleson concluded the concert with a piece which, according to him, was indicative of “a jazz pianist slowly going insane.” The brief description primed our ears for the complex, interpretive, improvised jazz piece he whizzed through with astounding ease. The audience erupted into a standing ovation, in awe at the breadth of his mastery on the piano. As someone educated in classical piano, I understood the amount of training necessary to digest jazz, let alone this “frenzied collision of be bop and tango,” as the program describes. Burleson truly deserved the thunderous applause, and he was showered with acclaim during the reception that followed.
Michelle Lee ‘17 is the Arts Editor studying English and Art History. In her free time you can find her at the museum, watching ‘50s movies, listening to classic rock, or helping her sisters survive high school. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo Courtesy of Michelle Lee ’17