When you’ve performed in front of 150,000 people at the Sydney Festival in Australia, no one would blame you for taking it easy in front of an audience of 150 people, at the Maxwell Shepherd Memorial Arts Music Series at the Collinsville Congregational Church on Mother’s Day.
Pianist Andrea Lam gave a performance that elicited both stunning silence at her brilliant adaptations of Mendelssohn, Granados, Westlake and Prokofiev, as well as cries of `Brava!’ in appreciation for her deeply personal and full-on interpretations that enhanced what was already some of the best, iconic and modern classical music to be hear anywhere. And, it was heard here in Collinsville.
Artistic Director of the Shepherd Series Estrid Eklof, began the afternoon with a brief introduction of what was to come. Lam would begin with the Felix Mendelssohn Variations serieuses in D minor, op. 54. What we’re talking about here are serious variations on a theme. Everyone was performing them at the time; Mozart, Hayden, Beethoven. They’d take popular operas or folk songs of the day and compose variations.
Mendelssohn, however, would have none of that. Instead, he wrote his own theme. Then he added 17 variations on that theme; variations of tempo, volume.
Another Mendelssohn piece, Songs Without Words, was described by Eklorf as, “short musical stories of the imagination.” A third piece by Enrique Granados, was inspired by the etchings of Goya.
At the hands of the lovely Lam, these pieces were at once beautiful and powerful. My seat mate kept whispering, “how does she do that? How can she be so athletically and technically strong, while still making it all sound so gorgeous?”
The second half of the performance would challenge the audience further. After Intermission, upon her return to the stage, Lam herself asked the audience to radically change perspectives. While the first half of the performance had been, “deeply influenced by love, romance and beauty,” advised Lam, this second half would be set in the modern era. So, the music would be more, “driving, with industrial elements.”
She wasn’t kidding. Lam is a performer with a mission. That is, classical music is not just based and relevant to history. It is being created today, to interpret what is going on all around us.
Lam began the second half of her performance with Sonata No 2 by Nigel Westlake. Westlake has composed jazz, rock, world music as well as modern classical. Following the modern turn from Westlake, Lam delved into the music of Sergey Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 6 in A major, op. 82. Prokofiev lived through not only the 1st and 2nd World Wars, but the Russian Revolution as well. There was a lot to listen to. The language of dissonance, power, beauty, despair. Hope.
My seat mate, noting Lam’s impassioned performance – more stark than that of the first half of the program, but as technically challenging, if not more – said, “it sounds like there is more than one piano being played at the same time. One person can’t be getting all that music out of one instrument.” But, she did.
About Town caught up with Ms. Lam, at an after hours soiree, to find out how she brings together the power and the beauty:
AT: Where does that perfect mix of powerful performance and beautiful results come from?
AL: For me, the music has to have some color, life, beauty. It’s never a one dimensional thing, a flat phrase. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to appreciate the beauty of different forms – melodies, flirtations - in music. Even the beauty of everyday modern sounds, such as the sounds of traffic, widens my view of beauty and my wanting to connect with it.
AT: Why did you choose such different pieces of music for the first and second halves of your performance?
AL: There are centuries of wonderful music to draw upon and not enough time to explore it all. I love Mendelssohn; his effortless beauty. So, I started with his pieces. But then, I looked for synergies and connections with music that was different.
I always try to include a modern, classical piece in my performances. It’s still classical, although it is a take on the world today.
AT: Besides your husband Evan and music, what are your other inspirations in life?
AL: Like music, I love food and wine from so many difference places and for different reasons! We love to travel. We recently went to Lyon, France. Amazing food and wine. And, Australia is always fun. I also enjoy board and word games. I play scrabble on my IPhone!
Here’s the Deal
The Maxwell Shepherd Memorial Arts Fund seeks to promote the arts, provide cultural enrichment and give support and encouragement to artistic creators.
Maxwell Shepherd Memorial Arts Fund, c/o Collinsville Savings Society, P. O Box 197, Collinsville, CT 06019: For Information: 16 South Street, Collinsville, CT 06019: 860-693-2762: awkendra @yahoo.com.