Faculty Pianist Stephen Porter Presents Impressionist pieces

Named 2012 Artist-in-Residence of Cité Internationale Des Arts in Paris, pianist Stephen Porter, Adjunct Instructor in Music, treated a Cochran Chapel audience to rich and impressionistic pieces by composers Claude Debussy and Frédéric Chopin.

Before his next international-caliber performance in Rio de Janeiro in March, Porter said that he wanted to test his line-up, a selection of works by Debussy and Chopin, in front of an Andover audience.

The first half of the concert was devoted to three works selected from Debussy. The first, “Estampes,” is a 1903 composition that is a mix of foreign music. Porter’s performance of “Pagodes,” the first movement of the composition, was light and delicate, as the piece was meant to imitate fine Far Eastern art and architecture, according to the program sheet.

Next, Porter performed “La soirée dans Grenade” [Evening in Grenada], a movement inspired by Spanish culture. Porter’s dexterity in combining soft, graceful notes with harder tones combined classical style with the rhythmic and playful feel of Latin American music.

“The sweet, simple melody really captured my attention. Seeing such great, challenging pieces performed by a skillful player like [Porter]…was really exciting,” said Kaylee Llewellyn ’15.

The final selection from “Estampes” was “Jardin Sous la Pluie” [Gardens] in the Rain]. Porter successfully captured the piece by beginning with abrupt, swift notes that rose and fell quickly, simulating the sound of raindrops.

Porter stayed true to Debussy’s intentions while still adding his own interpretation to the pieces Porter performed, such as his rendition of Debussy’s serious and grim “Études.”

“Pour les Agréments,” [For the Details] the first étude of the masterpiece, contained delicate notes interwoven with a darker undertone. The next étude, “Pour les Sonorités Opposées,” [For Opposing Sounds] began sparsely and solemnly, progressing with a sad, meandering tone.

“Pour les Arpèges Composées,” [For the Composed Arpeggios] the last of Porter’s étude performances, contained falling arpeggios cascading in a melancholic manner. Its tone, nonetheless, was overall more hopeful than Porter’s earlier selections.

Bringing back the uplifting atmosphere from the beginning of his performance, Porter’s final Debussy works warmed the gloom atmosphere brought by his “Études” interpretation.

“Sérénade à la Poupée” [Serenade for the Doll], a delicate piece, conjured images of a child dancing with a doll. Porter’s well-paced next section, “La Neige Danse” [The Snow is Dancing], used many quick, intricate notes to imitate the movement of falling snow.

“My favorite thing is to create a complete experience for the listeners: visual, since the Chapel and the beautiful concert grand [piano] are visually stunning, aural, because the sounds that can be produced in the space are marvelous and three-dimensional, and musical/philosophical, [which requires] transmission to the audience the deeper meaning of the music,” wrote Porter in an e-mail to The Phillipian.

After a brief intermission, Porter returned with a collection of Chopin’s masterpieces. In his rendition of “Mazurka, Op. 56, no. 3,” Porter began the Chopin-characteristic alternation of peaceful melodies and a more chaotic, passionate undertone.

Porter concluded his performance with “Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, from Op. 52.” Delicate, slow notes built to a satisfyingly grand crescendo. In a encore, Porter added on a crowd pleaser: J.S. Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze.”

“The last piece composed by Bach would be my favorite of the night. Although it was not part of the program repertoire [but an encore,] the song selection was great, since it probably reached the widest range of audiences than other pieces,” said Max Chung ’15.

Porter is an accomplished pianist who has performed Debussy’s complete “Piano Preludes” in Paris and was featured as a soloist at the eighth Bosnia International Music Festival.

“I felt the performance went very well—it was an unusually large audience. My next international concert is in Rio de Janeiro in March, so I wanted to try these pieces out at Andover first. I [particularly like] Debussy’s “Étude pour les Sonorités Opposées”—a meditation on World War I written in 1915. It contains such distant horn calls, a sense of loss, but in the end also [contains] a great serenity and peacefulness,” said Porter.