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Pianist’s performance a dazzling start to 2007-08 concert season

The Twin Cities Concert Association set a high standard for its 2007-08 season Sunday with a dazzling performance by 26-year-old pianist Stephen Beus.

Music schools turn out pianists by the hundreds, and we will never hear most of them. A few rise to the top, winning prestigious prizes, going on tour and receiving recording contracts. How is a pianist to stand out? Virtuosity isn’t enough. The good ones have more. They speak through the music and make us listen, not just marvel. Stephen Beus, already a prize-winner, stood out with an unusual program that showed us musical style and eloquence, as well as formidable technique.

It also was not a bad idea to play what others don’t, such as the unfamiliar sonata by Mendelssohn, composed in his teens but no child’s play for a pianist. Beus had a delicacy of touch and depth of understanding for the complex piece, which ranges from the lyrical and the emotional to the quicksilver. One critic wrote of Mendelssohn that “his fingers sang.” Beus’ fingers sang, too, and he seemed almost literally to be singing, so much was he enjoying himself.



The other novelty was “Mediterranean Sketches” by the little-known 20th century French composer, Marguerite Canal. Not knowing a composer forces us to pay attention. Our ears were innocent. What we got was an expressive and atmospheric treat of melody and waves of rich harmony, impressionist in style – one of the pieces was titled “Play of the Sun on the Waves” – but original and effective.

Two Shostakovich preludes and fugues followed, not often heard in recitals. The demanding fugues – the measure of any pianist’s skill – showed off the extent of Beus’ talent. He finished with Rachmaninoff, a familiar prelude and a pyrotechnic etude-tableau (oh yes, he can do the fiery stuff), and Liszt’s “La Campanella” as a bravura encore.




The video projection of his hands enabled us to appreciate his impressive, almost casual technique, so easy does he make it look, as well as his musicianship. Remember his name. I think we will hear more of him.

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Charles Atthill lives in Alta Sierra and plays the stereo better than he plays the piano.


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