Piccolo Spoleto Spotlight features Mount Pleasant personalities

  • Wednesday, May 21, 2014

On Sunday, May 25, at 3 p.m., Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston presents a special event in its Spotlight Concert Series, titled “A Piano Salon.” The concert takes place in the College of Charleston Cato Center, and spotlights two-piano music. This unusual piano duo recital features the Stoudenmire/Elshazly Duo performing works by Shostakovich, Milhaud and Gershwin in the first half of the program. Both performers are on the music faculty at Charleston Southern University. Following intermission, Vladimir Pleshakov and his wife Elena Winther, world travelers and international artists, currently in Mount Pleasant for several concerts this year, will use two Steinway grands to present two works. Each of these works tells a story.

First, Mozart’s only sonata for two pianos, written in Vienna when Mozart was 25 years old for himself and his student, age 22, Josephine von Auernhammer.

The work was publicly performed by the two. Josephine eventually gained a reputation as pianist, composer and somewhat of a scholar in the fickle city of Vienna, where women

artists were more often than not totally ignored. At one time. Josephine was hopelessly in love with the young Mozart.

Next, “A Fantasy” by Rachmaninoff, one of his truly great early works, written in the form of four pictorial representations in music of four poems, including one by Byron, then very popular in Russia. The final “tableau” depicts festive bells at Eastertime.

Mozart’s joyful, sensitive, silken-thread music has accidentally spawned medical research in England, France, Switzerland and the U.S. for its unexpected positive effect on patients with epilepsy, and on college students tested on cognitive skills.

Reputable research publications, such as the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, and medical schools in several countries have lent credibility to the existence of the “Mozart Effect.”

The study of the brain’s functions in areas of creativity are in their infancy. But the ramifications are wide, including the effect on young children, on education and temporary control of epilepsy (and perhaps other neurological problems). Medical claims for the “Mozart Effect” are cautious and modest. But there is a great temptation for non-scientists to make sensational claims for curative and educational powers of music before any reliable body of facts are amassed and evaluated over a long period of time.

At the very least, Mozart’s music brings pleasure and a sense of well-being to listeners.

Another point of interest: the Pleshakovs own two Mozart-era pianos, completely playable, which transport player and listener to another world across barriers of time, taste, fashion, sound, socioeconomics and political changes.

These two pianos have taught the Pleshakov couple the secrets of music’s sounds as they were heard and understood in Mozart’s time. This knowledge can be used to give more interesting performances on the modern piano – which is exactly what the couple will try to do in Charleston at the festival concert.

As far as the Rachmaninoff music is concerned, Vladimir Pleshakov has an “inside track” into the world which the composer lived in – in Russia, Europe and the U.S.

He studied with teachers who knew Rachmaninoff, one of them having been coached by the composer personally in performing two of his piano concertos. Pleshakov also knew

members of Rachmaninoff’s family and has talked to musicians who heard Rachmaninoff play, or were orchestra conductors who worked with him.

He and his wife have recorded Rachmaninoff’s own transcriptions of some of his works for orchestra, which have never been previously recorded in the composer’s own two-piano version.

This work of many years has led the couple to create a different two-piano sound, which they hope to demonstrate in their Charleston concert on May 25.

For tickets, contact the website of Piccolo Spoleto Spotlight concert at www.piccolospoleto.com.

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