The Colors of Claude Debussy


Classical New England celebrates revolutionary French composer Claude Debussy, with pianist Marc-André Hamelin, clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, saxophonist Kenneth Radnofsky, and many more.

Recently, Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times pondered the lack of fanfare around the music world to honor the sesquicentennial of the birth of the remarkable, revolutionary Claude Debussy. Unlike the recent anniversaries honoring Gustav Mahler and Frederic Chopin, this Debussy year seems to be passing by with little notice.

It may be that, as Tommasini points out, Debussy’s music is a common presence in the concert hall, so the absence of major Debussy festivals or retrospectives “is hardly scandalous.” But the full-immersion experience of Debussy takes what might sound comfortably familiar music and, especially in the hands of world-class performers, emerge in the ear as the radically inventive constructions they truly are.

“The Colors of Claude Debussy” was just such an experience. The musical skills, knowledge, instincts, and experiences of several world-renowned musicians who make Boston their home came together at Classical New England with the receptive ears of an audience for an evening celebrating a composer who broke all boundaries and whose music speaks to us continually to this day.

New England Conservatory President Tony Woodcock presented “Après l’après-midi: How Debussy Redefined 20th-Century Music,” and pianist Ethan Uslan, winner of the 2012 World Championship Old Time Piano Playing Contest, provided live accompaniment for the 1927 Jean Epstein film La Glace à trois faces (The Three-Sided Mirror).

Katsushika Hokusai's Great Wave Off Kanagawa, which inspired Debussy's La mer (image: public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
In our Fraser Performance Studio, the music itself came alive through the artistry of pianist Marc-André Hamelin, saxophonist Kenneth Radnofsky, clarinetist Richard Stoltzman. Preceding them were cellist Emily Taubl and pianist Pei-Shan Lee.

Hosts Cathy Fuller of Classical New England and Fred Child of APM’s Performance Today enlivened the experience through conversation with the musicians that illuminated personal aspects of Debussy’s music.

To hear the program, with additional performances by Discovery Ensemble, with conductor Courtney Lewis, and the Borromeo String Quartet, click on “Listen” above, and enjoy a slideshow of the evening below.


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