This past Saturday I had the distinct pleasure of hearing world famous pianist Andre Watts perform Edward MacDowell’s Second Concerto in D Minor with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. MacDowell was an American born composer who lived from 1860 to 1908. Contrary to the pre concert commentary by the local MacDowell Society, MacDowell was not the first classical American composer. That honor belongs to another American classical composer, Louis Moreau Gottshalk, who was born in New Orleans in the first half of the nineteenth century and died in 1869 when MacDowell was only nine years old.
MacDowell studied in Frankfurt, Germany with a student of Liszt and his Concerto sounds very European versus the uniquely American sound of Gottshalk’s music. This concerto is actually his only composition that is still in our active repertoire. The D minor Concerto is a broad, heroic piece with lots of flair and fireworks for the pianist. Watts gave the music a masterful and exciting performance with crystal clear finger work and soaring melodic lines that carried the piece forward with ample drive and fervor. Even more important, more than any other living pianist, Watts communicates the joy and excitement of his music making to the audience. One senses clearly his complete and passionate involvement with the music. Watts is equally adept at playing classical repertoire such as Beethoven and also the later romantics such as Liszt and MacDowell. Watts burst upon the musical scene in the mid sixties when he was only sixteen years old and stepped at the last minute to solo with the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein when the scheduled pianist became ill. He has had an enduring and stellar career ever since. Watts is proof positive that a pianist can play a captivating performance with out all of the theatrical, artificial and insincere machinations at the keyboard that some other pianists produce to make up for a lack of sincere, heartfelt musicianship. Bravo to Mr. Watts!
John K. Toedtman