The Philadelphia Young Pianists Academy has branched out in its seventh year, with artistic director Ching-Yun Hu’s direction and pianism taking a wider and broader brush to the tableau of her own music and those of her fellow artists. An August 4 concert by guest artist Mac McClure of entirely Spanish music brought a new and exciting repertoire of piano music to Philadelphia.
Playing both hands
McClure, who is currently on the faculty of the National Conservatory of Music in Bogotá, Columbia, studied Romance Languages at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He decided to pursue his passion for piano fairly late, studying with Michael Zenge, among others. By the wildest of coincidences, I, too, spent two summers studying piano with Michael Zenge, who assigned me a work far beyond my capabilities. Unlike me, McClure continued his quest. He went to Barcelona to study with Alicia de Larrocha at the Marshall Academy (founded by Enrique Granados), where he became an expert interpreter of the music of Federico Mompou and Xavier Montsalvatge, and an authority on Spanish repertoire.
McClure has a passionate and romantic style: his ability to project melodic notes over a very quiet and subdued accompaniment is outstanding, and he can do this in either hand. When he played “La maja y el ruiseñor/The maiden and the nightingale” by Enrique Granados, the melody came singing out of the treble, and then McClure switched and played a beautifully projected melody from the bass notes. Each time, he was able to create a quiet yet clear accompaniment in the other hand.
Fiery, glorious, jazzy
He played his most fiery and difficult pieces with a determined speed and expression, daring to go beyond a level of control that gives more accuracy to some performers, but also may make them more mechanical and less interesting. This unbridled playing was not as successful in McClure’s versions of the sonatas by Antonio Soler, nor in the stark and modern vignettes by Moisès Bertran. Both composers require a more pristine rendition than Mr. McClure’s sometimes liberally pedaled playing.
For the Mompou’s “Elegia a Ravel,” McClure produced the tricky lacework of the Ravelesque cascade of notes. For the “Cancon y Dança VI,” McClure dove into the Dança with no holds barred—releasing a glorious dancing romp, with Flamenco-like stomping of chords and rolling arpeggios, while maintaining a free and jazzy feel.
Passion takes the lead
McClure chose a tribute to Mompou by Xavier Montsalvatge, which was a tour de force for the left hand alone. The title “Si a Mompou” is a play on words: ‘si’ means yes in Spanish as well as the “B” note. The piece is filled with wild repeating B’s all over the keyboard. The Mompou “Sonatina pour Yvette” was an eclectic mix of styles ending with a set of dissonant and bombastic variations of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
McClure continued to push harder and faster in the challenging pieces by Isaac Albéniz and Enrique Granados—letting the passion of the music take the lead. The excitement and thrill of the execution made me realize just what musical performance is all about: putting the passion above control. Would that in this digitally corrected and Photoshopped world, audiences could experience the joy of untrammelled musicality more often.
What, When, Where
An Afternoon of Spanish Music. Selections by Soler, Mompou, Montsalvatge, Albéniz, Bertran, and Granados. Mac McClure, piano. The Philadelphia Young Pianists Academy. August 4, 2019 at the Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce Street, Philadelphia. pypa.info.
For wheelchair access at the Academy of Vocal Arts, call (215) 735-1685 for help entering from the back of the building.