Monday, March 1, 2010

Andrew Shapiro, Solo Piano / A.J. Churchill

Andrew Shapiro, Solo Piano. March 21, 2010. The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C.

“You can always tell what kind of show’s going on here by looking at the audience,” the production assistant at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage said to me before the concert. I could see a mix of personalities in the crowd of around three hundred: There were business people in suits, teenagers dressed haphazardly, husbands and wives and college students. What sort of music could draw such a diverse crowd?

Moments later, Brooklyn-based composer/pianist Andrew Shapiro walked on stage and sat at the piano. He opened with his most recent piece Jean. The song starts out with jazzy undercurrents but then gives way to lush, unsettling melodic contours we might not expect to hear from a minimalist. Afterwards, Shapiro performed works from his most recent album Numbers, Colors, and People. Notably, he played Gosia, a piece dedicated to a woman he met on a train across Poland. The song starts out heavily, burdened by the dissonant proximity of the two starting notes played in repeated unison. Then, the melody quickly departs into a deep flutter, which is propelled by dangerous-sounding upward half-steps. Shapiro played it with poise and grace, and with a deep understanding of the sensitivity his song demands.

Shapiro’s music bridges classical and popular styles, drawing influence from Philip Glass and the ‘80s British New-Wave band Cocteau Twins. But Shapiro’s music is less repetitive than it is reflective. The feelings are genuine, mostly because the emotions do not sound fake or strained. Shapiro artfully avoids revealing his true intentions in every song so as to leave a lot of room for the listener to have his or her own interpretation.

Shapiro closed with Mint Green, perhaps his most accomplished work. With its descending arpeggios and its sympathetic simplicity, the song grows until its melodic climax, then receding into thick piano textures.

At the end of the concert, it was interesting to hear comments from other people in the audience. “His music needs more of a hook,” said one. Another, a young man sitting next to me, simply stated, “That’s beautiful.” An usher walked by and insisted the man selling CDs bring her a signed copy at the end of the show.

As I left the building, I overheard two older ladies in conversation. “I have not felt so relaxed in months,” said one as she opened the door to leave, two CDs in her left hand.

Note: An archived video of the concert is available online at The Kennedy Center’s website.