Pianists Corbin Beisner and Alexandra Le
pose with Soiree hosts Linda and Larry Harrison.

Soirée season opened in grand style here in Las Vegas.  Make that concert-grand style.  Two brilliant young pianists were hand-picked by Las Vegas Philharmonic conductor Hal Weller for an evening performance in the lovely home of Larry and Linda Harrison.

At these intimate concerts, sponsored by Cartier, we often hear older musicians whose careers are well established.  Tonight’s artists, by contrast, only recently graduated from the Las Vegas Academy.  They played with the exuberance of their youth but showed technical skill and artistic poise far beyond their years.  What a treat!

Charles-Valentin Alkan

Corbin Beisner opened the show with the energetic “La Festin d’Esope” by Charles-Valentin Alkan.  “I feel close to Alkan because of his quirky personality,” explained Corbin, who currently studies music at the Hartt School in Connecticut .  “The Feast of Aesop” is a whimsical piece inspired by the fables of ancient Greece and filled with depictions of rowdy animals.  Don’t think of it as child’s play, though: Alkan was accused of writing very difficult music just for difficulty’s sake.  I’m sure the quirky composer won a lot of popularity contests in his day.

Emmanuel Chabrier

Alexandria Le began her turn at the keys with “Scherzo-Valse Idylle” by Emmanuel Chabrier.  The tune maintained a steady walking pace but contained many frenetic phrases that kept the player’s fingers in a blur.  It’s fascinating to see such artists enter their own worlds, even with the audience just a few steps away.  Alex played most of this piece with her eyes closed.

Claude Debussy

After Chabrier came three impressionist pieces by Claude Debussy.  Alex, a student at SUNY Stonybrook, made a marvelous impression.  Debussy seemed not to write his music so much as paint it.  “Jardins sur la Pluie” depicts “gardens in the rain” with such vivid liquidness that you can feel the drops on your face as you stomp in imagined puddles: pluie!  His “Feux d’Artifice” presents musical “fireworks” with loud, staccato chords and abrupt tempo changes.  “L’Isle Joyeuse,” meaning “the isle of joy,” is an emotional piece inspired by an Antoine Watteau painting.  Are you feeling French yet?  Just sit quietly, and it will pass.

Maurice Ravel

Francis Poulenc

Corbin returned with a pair of works by Maurice Ravel.  “Jeux d’Eau” may sound like a martial-arts piece but actually means “fountains” and is quite graceful. "Alborado del Gracioso” is Spanish for “aubade of the clown” and is a playful scherzo (Italian for “joke”).  Our pleasure was doubled when Alex joined Corbin to play the “Sonata for Piano, Four Hands” by Francis Poulenc.  The first movement must have shocked Poulenc’s own audiences with its aggressive pounding and modernistic (okay, weird) chords.  Twenty fingers can make a lot of noise.  The second movement was much lighter and more melodic, reminiscent of the sonatinas that students play for practice.  The final movement combined the second’s steady rhythm with the first’s urgency and ended in a surprising Gershwinesque jazz chord like a wry goodbye wink.  Sacrebleu!

Information on upcoming Soirées and Philharmonic concerts can be found at www.lvphil.com.  As for Ms. Le and Mr. Beisner, these two are definitely going places.  A brief four-handed encore of Brahms’s lively Sixth Hungarian Dance ended their performance, but while we mingled over dessert, one of the other guests sat down at the Harrisons’ grand piano and began playing – beautifully, I might add.  There’s nothing like a Soirée to bring out this city’s home-grown talent.

Feature by Rob LaGrone, Jetsetters Magazine Las Vegas Entertainment Editor.

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