When legendary pianist André Watts describes his upcoming recital at UW’s Meany Hall, he makes his instrument sound as if it will channel all sorts of exotica for the senses — as well as portentous dreams and the deepest emotions.
Take the three sonatas by 18th-century Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti in the program.
“Scarlatti spent most of his life in Spain, strangely enough,” says Watts. “You hear a lot of Spanish music in the sonatas: heel-tapping, lots of guitar-strumming. Scarlatti was a virtuoso keyboardist, so there’s hand-crossing and brilliant technique. The middle sonata is a pastoral, mournful little piece with a lost-shepherd-like quality.”
Then there’s Debussy’s 1903 “Estampes (Prints),” with each of its three movements dedicated to impressions of different parts of the world: East Asia; Granada, Spain; and Normandy, France.
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“They’re really like postcards,” says Watts. “One is basically Balinese music: wind chimes, sounds of the Orient. The middle movement is an evening in Granada: guitars, flamenco, dancing feet, the smell of perfumes and sounds of the evening. The third movement is an evocation of different kinds of rain. There are nursery songs in the middle of the piece; you sense a child singing to himself or herself while there’s a violent rainstorm outside.”
Watts will also perform Beethoven’s Sonata in D major, which he describes as “great.”
“It begins at the time of Beethoven’s realization of his deafness. The slow movement is heavy-duty, tragic. The piece is pretty profound in that sense.”
Similarly penetrating is the piano version of Liszt’s 1882-85 “La Lugubre Gondola,” which began as a premonition of Richard Wagner’s death in Venice.
“Liszt had a dream a couple of weeks before Wagner died,” says Watts.
“He saw a gondola funeral procession going by in a canal, and Wagner was in the coffin. When Wagner did die shortly after in Venice, he was taken out that way. The piece is certainly interesting and unusual.”
Seattle is one of a lucky few cities visited by Watts, 67, this season.
“I play a lot less than I did in my late 20s and 30s, when I did 150 concerts a year,” he says. “Traveling gets more and more difficult. It comes with the territory, of course, but that doesn’t make it simpler.”
Watts, who came to national attention in 1963 when he played a Liszt concerto for one of Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic’s televised “Young People’s Concerts,” happily spends much of his time teaching piano students at Indiana University.
“I like teaching,” he says. “I started when I was around 26, but never in as organized a fashion as the last 10 years at IU. I have five students, officially, and I give them their required hours plus a little more. That takes a certain amount of time throughout a season.
“I teach, go away to perform, and come back again.”
While Watts has no immediate plans for recording, record labels mine his past for archival releases. One label recently marketed a 1986 Watts recital, while another included his 1963 performance for Bernstein in a “Young People’s Concert” compilation.
“All of that was a lifetime ago,” Watts says. “I don’t spend time dwelling on it. If you sit around with colleagues, you sometimes reminisce. But I’m busy enough in the present to keep me occupied.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org