Marc-André Hamelin, beloved by Seattle audiences following two enthusiastically received appearances at Benaroya Hall since 2015, returns Thursday with a program that includes pieces by Franz Liszt, Samuel Feinberg and Leopold Godowsky.
Filling in for ailing pianist Lang Lang this Thursday in Seattle is not Marc-André Hamelin’s first good deed this week. This past Sunday he replaced Yefim Bronfman for a Beethoven piano concerto with the Asheville Symphony Orchestra in North Carolina.
“Both engagements have interrupted a long break before my October 11 performance at the Orchestre de Paris,” Hamelin, 56, said by phone from his home in Boston. “But this Seattle recital is a chance for me to try out a program I’m playing at Carnegie Hall on November 1st. Please don’t get the impression I’m using you, though. Seattle deserves much better than that.”
Lang Lang, celebrated as one of the greatest pianists of our time — if sometimes knocked for excessive showmanship — was originally booked by the Seattle Symphony to play as part of the Distinguished Artists Series. But last month the native of Shenyang, China, announced that an inflammation in his left arm was forcing him to cancel upcoming recitals — such as the one scheduled by Seattle Symphony — this season. (He is still playing concertos, which are less demanding.)
Marc-André Hamelin, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $25-$123 (www.seattlesymphony.org or 206-215-4747)
Hamelin, beloved by Seattle audiences following two enthusiastically received appearances at Benaroya Hall since 2015, stepped in, giving us one more opportunity to be moved by this musician’s combination of technical brilliance and poetry. Despite a strong, pre-existing relationship with local fans, however, is there a particular burden when one superstar replaces another, knowing some ticket holders might be disappointed?
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“Of course people are going to have expectations. Some will be disappointed, some not, and some will fall between,” Hamelin said. “I hope as many people as possible will want to jump in and experience what someone else has to offer. My first instinct is to share with audiences my enthusiasm, my repertoire loves, and to celebrate the miracle of human creativity.”
When Lang Lang’s cancellation was announced, a small number of patrons returned or exchanged tickets. Seattle Symphony says that number is comparable to their other concerts, as some ticket holders cancel for a variety of reasons.
But there’s no question Seattle Symphony management is excited to see Hamelin’s return.
“We were thrilled he was available to come back,” Elena Dubinets, vice president of artistic planning, said in an email. “He and Lang Lang are both virtuosic pianists dedicated to showcasing lesser known works, and Marc-André’s relationship with our community created the perfect opportunity to feature him in a solo recital.”
University of Washington music professor and concert pianist Robin McCabe says both Lang Lang and Hamelin are at the top of their game.
“But there’s quite a decided difference between their personalities on stage,” she said. “Lang Lang is more flamboyant. His gestures are sometimes big and dramatic. There’s a physicality there, and he’s extremely emotive. Marc-André is intellectually oriented — he’s a thinker, with a refined approach. They’re both interested in color and nuance.”
In his review of Hamelin’s recital at the La Jolla Music Society’s annual SummerFest in August 2016, Christian Hertzog of The San Diego Union-Tribune said of the globe-trotting soloist: “No scale is too quick, no fingering too contorted, no counterpoint too dense to deter him … [His performance] was a heroic journey, and at its quiet conclusion, Hamelin was given a hero’s celebration by the audience.”
Hamelin’s program this Thursday plays to several of his renowned strengths, including three pieces by Liszt and a pair of less familiar composers — Samuel Feinberg and Leopold Godowsky — he is particularly keen on.
Part of a long tradition of composer-pianists, Hamelin has written popular works, including a short piece commissioned by this year’s 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, entitled “Toccata ‘L’homme armé.’ ”
“At the slightest provocation, I will play it,” he said. “I would certainly play it as an encore in Seattle. That would be a pleasure.”