Pianist Jeremy Denk revisits his favorite childhood composer, Mozart
Julie Amacher, Classic MPR
Jeremy Denk and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra – Mozart Piano Concertos (Incomparable)
Pianist Jeremy Denk finally had the space and time to complete his next memoir Every good boy is alright, which will resonate with you if you took piano lessons as a child. It comes out in February, and its timing coincides beautifully with his new album with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Mozart Piano Concertos.
How did Mozart shape you?
“Actually, the first and last chapters of my book are about Mozart. The first chapter is about me listening to the play Sinfonia Concerto. When I was 12, this play rocked my world. At the end of the book, I am recovering from personal loss and burnout. I am also about to record an album of Mozart concertos with the SPCO.
Can you talk about Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.25 and how it is different from his other piano concertos?
“It’s a piece that begins very clearly with a burst of light in a major key. You don’t think it will be this sunny, grandiose and triumphant piece, but in 20 seconds it turns into a tragic opera of utter uncertainty in the terrifying key of C minor. Throughout the first tutti-section and orchestral passage, you feel that the music continues to switch at unpredictable intervals between these two perspectives.
What are you looking forward to when you play this concerto?
“My favorite moment is in the last movement. In the middle you have this love sextet between piano and woodwinds. We are working very hard on this section between the orchestra and the winds. They become full opera characters.
“It’s an innocent song at first, but it takes on that intensity, as it loops around where you’d never expect it. It then takes on an incredible tragic tone that becomes light again, while it expands ecstatically. Everything dissolves into the theme. This transition is one of the greatest passages of all time.
Why do you think the Piano Concerto in D minor is more popular?
“The first and last movements are the most vivid and shocking music Mozart has ever written. It is the most romantic work that Mozart composed. It’s not in the classic style, but you hear the romantic era waiting to explode.
“The most striking passages of this piece are at the beginning of the last scene where the piano plays the theme and the orchestra then starts. Usually in Mozart concertos they only repeat the theme played by the piano. But in this case, the orchestra begins to develop and modify the material in an unrecognizable way.
“He becomes possessed by the spirit of modulation and the idea leaps throughout the orchestra. This passage has an incredible quality.
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.