He’s got that pianist head nod, the one that stresses the thunder of loud notes by bringing the head down closer to the keys, but it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen.
His hair does not bounce and flop, though his jaw clenches, goes slack, and back again without a discernable correlation to any beat or meter.
Becker’s arms and shoulders have good movement too, as well as his hands. His fingers are a storm playing Schumann, from bombast to flutter, but that seems necessary.
These things are all easier to describe than Becker’s playing of Schumann or his own compositional work that he performed in the Martin Chapel for EMU’s Music Faculty Artist Series.
Becker, the Head of Piano at the University of Richmond, opened the evening by entertaining a conversation between music and poetry, saying that both are attempts to articulate the “captured essences for things that are beyond words.” So from the beginning, words such as “bombast” and “flutter” are crude and inadequate, but yet we must continue.
Becker recited the poem “Unknown Age” by W.S. Merwin and set off, beginning the piano recital with compositions he wrote in 2010 titled “Seven Short Waltzes.” He prefaced the seven by saying, “Sit back and imagine the motion you’re feeling. The movement.”
This is what I wrote on a notepad, imagining experienced motion: “Assorted 1920’s realms of man and the backwards flight of warble birds and narrow hawks. The powder film of textile seamstresses. The rendering of all those images into volcanic fire and subterfuge. The crystal spell and breath of winter’s lips. Tense, edge of the toy chest, arm outstretched towards that toy train at the bottom, so close, leaning, afraid of reaching too far, falling in, and the snapping shut of the lid.”
Perhaps that can be a better articulation of the atonal music Becker played than another phrase I wrote down: “Sounds like falling down the stairs.” Perhaps not. Either way, Becker’s compositions simultaneously evoked a shape-shifting history and a nature documentary. And Becker was able to tap into my childhood fear of being trapped in a massive toy chest.
The recital continued with Becker reading four Emily Dickinson poems and playing his piano responses to the four. Again, these were atonal pieces; filled with clatter, a rapid change to the dense fluttering, perhaps some rapturous pounding, repeat. It was imagistic and intricate music, and it kicked. A string of light, thoughtful notes intermixed with that sensation of falling down the stairs.
While composing his responses to Dickinson’s poetry, Dickinson’s clipped phrasing did not limit Becker. Rather, Becker asked, “What is the mood?” Is there stillness in the moment of recognition in “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—”? Is there a way to express the tension of “You’re straightaway dangerous— / And handled with a Chain—”?
For the last section of the recital, Becker played Robert Schumann’s “Kreisleriana,” a composition in eight movements delineated by the fury in which you play them, such as “Fast as Possible,” “Very slowly,” or “Very introspective.” The pieces fit into the tone Becker had created throughout the hour-and-a-half recital, the one swerving between extremes of mania and depression, down to the last note played in the room, drawn out by a solitary fingertip.
Konrad Swartz, Feature Editor