Jeremy Denk’s program: A "ragtime shuffle"

April 12, 2016

Jeremy Denk headshot

Audiences around the country are surprised and delighted to hear Jeremy Denk’s current program of Bach’s Third English Suite, Schubert’s “Wandererfantasie,” and – between the two – seven ragtime (or ragtime-related) works that the MacArthur “Genius” Grant winner calls “an exploration of the joy and wit of syncopation.”

Jeremy Denk with sheet music

“The basic idea all comes down to foiling expectations of regularity, of accent and stress,” writes The Seattle Times. “Our bodies condition us to expect such regularity through biological rhythms.” But syncopation works against those rhythms, taking the audience off-balance.

And that’s exactly what Denk (the “thinking person’s pianist”) hopes to do with the program, which he brings to Kalamazoo on May 3.

From Schubert’s difficult “Wandererfantasie” to Stravinsky’s modernist “Piano Rag Music” to Paul Hindemith’s “Ragtime” (which Denk describes as a “player piano gone mad”), the program is certainly off beat. But the pieces are linked together in their rhythmic spontaneity. “For me, it’s about telling the tale and making it work,” he said.

“Denk’s playing of this glorius psatiche was all energy and mischievous glee,” wrote The Boston Globe following Denk’s performance of the program in early April.

“Denk’s agenda… was a wonderful riposte to those relentlessly conventional programs that traffic largely in canon favorites.”

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