Saturday, February 09, 2008

Monsieur Chopin

Hershey Felder & Fryderyk Chopin hit the right notes at CPH

For the last several weeks, a visit to the Cleveland Play House would have allowed you to meet George Gershwin in performance. This weekend, it’s Fryderyk Chopin. Well, actually, it’s not Gershwin or Chopin, its Hershey Felder, portraying each. No, not portraying, inhabiting the theatrical body and piano talents of both men.

Felder, who is a classically trained pianist with an interest in musical composers, has delved not only into the music of various composers, but into their personal lives. As a result he has developed a three-movement theatrical series, ‘THE COMPOSER SONATA.’ It consists of ‘BEETHOVEN,’ the dramatic, architectural, deeply thoughtful and emotional first movement; ’MONSIEUR CHOPIN,’ the lush and beautiful expression of soul, the second movement; and, ‘GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE,’ the dance-like, extroverted, and joyous third movement.

In ‘MONSIEUR CHOPIN,’ Felder exposes personal information of the bi-polar Polish composer, who reached his height of popularity in Paris after departing his beloved country because of political unrest. Musically, Chopin is noted for his compositions for the piano, an instrument which was newly perfected during his life time. As for his private life, the major event was that for ten years he was in an often tumultuous relationship with writer George Sand. He died at the age of 39. Interestingly, though his body is buried in Paris cemetary, his heart was taken to Poland where it is enshrined in a church crypt.

For the production, Felder takes on the role of Chopin as he was in life, a teacher and composer. He speaks to the audience in a subtle accent which often comes and goes. He introduces us to Chopin’s love, classical music, with a Polish tilt, including the Polonaise and Mazurka. He continues to remind us that “you make beautiful music because you are an artist, not to please someone else.”

Felder, who showed good piano abilities in his Gershwin piece, really shines in the Chopin exercise. He is a much better performer of classics than modern tunes.

Through the first part of the program, the scripted segment is quite interesting and a good lesson in music history. It is in the second, the ad-libbed segment, in which Felder shines. He takes questions from the audience and responds as if he were Chopin. The results were both funny and impressive. He really knows the ins-and-outs of Chopin’s life and music.

As with ‘GEORGE GERSWIN ALONE,’ Scenic Designer Yael Pardess has created a beautiful and appropriate setting and Michael Gilliam’s mood lighting creates the right atmosphere, heightened by pictures and illusions.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ‘MONSIEUR CHOPIN,’ as was ‘GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE, was both an educational and artistic success. Hershey Felder has the ability to teach music appreciation in such a way that one could only hope that professors could do as well. If you missed either show, you missed a wonderful experience.