Northampton Press

Monday, February 18, 2019

Stefano Greco reimagines the classics

Friday, January 25, 2019 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Focus

When Stefano Greco describes a classical musical passage he plans to play, it is like he’s describing a movie.

“I can see the images that inspired the composers,” says the renowned Italian concert pianist. “I want to be able to tell a story. I don’t want to just play notes.”

Greco brings his visual and visceral style to Miller Symphony Hall for the next performance in the intimate “Chamber On Stage” series, 3 p.m. Jan. 27.

In Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” sonata, which is divided into three movements, “The Farewell,” “The Absence” and “The Return,” Greco says the music conjures up the images of what’s happening and you “can actually feel these things in the music.

“Beethoven describes all the faces of leaving,” he says. “In the first movement, you can hear the horses riding away.

“In the second movement, you can feel the sadness Beethoven feels as he is missing the person.

“And in the third movement, you can imagine as he looks out the window and sees someone arriving and the notes are so unbelievably happy.”

For the series, Greco will play on the stage, but with his back to the orchestra seats in which the audience usually sits. The audience is seated at the back of the stage, facing the performers.

Diane Wittry, music director and conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, says the unusual set-up creates the feeling of an intimate space, while still taking full advantage of the acoustics and grandeur of the large Miller Symphony Hall.

It’s the perfect way to experience Greco’s piano performance of pieces from Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt.

He says he will begin with an homage to Mozart, whose birthday is Jan. 27.

Greco likes to draw attention to the relationships between composers and says Mozart was a great composer who anticipated Beethoven and Beethoven, in turn, took inspiration from Mozart.

“It was a perfect match,” he says.

One of the pieces he will play is Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata, which he chose because “I can tell a story.”

That will be followed by “Les Adieux.”

After intermission, Greco will play two of Chopin’s nocturnes.

“They are amazingly beauitful, very romantic and very easy to understand,” he says.

He says Chopin was a friend of Liszt, and for his final piece he is doing Lizt’s “Dante Symphony,” inspired by Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” in which Dante tours the Circles of Hell.

Greco says the music is particularly expressive in the story of Paolo and Francesca, adulterous lovers who were killed by Francesca’s husband and are being punished in Hell.

“In the music you can feel every emotion, even the moment when her husband kills them and their souls in pain in Hell,” he says.

Greco says he has always felt an emotional connection to music.

“Since I was born, I wanted to be a concert pianist and tour all over the world,” he says. “When I was little, every time music came on, I would put my ears n the speaker and say, ‘I want the music to come in me.’”

He says he was drawn to the piano because it is the “instrument that gives you the most power.

“I enjoy playing very much,” he says. “It’s like a journey. I research pieces and try to get inside them. Every piece of music for me is a continuous discovery.”

Greco’s goal is to play and record music as alive as if it was conceived in the same moment of the performance.

As a Bach specialist, he has been invited to perform his music worldwide. He performed Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” on a tour of the United States, Canada and Japan, which brought him to prestigious venues such as the Opera City Concert Hall, Tokyo, and Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City.

He was recently invited to present and perform the “Goldberg Variations” for the European Commission in Brussels.

Greco’s involvement with Bach’s unfinished “The Art of Fugue” produced several discoveries, resulting in conferences and concerts in Brussels, Rome and London. It also led to him write a book, “The Language of J.S. Bach: Enigmas and Their Resolution,” as well as give lectures and master classes.

Greco also has released a recording of “J. S.Bach’s The Art of Fugue,” “Goldberg Variations” and the first complete series of the “Keyboard Suites of Händel.”

Greco played with members of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra for a 2018 concert in the “Arts at St John’s series at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Allentown.

Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715