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The Return of Stephen Manes

Jonathan Golove and Stephen Manes

A favorite pianist returns for two very different programs

Buffalo area classical music audiences got to know pianist Stephen Manes very well during his 39-year tenure as a professor of piano in the University at Buffalo Department of Music before his retirement in 2007. Among the many concerts that he gave during his long tenure Manes, who also served for 11 years as the department chairman, gave three remarkable transversals of the entire Beethoven solo cycle, performing all 32 sonatas from memory during a single academic year, a singular feat that no other pianist has accomplished locally even once in living memory.

Even though Manes moved to Los Angeles after his retirement, he has continued to return on a yearly basis each fall, performing an “emeritus” recital at Slee Hall on the UB Amherst Campus, and he will continue that tradition when he appears there on Tuesday, October 15 at 7:30pm to perform a program of works for solo piano focusing on compositions by well known composers written in the form of variations for piano.

Preceding his Slee Hall recital, Stephen Manes will make his first return in over 20 years to the long-running Friends of Vienna series on Sunday, October 13 at 3:30pm at the Unity Church (1243 Delaware Avenue) for a performance of chamber music along with UB associate professor of cello Jonathan Golove. That concert will feature three 19th century Viennese masterworks for cello and piano: Beethoven’s Sonata No.5 in D major, Op. 102, No. 2, Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, Op. 73, and Brahms’ Sonata in E minor, Op. 38.

“I have been playing chamber music all my life,” says Manes, “and I always enjoy doing so, and playing with Jonathan is a special pleasure. I also coach chamber music each summer at a conference for amateur players. I think that the discipline and musical experience of playing chamber benefits one’s solo playing—I love doing both! The three works by Schumann, Beethoven, and Brahms are all masterpieces and involve both instruments on a very equal level. The Beethoven is quite late with a difficult—for the piano anyway—fugue as the last movement. The Brahms is a classic work, and it also has a difficult fugue as its last movement.”

The big work in Manes’s solo recital in Slee Hall is Beethoven’s late masterpiece, the 33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120. Composed by Beethoven between 1819 and 1823,the work remains one of the most challenging summits in the entire solo piano literature, and it is a work that Manes has only performed once previously. The UB program also includes Haydn’s Variations in F Minor, Mendelssohn’s Variations Sérieuses in D minor, Op. 54, and Aaron Copland’s Piano Variations from 1930.

“I see each set as a different flavor of the variation form,” says Manes. “They are really, structurally, so different from each other. The Haydn has two themes—one minor, one major—with only two variations on each, with a return to the original theme, which is broken off and goes into an extended improvisatory section. The Copland theme is very short and really made up of three little, punctuated segments of four notes, five notes, and then nine notes, plus a tail at the end. The Mendelssohn is probably the most traditional set of variations, as it is made up of a nice poignant theme and 17 variations.

“The Diabelli is a work unto itself. It is incredibly creative, witty, and serious—in reality 34 individual unique pieces including the Diabelli waltz.”

The Sunday Friends of Vienna concert will also feature, for the first time in the organization’s 38-year history, the world premier of a work commissioned especially for the series, with the debut of a work for cello and voice by the rising young Turkish composer Esin Gündüz. “I started composing Looking at / Towards / On Top of: Mount Agrı [Ararat] after witnessing the political events in Turkey my home country, in the summer of 2013,” says Gündüz. Her work sets texts by Pushkin, Nietzsche, and the Turkish author Turgut Özakman. “After observing so many different perspectives, and realizing how the perspective that one chooses changed one’s look at the whole picture, my yearning hope was for those perspectives to meet and unite in the middle, in wiser, wider, all-encompassing, and peaceful ideals. Isn’t that the big change of perspective that one experiences when she or he climbs the highest mountain or feels when on the top of a mountain?”

Tickets for either concert are: $10, $5 for students. For more information, visit www.friendsofvienna.org or www.slee.buffalo.edu.

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