Pianist Marc-André Hamelin will open his Sarasota Concert Association performance on Monday evening with his own recently completed composition, "Barcarolle," then move through Lizst's Sonata in B minor and selections from "On an Overgrown Path" by Leos Janacek, before concluding with Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit."
It's a challenging program that will bring Hamelin's skills completely to bear.
Hamelin's concert will open the concert association's Great Performers series, to the delight of president Joy McIntyre.
"As I traveled through southern Germany and Austria this summer, I kept running into news of Mr. Hamelin," she said. "The superlatives just keep rolling in."
"Hamelin is a curious balance. He's not a heart-on-the-sleeve player; the sense of exactitude gives a slightly scientific feeling to much of his playing," wrote Anne Midgett in the Washington Post last November. "Yet he can thunder out the fireworks more ardently, and loudly, than any 20-year-old wunderkind. Listening to him, you have the sense of a large brain looking for ways to express everything it is thinking, pushing up against the limits of the keyboard and its dynamics. But you do not lose yourself in the emotion so much as admire its being unfolded before you, in all its kaleidoscopic permutations."
He is known for "fresh readings" of established repertoire and for taking on rarely-performed works.
"The constant pursuit is to translate the message of the composer," he said in a telephone interview before Christmas from his home near Boston. "You have to rely on the printed music."
But, he said, "composers throughout history were variably more or less successful at conveying their intentions on paper. What you can do, and that's really a mark of a great communicator, is to suggest as much as possible. As an interpreter, you really have to learn to read between the lines. Even this rigid-looking system of symbols on a page will in the best of times suggest a great deal more."
Preparing to perform a composition means thorough immersion in the score itself.
"It should go without saying that the score should be very deeply studied and you have to live with it," said Hamelin. "One should never learn by listening to others. What you get is other people's solutions to the same problems. It's important to develop your own understanding of the composer's intentions."
Sometimes setting a work aside for an extended period of time will lead Hamelin to a deeper understanding.
"Almost every time I have laid a piece aside for a number of years and taken it up again and played it for myself, it sounds completely different," he said. "What's happened in the meantime? My personal evolution and growing association with other compositions."
His own new work, "Barcarolle," was commissioned for a German piano festival and was premiered last June. It will be performed at Carnegie Hall later this month.
"It's very difficult to talk about," the composer said. "I will tell you it is completely unlike the Chopin Barcarolle, or completely unlike any of the Fauré Barcarolles. It's much, much darker and very mysterious. It's darkly and softly hued. It's a piece I don't really have anything definite to say about. I would rather let the piece inhabit listeners' minds."
MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN. Sarasota Concert Association. 8 p.m. Jan. 6, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets range from $40-$70. 955-0040; www.scasarasota.org.