Piano Pyrotechnics at Music in Time

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Normally this blogger’s a big fan of events at the College of Charleston Simons Center on St. Philip Street. It’s home to the black box Theatre 220, Emmett Robinson Theatre, and Recital Hall, with the Halsey Institute’s gallery right next door (check out the provocative exhibition Penumbra there during the festival, if you’re in the area), and the Cistern basks in the shade of ancient oaks right across the street — always nice for a grassy loll after a performance.

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But this year, my feelings about attending a show in the Simons Center have taken on the character of the feelings I reserve for a trip to the dentist. With the St. Philip Street Garage turned into a block-sized pit of debris and construction, parking in the area is an adventure in the lowest reaches of hell. And that’s at night, when College lots and metered spaces are unpatrolled. During the day, it’s even worse: City and College parking nazis patrol every inch of potential car space. School's out, but god forbid anyone should park in one of the dozens of empty spaces in a CofC lot. Those spaces are reserved, apparently, for drivers inhabiting the spirit world. They, and their vehicles, are invisible to normal eyes but seem to take up just as much space.

If I sound like someone who’s recently been ticketed for parking in a CofC lot, there’s a good reason for that.

When I arrived at Recital Hall on Tuesday for Program III of Spoleto’s Music in Time series — slightly late, having parked approximately in Egypt — I realized the other reason I’m beginning to dread seeing performances at the Simons Center: the enormous pile driver pounding concrete foundation columns into the ground, with a bone-jarring intensity, in the hole that was formerly the St. Philip Street Garage. From inside Recital Hall at 5:10 pm, this sound has both the volume and the appeal of a person knocking repeatedly on the adjoining wall from the next room with a sledgehammer.

Be that as it may, host John Kennedy was a good sport about the racket, apologizing for it with a quip about it being “a large industrial metronome.” And given that star pianist Jenny Lin had worked with Kennedy to build a program of solo piano pieces for the program that each demonstrated a different example of virtuosity, maybe it was appropriate that she had to perform the six ravishingly difficult works amidst the clamor. Maybe we should’ve asked her to balance a book on her head and play blindfolded, too.

The six works couldn’t have been much more difficult to play if we had. From the premiere of a new work, Peras, by Johannes Maria Staud, to the dreamy, kaleidoscopic, sensuous Rain Tree Sketch I and II from impressionistic master Toru Takemitsu, to the thundering demands of Arthur Kampela’s virtuoso showpiece Nosturnos, Lin was in greater command of her instrument and her ability to wring sounds out of it than seemed physically possible. Even celebrity festival pianist Andrew von Oeyen, who spent most of the concert sitting in the front row with his eyes closed, seemed overwhelmed by the end.

A fair trade for a parking ticket, I’d say.

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