Paving a path towards music appreciation for HP youth

Pianist Carlos Schwartz performs the music of Handel during the Music Teachers of Hyde Park monthly concert. (Photo by Owen M. Lawson)

By M.L. RANTALA
Staff Critic

The Music Teachers of Hyde Park (MTHP) have their hands full teaching “virtually all instruments and styles of music.” They also sponsor a set of concerts at the Blackstone Library under the title, “Artists Series.”

These concerts have many merits: They are free; kids, even very young ones, are welcome; refreshments are provided; you can meet a potential music teacher as well as hear him or her make music. And you can browse the library before or after the concert.

Last Wednesday the performer was MTHP’s own Carlos Schwartz. Schwartz is a native of Venezuela who now lives in Hyde Park. He has about 50 students in the neighborhood, ranging in age from 2 to 11, so for most of these kids he is their first piano teacher.

It’s easy to see why he is so popular with young folks. His program was made up of mostly flashy, exciting pieces that grab attention, the sort of music that opens the gate for kids to walk through on a path to a life-long interest in music. He spoke about each piece briefly before he performed it, peppering the recital with interesting tidbits that appealed to kids and adults alike. The only downside to his commentary was that he spoke very fast, and this was perhaps because he was a bit nervous speaking in front of a crowd. One on one after the concert, his delivery was slower and easier to understand.

Schwartz opened the concert with a piano arrangement of Henry Purcell’s Rondo in D minor, which he played from memory. The performance was short and dramatic and featured a muscular left hand.

This was followed by the Suite in B-flat by Handel. Schwartz had delightful arpeggios, digging deep in the onset with the lowest notes. The central movement featured a winning melody that was rendered energetically. Even when Schwartz faced occasional difficulties, he propelled himself forward, offering an important lesson for anyone learning music.

The Allegro from Johann Agricola’s Sonata in F was infused with brightness and featured a gleaming treble sound, although the pace seemed occasionally rushed.

C.P.E. Bach’s Solfeggio in C minor was full of rapid passages moving up and down the keyboard, which Schwartz navigated with ease. Schubert’s Impromptu in A-flat was a little muddy, but the middle section had good bite.

Schwartz displayed his more delicate side in Debussy’s Prelude in B-flat, “Danseuses de Delphes.” He was elegant, especially in the fragile and intricate portions of the music.

Then Schwartz moved on to more popular music. This included two ragtime pieces, “Rialto Ripples” by Gershwin and “The Lion Tamer Rag” by Mark Janza. His energy was infectious and his playing had finesse without fuss. The music was fun, creating a carnival-like atmosphere and you could almost hear a lion roar during the enjoyable capering.

The brief Piano Sonata in A minor by Moises Moleiro (a fellow Venezuelan) was fast moving, with the thunderous minor section giving way to a burst of sunshine as the music modulated into a major key at the end. This was followed by an arrangement of a popular song from Venezuela, “Alma Llanera” (The Soul of the Farms). The rendition for piano had engaging, complex rhythms and was inflected with folk, jazz, and dance elements.

His last two works were clearly for the kids, coming from films. First was a charming melody from “Amelie” which Schwartz selected because his wife loves it. Then he closed the concert with an arrangement of music from “The Pirates of the Caribbean.” Before the “Pirates” he invited all the kids in the audience to come forward and to look inside the piano as he played, so they could see just how the instrument made its sound. Most of the kids took advantage of this (one very young tyke was adorably held up by mom high enough to see), and the thunderous music from the movie gave them additional entertainment.

Schwartz has described his teaching philosophy as this: “Once music becomes an integral part of the student, he is able to become a pianist. There is always an opportunity to begin; it is never too late.”

The next concert in the Artists Series sponsored by the Music Teachers of Hyde Park takes place Wed., Apr. 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the Blackstone branch of the Chicago Public Library (4904 S. Lake Park Ave., with entrance on Blackstone Ave.). Yukiko Fujimura will play a wide-ranging set of music anchored by Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30 in E Major. There will also be music from “The Well-Tempered Clavier” by J.S. Bach, a Transcendental Etude by Liszt, Etudes by Scriabin, and works by Schubert. See MTHP.org for more information.