Matthew Bengtson in (livestreamed) concert
by Ellen Sirower, The Michigan Daily, September 27, 2020. Read article
Pianist performs music on instrument popular in Beethoven’s day in Grayslake
By Sheryl Devore, Lake County News-Sun, March 9, 2020 on Chicago Tribune website. Read article
Matthew Bengtson at Penn
By Prof. James Primosch, February 26, 2016. See Blog of James Primosch, composer
Pianist Matthew Bengtson Performing Major 2 Hour Concert of Scriabin Works on Saturday, November 21 at DiMenna Center for Classical Music in Manhattan
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Edward McNally
Above the Fold PR
October 1, 2015
Pianist Matthew Bengtson Performing Major 2 Hour Concert of Scriabin Works on Saturday, November 21 at DiMenna Center for Classical Music in Manhattan
Bengtson marking centennial of composer’s death with concerts across the US and India and CD release of Scriabin’s complete Sonatas
(New York City) On Saturday, November 21, Philadelphia-based concert pianist Matthew Bengtson will perform 22 pieces by legendary Russian composer Alexander Scriabin at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music in Manhattan. (see complete concert program below) The two-hour long all-Scriabin recital is the final event Bengtson’s Scriabin Centennial Concert Tour marking the 2015 centennial of Scriabin’s tragic death at age 43. For the penultimate event on his Centennial Tour, Bengtson will perform a recital of Bach and Scriabin on Sunday, November 15 at St. Alban’s Church in Staten Island.
Bengtson reflected on how he chose the program for his recital at the DiMenna Center. “After numerous all-Scriabin performances this year, I wanted to share one concentrated program running the gamut of style from a passionate late Romantic to a mystical visionary at the vanguard of musical innovation, while also featuring as many of Scriabin’s most iconic achievements as possible.” Bengtson explains, “I wanted to include the Preludes op. 11, the magnificent Sonatas 5, 9 and 10, and his final work, the Preludes op. 74. The beautiful Sonata no. 2 and a generous helping of his finest miniature masterworks – some of them lesser known – flesh out the experience. And the most famous Etudes op. 2 no. 1 in C# minor and op. 8 no. 12 in D# minor act as bookends, inviting in the listener and wrapping things up with Scriabin’s torrential passion.”
Earlier this year, Bengtson released two CDs of the complete Sonatas on Romeo Records, which The American Record Guide compared to legendary performances by Horowitz and Richter. The esteemed commentator John Bell Young, writing in Fanfare magazine, calls Bengtson “a Scriabinist for the 21st century .. upon whom future generations can rely for definitive interpretations.” Young describes Bengtson as an artist who “offers some of the most authoritative and electrifying readings of the sonatas (and a few of the miniature character pieces) in memory. Here is a pianist of extraordinary depth and imagination, whose way with this music is at once unique, satisfying, and interpretively unimpeachable.”
Bengtson’s Complete Scriabin Sonatas Volume I (74 min.) demonstrates the wide range of style from the big Romantic gestures of the 3rd Sonata, through the quivering ecstasy of the 4th and 5th Sonatas, breaking the tonal system into the mystical landscapes of the 8th 9th and 10th sonatas, which show the full extent of Scriabin’s daring sonic imagination. Volume II (76 min.) begins with the cataclysm of the Sonata no. 1, with its funeral march, through the seaside landscapes of the Second, to the occult sonorities of the Sixth and concluding with the triumphant mysticism of the Seventh. Joining these four sonatas are a selection of impressive shorter works that completes a portrait of this astonishingly wide-ranging musical imagination.
On June 21, Bengtson was one of only three concert pianists from across the globe featured in “Scriabin in the Himalayas”, a magnificent tribute for the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin that took place on the outdoor terraces of Thikse Monastery in Ladakh, India on the summer solstice. The recitals featured Scriabin’s greatest works for solo piano as well as Vocalises and a unique transcription of “The Divine Poem” for piano four hands. As the first concert pianist to perform Scriabin’s music in the foothills of the Himalayas, Bengtson paid homage to the composer’s lifelong dream of an epic synesthetic performance in the Indians Himalayas, an apocalyptic opus Scriabin called the Mysterium. 2015 is also the centennial of Scriabin’s tragic death at age 43 and the all-day, two-part “Scriabin in the Himalayas” concert was undoubtedly the most elaborate event anywhere in the world marking the anniversary.
“I was thrilled to be invited to perform for this historic tribute to Scriabin,” says Matthew Bengtson, one of the world’s leading interpreters of the Russian composer’s brilliant music. “I’ve devoted a significant portion of my professional life to studying Alexander Scriabin and to performing and recording his works,’ added Bengtson. “So naturally, to play a key artistic role in bringing his dream of the Mysterium to life in such a sublime, magnificent setting was deeply gratifying for me, both as an artist and as a lover of great music. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for everyone involved.” For more details on this historic concert event, visit www.scriabininthehimalayas.com.
Critically acclaimed as a “musician’s pianist,” Bengtson, a Steinway artist, is a versatile pianist, harpsichordist, and fortepianist who commands a diverse repertoire ranging from Byrd to Ligeti. He has been presented as a soloist and chamber musician in numerous concerts across Europe, Mexico and America. His discography includes the recording of complete Scriabin Sonatas, which The American Record Guide compared to legendary performances by Horowitz and Richter asking, “Has Scriabin ever been played better?” (see complete Bengtson bio below)
For further information about pianist Matthew Bengtson, his touring schedule and his complete recordings, visit http://www.mattbengtson.com/home.html
Listen to Matthew Bengtson playing Scriabin’s Etude Op. 8 No. 12 in D# minor, recorded live at Chatham University, Pittsburgh. https://youtu.be/v1yxMzyb4N0
DiMenna Center All-Scriabin Recital
3 – 5 pm, Saturday, November 21
diMenna Center for Classical music
450 West 37th St., New York, NY
$25 Purchase Tickets Here
Étude op. 2 no. 1 in C# minor arr. for LH alone by Jay Reise
Preludes op. 11 (selections)
no. 12 in G# minor
no. 9 in E major
no. 10 in C# minor
no. 11 in B major
Sonata no. 2 in G# minor “Sonata-fantasy”
Andante – Presto
Preludes op. 37
no. 1 in B-flat minor
no. 2 in F# major
no. 3 in B major
no. 4 in G minor
Poème op. 32 no. 1 in F#
Sonata no. 5, op. 53
Deux Poèmes, op. 71
no. 1, Fantastique
no. 2, En rêvant
Preludes, op. 74
Très lent, contemplatif
Lent, vague, indécis
Prelude op. 67 no. 1
Sonata no. 9, op. 68 “Black Mass” (1913)
Deux Poèmes, op. 69 (1913)
Allegretto – Allegretto
Sonata no. 10, op. 70 (1913)
Étude op. 42 no. 3 in F# major
Études op. 8 (selections)
no. 11 in B-flat minor
no. 12 in D# minor
3:30 – 5 pm, November 15, 2015
Music at St. Alban’s Piano Masterworks Series
Bach and Scriabin
Saint Alban’s Episcopal Church
76 Saint Alban’s Place, Staten Island, New York
$25 Purchase Tickets Here
Matthew Bengtson – piano
Critically acclaimed as a “musician’s pianist,” Matthew Bengtson has a unique combination of musical talents ranging from extraordinary pianist, to composer, analyst, and scholar of performance practice, and thus is in demand as both soloist and collaborator. As a La Gesse Fellow, he has been presented in concerts in France and Italy, Italy and Hungary, at Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello, and in solo recitals at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. He has performed numerous times on the Pro Musica series in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. He has performed with the Reading, Pottstown, Ridgefield and Bay-Atlantic Symphony Orchestras, and has appeared with violinist Joshua Bell on NPR’s “Performance Today” and XM Satellite Radio’s “Classical Confidential.” He has recently been named a Steinway Artist.
Upcoming Mathew Bengtson Concerts
St. Alban’s Church Staten Island Bach and Scriabin recital Sunday, November 15, afternoon Recital of music by Bach and Scriabin.
diMenna Center Scriabin recital Saturday, November 21, 3 – 5 pm diMenna center for Classical music 450 West 37th St., NYC. Music of Scriabin.
# # #
Seven Questions to Pianist Matthew Bengtson: An Interview by Tilman Skowroneck
1) Matt, you just came home from playing a solo recital with a full Scriabin program: sonatas and smaller works. What’s even more special about it: you played at noon on solstice day, at the Thikse Gompa Buddhist Monastery in central Ladakh, India, at the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains. The recital was part of a larger celebration marking the 100th anniversary of Scriabin’s death. Why solstice day? Why the Himalayas?
Scriabin imagined his “Mysterium” to be held in the foothills in the Himalayas because he thought of India as the cradle of civilization, spiritually. The progress of the sun was supposed to symbolize the path to enlightenment, with the solstice as the climax. He intended to combine all kinds of sensory experience in the event: music, color, dance, perfumes, architecture, and also the landscape. To my knowledge, in 100 years this was the first event to have attempted to combine all these sensory experiences in a Scriabin festival. It was quite stunning to witness the beauty and grandeur of the landscape and a real kick to smell Michel Roudnistka’s perfumes designed for the occasion, and to collaborate with the monks of the monastery in their traditional Cham dance.
2) When I first met you I immediately got the impression that Scriabin has a special place for you – for me as a listener, it seems that you have a strong emotional affinity with this music. How did you get to know this music?
Like many piano enthusiasts, I enjoyed listening to Horowitz’s performances and also saw them on television. So of course I heard him play the famous D# minor Etude and the early C minor op. 2, no. 1. Horowitz passed away while I was in high school, and his New York Times obituary listed a select discography. I always liked to explore, so on a whim, I bought his Scriabin CD on CBS Masterworks just to see what other music there might be by this intriguing composer. It was a transformative experience. Of course, there were these Romantic miniature jewels that I fell in love with immediately. I wanted to play some Etudes, and they were among the pieces that really made me work seriously at the piano for the first time; sight-reading skills will not suffice when facing this level of difficulty. That was a turning point where I really started to enjoy practicing. Vers la Flamme, which Horowitz called “psychedelic music,” was also featured on this disc, as were the Ninth and Tenth Sonatas. I was pretty conservative in taste at this time, and had hardly played any 20th century music at all. I didn’t understand these pieces at first, but there was something earth-shattering about them, and after repeated listenings I was bitten by the bug and started to collect recordings of this repertoire and learned a lot of it in a short time.
3) You are one of rather few musicians I know who seem completely fearless when juggling the intellectual and emotional elements of musicianship, slipping in and out of both modes at will, and using them in tandem. This also made it possible for you to talk (in another interview) about the “the healthy and liberating effect” performance practical knowledge has on the recreative process. Many pianists would, in contrast, probably think that (intellectually based) performance practical knowledge restricts (emotionally based) artistic choices and thus narrows down the large array of potential musical choices to The One choice of what “should” be done. Talking about Scriabin specifically, what are the performance-practical key points, and how are they “liberating” for you when you play his music?
One thread I have found throughout performance practice studies is rhythmic flexibility, and this is nowhere more germane, and essential to successful interpretation, than in Scriabin. There may be no more accurately recorded rubato than the Scriabin piano rolls as prepared by Pavel Lobanov, including a beat-by-beat metronome graph of tempo fluctuations. Anatole Leikin’s study of this material relates his ebb and flow quite convincingly to musical logic. As a performer, I always felt (intuitively, or emotionally) that Scriabin’s music needs extremely strong characterization through colors and timings, and when I play, being able to trust the authenticity of such an approach is quite liberating.
4) In the well-known film documentary about Horowitz in Moscow, a little scene shows the pianist entering a room to play on Scriabin’s own piano. He lifts the lid, makes a face, and says “Bechstein” in a disappointed tone of voice. He then sits down and plays nevertheless. What are your experiences playing Scriabin on different pianos?
I am speculating, but it’s possible the Bechstein may have been Scriabin’s preferred instrument, since he owned one in his residence off Arbat Street in Moscow for his last years. He also went to Bechstein’s when he needed to practice in London, where he enjoyed his greatest public successes. I did get to play an all-Scriabin recital on a fantastic Bechstein piano at Chatham University that was re-broadcast on WQED-FM’s Performance in Pittsburgh. I am accustomed to playing this repertoire on Steinway and Steinway-type pianos, which do have many advantages in this music, generating a rich and powerful sonority and highlighting parts of these complex textures. However, I must say it was quite a treat to play that Bechstein, which made many new things possible. In my understanding, Bechstein pianos effectively combine German and English characteristics, and even this 20th century instrument was a delight for making a veiled and colorful Romantic sonority. Clearer and less heavy attacks, a slight after-ring, and greater distinctions between the registers made it easier to produce the kind of chiaroscuro effects that are often effective in this music. It is also nice to feel comfortable playing at times without pedal without fear of dryness. Since Scriabin was not known as a powerful player but was renowned for his magical sonority with many pedal shadings, it stands to reason that these features would have made a good fit for his performing style.
5) One reason for this interview is obviously your planned participation at Westfield’s Forte/Piano Festival (in a joint anniversary concert for Scriabin and Sibelius, together with Tuija Hakkila and Miri Yampolsky). What is special about bringing Scriabin to this festival?
The festival promises to be an extraordinary event on many levels. It is great to bring this cherished repertoire to any audience, of course, but it is particularly interesting to play to an audience that is keenly attuned to performance practice issues. Scriabin may not be often studied along the lines we apply to earlier eras, but in fact many of those techniques work quite effectively in this repertoire.
6) You have issued all of Scriabin’s sonatas on a set of highly acclaimed CDs. At Cornell, you are playing other works: Préludes, Poèmes, Études and other pieces. Will you record this repertoire as well?
I very well might, and the critical response has certainly been most encouraging. I don’t have a specific plan yet for which pieces or when, but I have a good number of these pieces in my fingers and they could make for some interesting future projects.
7) What will you do in the remainder of this “Scriabin year”?
I have a number of Scriabin recitals planned in various locations including the complete sonatas in two concerts in Philadelphia, a week’s tour of the midwest, performances at Boston College and Ithaca College, and at the diMenna Center in New York. There may be some more to come in 2016 as well. I am also working to co-author a new book on Scriabin for Rowman and Littlefield, together with John Bell Young and Lincoln Ballard – my own role being primarily to discuss interpretive challenges and the recorded tradition. It’s meant to be both a friendlier introduction to the composer for the uninitated and a more reliable work of scholarship than what is readily available at present. We feel that some new work on Scriabin in English is overdue!
Thanks very much for this interview, and I am looking forward to hearing your concert!
Reprinted from the Newsletter of the Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard Studies, Vol. XXVI, number 2, Summer 2015, edited by Tilman Skowroneck, with kind permission from Tilman Skowroneck and the Westfield Center.
Music of Lyricism, Romance, Passion and Mystery by Schubert, Rachmaninoff and Ives at Bay-Atlantic Symphony’s Concerts on March 23 and 24
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Samuel Levy
(856) 691-9234 (home)
February 25, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MUSIC OF LYRCISM, ROMANCE, PASSION, AND MYSTERY BY SCHUBERT, RACHMANINOFF AND IVES AT BAY-ATLANTIC SYMPHONY’S CONCERTS ON MARCH 23 AND 24
BRIDGETON, NJ — Music full of exquisite lyricism, passion, and romanticism by Franz Schubert and Sergei Rachmaninoff, will make up the program for the Bay-Atlantic Symphony’s next concert series on March 23 and 24.
This concert series, one of the Symphony’s “Essential Concerts” for the season, will take place on Saturday, March 23, at 8 p.m., at the Frank Guaracini, Jr. Fine and Performing Arts Center, Cumberland County College, College Drive, Vineland, NJ; and Sunday, March 24, at 2 p.m., at the Richard Stockton College Performing Arts Center, Jimmie Leeds Road, Galloway Township, NJ.
Again for this season’s subscription concert series, a discounted ticket price of $25 will be for all seats in all venues, subsidized by a generous grant from the PNC Arts Alive grant program. PNC Arts Alive is a five-year, $5 million investment from The PNC Foundation that supports visual and performing arts groups with the goal of increasing arts access and engagement.
The concerts, conducted by Music Director Jed Gaylin, will feature Rachmaninoff’s ever-popular Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 featuring renowned pianist Matthew Bengtson, a favorite among Delaware Valley audiences. Also included will be Schubert’s lyrical Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759, “Unfinished” and Charles Ives’ work of mystery and inquiry The Unanswered Question.
One of the most beloved piano concerti ever written, Rachmaninoff’s work is full of surging romanticism and pianistic virtuosity. Its beautiful melodies inspired such popular songs as Frank Sinatra’s hit Full Moon and Empty Arms in the 1940s and Eric Carmen’s All by Myself in the 1970s.
Schubert’s equally-popular Unfinished Symphony, brimming with melodies of lyricism and grace, is so well-proportioned that we forget that the composer left the work with only two movements completed.
Ives, an American original, composed works that exuded Americana. His The Unanswered Question is composed in his unique multi-layered style and is a musical search for the elusive answer to “the perennial question of existence.”
All Bay-Atlantic Symphony performances will be preceded one hour prior to starting time with a “Pre-Concert Conversation with the Maestro.”
Tickets may be ordered by calling the Guaracini Fine and Performing Arts Center box office at (856) 692-8499, or the Stockton College Performing Arts Center box office at (609) 652-9000.
For more information, please call the Bay-Atlantic Symphony at (856) 451-1169, visit the Symphony’s website at www.bayatlanticsymphony.org, or visit them on Facebook. Critically acclaimed as a “musician’s pianist,” Matthew Bengtson has talents ranging from extraordinary pianist, to composer, analyst, and scholar of performance practice, and is in demand as both soloist and collaborator. As a La Gesse Fellow, he has been presented in concerts in France, Italy, and Hungary to rave reviews, at Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello, and in solo recitals at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. He is a favorite soloist in the Pro Musica series in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. He has performed with the Reading, Pottstown and Ridgefield Symphony Orchestras, and has appeared with violinist Joshua Bell on NPR’s “Performance Today” and XM Satellite Radio’s “Classical Confidential.”
An advocate of both contemporary and rarely performed music, he commands a diverse repertoire, ranging from William Byrd to Luciano Berio and György Ligeti. This includes a special interest in the music of the early 20th century, especially that of Alexander Scriabin and Karol Szymanowski. His doctoral research and first studio recording were devoted to Szymanowski’s 22 mazurkas. His interpretation of six Scriabin Sonatas can be heard on a recent highly-acclaimed release by Roméo Records.
Bengtson studied piano performance as a Harvard undergraduate with Patricia Zander. He also studied contemporary literature with Stephen Drury, and chamber music and performance practice with Robert Levin. He studied with Ann Schein at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, earning his MM and DMA degrees in piano performance, minoring in harpsichord with Webb Wiggins. He studied fortepiano with Malcolm Bilson on a fellowship at Cornell University. He continues to perform on all three instruments, as soloist and as collaborator, as in the Aurelio Ensemble. He is involved in an extensive recording project of early English instruments of the Charles West Wilson collection, for Griffin Renaissance Records.
He has participated in many American music festivals, such as the Aspen Music Festival, the Summer Institute for Contemporary Piano Performance (SICPP) at New England Conservatory, and the Classical Workshop and Baroque Performance Institute (BPI) at Oberlin Conservatory. In Europe, he studied at the Internationale Sommerakademie “Mozarteum” in Salzburg, Austria, and the Centre Acanthes in Avignon, with Claude Helffer and at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau, France, with Philippe Entremont. In Salzburg, he performed Pierre Boulez’s Sonata No. 1 in the Wiener Saal, and at Fontainebleau, he was awarded the Prix de la Ville de Fontainebleau for his performances.
Also known as a thoughtful writer on music, he was awarded the 2003 Stefan and Wanda Wilk Prize for Research in Polish Music for his paper The “Szymanowski Clash”: Methods of Harmonic Analysis in the Szymanowski Mazurkas. His comparative review of performances of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations is published in the New Beethoven Forum. His article on a competitive experience in Moscow was published in the Journal of the Scriabin Society of America.
Bengtson teaches privately at the University of Pennsylvania and at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges, and is Vice-President of Tri-County Concerts Association. Besides his musical attainments, he was educated at Harvard University with a focus in mathematics and computer science. He reads Latin and Greek, is a 3-handicap golfer, a dan-level go player, and a chess FIDE master (FM).
Jed Gaylin, now in his 16th season as Music Director of the Bay-Atlantic Symphony, is Artist in Residence at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey–the latter position being part of an innovative model in which the Bay-Atlantic Symphony is integrated into the college’s musical curriculum. He is also the Principal Conductor of the Cape May Music Festival and Music Director of the Johns Hopkins Symphony Orchestra in Baltimore.
The Music Director of the Two Rivers Chamber Orchestra in Shepherstown, WV, Gaylin also serves as the Director of Orchestras at the International Music Festival and Summer Course of Cervera (Spain), and was a regular conductor at Opera Vivente in Baltimore. His numerous guest appearances include St. Petersburg State Symphony, National Film and Radio Philharmonic (Beijing, China), Shanghai Conservatory Orchestra, Bucharest Radio Orchestra, Academia del Gran Teatre del Liceu (Barcelona, Spain) among many others.
Gaylin’s television and radio broadcasts included been National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition, Voice of America, Bucharest Radio Orchestra, and the National Radio and Film Philharmonic (Beijing), and locally on WWFM in New Jersey and WYPR in Baltimore.
He earned a Bachelor of Music in piano and a Master of Music in conducting at the Oberlin Conservatory, and a Doctor of Musical Arts in conducting at the Peabody Conservatory. He attended the Aspen Music Festival as a Conducting Fellow. Among other honors, he has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and the Presser Music Award. His conducting teachers have included Frederik Prausnitz, Leonard Slatkin, Jahja Ling, Murry Sidlin, Paul Vermel, and Michel Singher, and, for piano, Lydia Frumkin.
Now in its 29th season of providing classical music concerts, the Bay-Atlantic Symphony performs concerts and educational programs in Cumberland, Atlantic, Gloucester, and Cape May counties.
It is the resident orchestra of the Stockton College Performing Arts Center and the Guaracini Fine and Performing Arts Center at Cumberland County College, as well as being the orchestra-in-residence at the Cape May Music Festival since 2003. Avalon is the summer home of the Symphony, which is orchestra-in-residence of the resort’s “Symphony by the Sea” series. The Symphony has received worldwide exposure through its appearances on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and WWFM’s Celebrating our Musical Community.
In addition to being consistently praised for its astonishing level of artistry and precision, the Bay-Atlantic Symphony is also viewed throughout New Jersey as a model for how professional orchestras can become a vital focus and source of identity in their communities. As a sought-after creative partner throughout the region, the Bay-Atlantic Symphony has forged residencies with area colleges, numerous towns, music festivals such as Cape May, and casinos.
Among world-renowned soloists collaborating with the orchestra have been Hilary Hahn, Eugenia Zukerman, the Eroica Trio, Stefan Jackiw, Awagadin Pratt, Shai Wosner, Chee-Yun, and Adam Neiman.
The Symphony’s first commercial label recording, of She Comes to Shore–concerto for improvised piano and orchestra by the contemporary Hong Kong-born, Canadian-based composer and pianist Lee Pui Ming, was recorded August 2010 and is available on the Innova label, distributed by Naxos.
“The PNC Foundation has a long history of providing grants to non-profit organizations that strengthen and enrich the lives of our neighbors,” said Bill Mills, regional president of PNC for Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. “We understand the valuable return that investing in the arts can deliver. Today more than ever, the businesses we attract, the jobs we create and the visitors who extend their stay are drawn by what the Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey region has to offer.”
For this prestigious grant award, only 25 arts organizations in the Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey region were selected in 2012 for bold thinking around increasing arts access and engagement and the Bay-Atlantic Symphony was one. For more information on PNC Arts Alive and the grant recipients, visit www.PNCARTSALIVE.com.
These concerts are also made possible through funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
– 30 –
For RSO’s ‘Audience Choice,’ Bengtson is a Go
Reading Eagle, Weekend Section, Thursday, May 17, 2012, p. 16, Cover Story
For RSO’s ‘Audience Choice,’
BENGTSON IS A GO
The Wyomissing native, who will join the Reading Symphony Orchestra for Saturday night’s season finale, is a master at chess and the Chinese board game go, a 3-handicap golfer and has also been known to dabble in piano.
By Susan L. Peña, Reading Eagle Correspondent
Throughout the Reading Symphony Orchestra season, audiences have been asked to vote, first on composers, then on specific pieces to make up the final program on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Sovereign Performing Arts Center.
This ‘Audience Choice’ concert, conducted by RSO music director Andrew Constantine, will begin with “Hoedown” from American composer Aaron Copland’s ballet “Rodeo,” followed by Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 3 in D minor, performed by guest artist and Wyomissing native Matthew Bengtson.
The second half of the concert will be devoted to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor.
Bengtson, who has performed often in this area, including previous guest appearances with the RSO, was notified in late February that he was being offered either the Rachmaninoff Concerto or the same composer’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” to be played in the May concert.
“It was a surprise call,” he said in a recent telephone interview from his home near Philadelphia. “I rarely play concertos.”
He was happy with the final choice, since he has known the piece “forever,” having played it in the two-piano version while in graduate school at Peabody Conservatory.
This will be the first time he has played it with an orchestra, and he said he’s looking forward to the experience.
‘The RSO has performed it so many times, so they know it very well,’ he said.
Bengtson, a graduate of the Hill School in Pottstown, began his musical studies during his childhood, then earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and compter science at Harvard University, while continuing to study piano with Patricia Zander. He also studied contemporary piano literature with Stephen Drury and chamber music and performance practice with Robert Levin.
He then earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in piano performance from Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, studying piano with Ann Schein and harpsichord with Webb Wiggins.
On a fellowship at Cornell University, he studied fortepiano (an early version of the piano) with Malcolm Bilson. He has become something of an early-music specialist, although he continues to concertize on the modern piano.
Bengtson is also an advocate of contemporary music, and also specializes in the music of Russian early-20th-century composer Alexander Scriabin, and late Romantic Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, whose music he has recorded.
In addition to his successful performance career, Bengtson teaches privately at the University of Pennsylvania, and at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges. He typically has 12 to 15 students at one time.
Bengtson said he made eight trips to Pittsburgh during the fall semester in 2011 as a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and he recently recorded a CD of the music of Albeniz, Mendelssohn and Chopin. He is planning to record music music of Szymanowski and Scriabin.
In addition to his musical projects, Bengtson reads Latin and Greek, is a 3-handicap golfer, a dan-level go player and a Chess FIDE (Federation Internationale des Echecs, or World Chess Federation) master.
Go is a board game that originated in China more than 2,000 years ago; it has simple rules involving black and white stones, but requires intense strategy. A ‘dan’ level is considered a master rank.
Lately, he said, he has less time for these activities, since he and his wife have a 2-year-old girl, Linnea, and are expecting a boy in late July.
‘I still play go online,’ he said, ‘but no more tournaments.’
Pianist and polymath: Matthew Bengtson
By Lucy Miller Murray
When stalwart reviewer Susan Pena of the Reading Times described Matthew Bengtson as “both
analytical and creative,” she gave a quick but accurate take on him. “Both sides of his brain
seem to be perfectly balanced,” she continued. Yes, the brain is a fascinating subject in
Bengtson. Just consider his education: a DMA in Piano Performance from the Peabody Institute
and an AB in Computer Science (cum laude) from Harvard. And his academic associations: Curtis
Institute, University of Pennsylvania, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Cornell, and Peabody. Currently he
is a piano instructor in the undergraduate Private Study programs at Bryn Mawr and Haverford,
and at Penn he is a Fellow in the Blutt College House Music Program. At the Curtis Institute
he was a staff pianist accompanying students in lessons and recitals and at the Settlement
School he was a member of the studio piano and music theory faculty. He was also a Teaching
Associate in the Music Theory Department at Peabody and adjunct piano instructor at Cornell.
He has also presented workshops at Harvard and at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
Additional studies have also taken him to the Mozarteum in Salzburg and the Centre Acanthes
and Écoles d’Art Américaines in France.
Consider also his recently published articles: “The Szymanowski Clash: Harmonic Conflict and
Ambiguity in the Szymanowski Mazurkas” (Polish Music Journal), “Interpretative Questions in the
Diabelli Variations” (New Beethoven Forum 12), “A Pilgrimage for Scriabin” (Journal of the Scriabin
Society of America), and, of course, the Stefan and Wanda Wilk Prize for Research in Polish Music
awarded by the University of Southern California for his paper, “The Szymanowski Clash: Methods of
Harmonic Analysis in the Szymanowski Mazurkas.”
His other awards are many: the La Gesse Foundation Fellowship which supported performances in France
and Italy and the French Embassy in Washington, DC, as well as at Monticello in Charlottesville, VA
and Carnegie Hall. He was a Lowens Award Finalist at the American Musicological Society, and
recipient of the Otto R. Stahl Memorial Prize at Cornell and the Timothy Faron Award at Harvard.
At the age of seventeen, he won the Reading Symphony and Pottstown Symphony concerto competitions.
Matthew Bengtson is also on the roster of PennPAT (Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour) which
gives grant support to professional Pennsylvania artists and presenters.
If, after all these impressive achievements, you still wonder about his playing, just listen to his
recording of the Scriabin sonatas (Romeo Records, 2005). Here is playing that exudes not only
intelligence but also great warmth and romanticism, the farthest thing from an academic approach.
Lawrence Budmen of the American Record Guide noted the “big-boned pianism, rich tonal colors, and
dazzling technique. Has Scriabin ever been played better? Only Horowitz and Richter can compare to
what Bengtson achieves on this disc.” Matt Bengtson explains that he grew up with “the big Romantic
sound of Chopin and Liszt” even if his musical adventures took him in other directions. Preserving
that sound in Scriabin serves him well.
Another recording, B! Music of Bach, Bartok, and Brahms, by its very title, reflects the breadth and
diversity of his musical interests. He as also recorded the complete mazurkas of Karol Szymanowski,
again a meeting of his academic and artistic interests. Other recordings feature the chamber works
of Philadelphia area composers David Bennett Thomas and Matt Monticchio He is also currently involved
in a multi-CD recording of the Charles West Wilson collection of original English instruments that
includes pianos by Broadwood and Longman & Broderip and harpsichords by Slade, Kirkman, and Shudi.
The first disc will be released on Griffin Renaissance Records in 2008.
In his repertoire, Matt Bengtson has a commitment to new music that includes works by Luciano Berio,
György Ligeti, Alberto Ginastera, Witold Lutoslawski, and Toru Takemitsu, to name a few. He has also
performed works by some fifteen Philadelphia composers including Curt Cacioppo and Jeremy Gill. And
let’s not omit his devotion to French music including, of course, Debussy, Ravel, and Franck, but
also Pierre Boulez, Henri Dutilleux, and Olivier Messiaen.
His own compositions include Suite for Melomanie: Five Pieces for Baroque Instruments in which he will
be guest harpsichordist with the ensemble Melomanie for its Wilmington performance last February. An
upcoming Philadelphia area
performance is the Music and Conversation program at Haverford on March 18 when he will perform with
the Aurelio Ensemble that also includes soprano Laura Heimes, violinist Fran Berge, and cellist Rebecca
Humphrey. Some recent past appearances include a Penn Humanities Forum performance in which he
accompanied soprano Julianne Baird on harpsichord and fortepiano in a lecture-recital on the history
of ornamented song. He also appeared last summer at the Ethical Society for the
Philadelphia chapter of the Kosciuszko Foundation with violinist Blanka Bednarz in an all-Szymanowski
program. His remarkable “Halloween program” last November in Rittenhouse Square’s Holy Trinity Church
(repeated at Penn at 11 p.m.) brought together Prokofiev’s Suggestion Diabolique, Scriabin’s Black Mass
Sonata, Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, Ligeti’s étude The Devil’s Staircase,
and Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz. How’s that for a terrifying program!
In 2007 he the performed the Bach Goldberg Variations at the Franz Liszt Museum in Budapest, in Triberg,
Germany, and in Toulouse, France. In Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, he performed both the Goldberg
Variations and Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, two of the most intellectually and technically intimidating
works of the entire keyboard repertoire. Yet Matt approaches Bach and Ravel with the same aplomb it
takes to play a good game of chess: understanding, concentration, discipline, hard work, and, not the least, passion.
That brings us back to the other side of his brain. In addition to a Harvard education that focused on
mathematics and computer science, Matt Bengtson reads Latin and Greek, is a three-handicap golfer, and
a chess FIDE master. About this last interest, Goethe said, “Chess is the touchstone of the intellect.”
So it is with Matt’s commitment to this complex pastime. On his website (www.mattbengtson.com)
he proudly displays a picture of his playing for the Cornell chess team in Singapore,
one his many world-wide adventures in this pursuit. Matt is currently president of the Penn Go Society,
an organization dedicated to the ancient Asian strategy game which now, says Matt, has taken the place of
chess in his life. That transition we might leave for a whole other article.
About playing three instruments Matt Bengtson is modest and practical. He does not practice all three at
the same time but goes through what he calls “phases” where the complexity of each instrument is addressed
individually. His harpsichord studies at Peabody as well fortepiano work with Robert Levin at Harvard and
Malcolm Bilson at Cornell serve as fine preparations for the difficulties of the instruments. This is to
say nothing, of course, about all sides of Matt Bengtson’s brain working to feed the creative energy he
pours into his music, be it harpsichord, fortepiano, or a modern Steinway. Somehow he makes it all work.
Bell and Bengtson launch XM Satellite Radio’s Classical Confidential
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Matthew Bengtson, 215-704-4600;
Publicist, Trish Doll, Publicity Works, 717-445-6377
World-renowned violinist, pianist help launch XM Satellite Radio’s “Classical Confidential”
Musicians Joshua Bell and Matthew Bengtson are classic competitors
Philadelphia, PA – (February 8, 2005) — Pianist Matthew Bengtson has teamed up with world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell for the premier episode of “Classical Confidential,” XM Satellite Radio’s new interview and performance program dedicated to classical music and its modern day stars. The new series will be hosted by Martin Goldsmith, XM’s classical music program director and on-air personality, and former host of National Public Radio’s “Performance Today.”
“Classical Confidential” will debut on Wednesday, November 2, 2005 at 8 p.m. on XM Classics (XM Channel 110), XM Pops (XM Channel 113), Fine Tuning (XM Channel 76) and XM LIVE (XM Channel 200).
The program features Bell on the violin, accompanied by Bengtson in performances of Fritz Kreisler’s “Praeludium & Allegro” and “Liebesleid,” Tchaikovsky’s “Melodie,” and Sarasate’s “Introduction & Tarantella.” The show was taped before a studio audience of American Youth Philharmonic students, aged 12 and up, and their teachers.
Encore broadcasts of this episode will air throughout November, exclusively on XM. XM Satellite Radio delivers more than 150 digital channels coast-to-coast, including: 67 commercial-free music channels, plus premiere sports, talk, news and entertainment programming, and 21 channels of comprehensive traffic and weather information.
Bengtson also accompanied Bell on a program of music, which was taped in early September for National Public Radio’s “Performance Today,” hosted by journalist Fred Child. The show aired the week of Sept. 20, after the release of Bell’s new recording of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting.
Both performers command rave reviews. The Boston Herald has called Bell “the greatest American violinist active today.” And a recent American Record Guide review of the pianist’s recording of Scriabin Sonatas stated, “Only Horowitz and Richter can compare to what Bengtson achieves on this disc.”
Both performers have excelled in pursuits outside music. Bell was a finalist in a tennis tournament at age 10 and is an avid golfer and tennis player. Bengtson is an internationally ranked chess master who also competes in amateur golf tournaments. On an intellectual level, they also have a similar enthusiasm for Douglas Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach.