Though our official last full day in Brazil was Saturday, Jan. 11, we were not actually leaving the country until 11:45 pm on Sunday the 12th. That meant most of another full day to do something of interest. Knowing this, some of us had decided earlier in the week to attend a solo piano recital we had read about, scheduled for this day at 11:30 am in the MAM, Rio’s Modern Art Museum. The recital idea fit perfectly into the mission and philosophy of the travel class — i.e., to be exposed to Brazilian life in as many facets and forms as possible, with a particular emphasis on the music of the country — since three out of four composers represented on the program were well-known Brazilians: César Guerra-Peixe (1914-1993), violinist, composer and conductor; Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934), composer and pianist; and Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), described as “the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music.” The fourth composer on the program was Frederic Chopin, represented by two works: his Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66, and the Polonaise in Ab, Op. 53.
After a welcome greeting from one of the museum administrators, Ms. Kellner began her program. She played the first piece, by César Guerra-Peixe, using the score, and frankly, I was a little concerned at that point about her ability to survive the recital. Not only was she reading from a flimsy paper score, but her playing was stiff, stilted and slow, and she still had a LONG way to go, including two big Chopin pieces at the end! Luckily, during the second group of pieces, by Ernesto Nazareth, Ms. Kellner seemed to recover herself some. The Nazareth pieces were very enjoyable to hear, esp. his Polonaise in D, a dense, sectional work which we could later compare to Chopin’s more famous work at the end of the program. The third set of pieces, by Villa-Lobos, required great agility and finesse. By now the player seemed completely settled in, her technique, though limited in some respects, was at least working to its capacity and meeting the demands of the music. The final two pieces, the Fantasie-Impromptu and Polonaise by Chopin, are staples of the pianist’s repertory, and of course fraught with musical and technical challenges. Happily, Ms. Kellner met them with fine success — her playing was fluent, facile, and musical, if also generally understated. She graced the appreciative audience with a familiar encore: Nazareth’s Odéon, a piece all we four faculty pianists have played. In sum, it certainly was a treat for us to hear a Brazilian artist play in her home country, and emphasize works by her fellow Brazilians. A perfect concert opportunity for us, and one we were glad to have taken advantage of!
The remainder of the day was spent eating, shopping and organizing our taxi rides to the Rio Airport, and the 10.5 hr flight home to DFW. As scheduled, we left Rio at 11:45 Sunday evening, and this time the flight went smoothly (without the extra 3-hour [or any!] delay). We landed at 7:30 am, Texas time, only an hour later than scheduled, on Monday, January 13 — only two days before the start of Spring semester 2014 classes — a totally spent but fulfilled group!