This Sunday’s Concert.

Yeah.  The last few concerts I’ve done at the Huntington Beach Central Library, I have had the first half planned out, and invited requests for the second half.  This’ll be the same, tomorrow (Sunday) at 5 PM.  These are the seven pieces I have planned:

Debussy:  Toccatta from “Pour Le Piano”

This one, if you knew a little Debussy, you still wouldn’t guess it was Debussy, who is known popularly as a soft Impressionist painter of music – this piece I’ve chosen to open with is Debussy at his most aggressive and flamboyant!  The Pour Le Piano suite is from his early 20th century neo-classical phase, and the Toccatta in particular should be a big wake-up call for the beginning of my concert (already known as the “Best. One. Ever.”)

J. S. Bach – Sleepers Wake!

Like Bach’s other big hit “Jesus Joy of Man’s Desiring,” this is a chorale prelude, meaning it’s built around a pre-existing (and dull) Lutheran hymn, “Wachtet Auf.”  And like the other, Bach’s positively obscene melodic invention nearly obscures the hymn tune (which I will be singing while I play.)  You might recognize this piece, although I make it a little jazzy as I’m known to do:

Andrew Imbrie:  Short Story (1985)

This was my composition teacher up at the San Francisco Conservatory, who died a couple years ago, and I’m one of probably less than a dozen pianists who can play this incredibly complicated and difficult piece – definitely the only one who plays it by memory!  Imbrie was surprised and pleased with how jazzy I made it sound without changing any of his notes.  The musical encyclopedist  Nicholas Slonimsky described Andrew’s work as “relentlessly motile;”  Andrew told me “I don’t know what the hell that means, Slonimsky just invents words.”

Like his Pulitzer Prize-winning Requiem, “Short Story” was written in memory of his son who died at twenty, and both pieces end with a sustained high “B”, which he explained to me represented to him the continuity of the human spirit after death.  I didn’t tell him, that even a loud sustained piano note eventually decays.

Bill Evans:  Waltz For Debby (arr. VPN)

The great jazz pianist’s most popular tune, written for his daughter a few years before Bill’s untimely death from “jazz-related causes” (alcoholism & drugs.)   Even though the piece starts and ends pretty and innocent, I figure that whatever became of Debby she is no longer a little girl, so my version of the piece gets really wild in the middle.  Some Evans fans take offense, but most folks like what I’ve done with it.  Well, here’s Bill’s trio doing the original:

Chopin:  Fantasy in F minor

A really imaginative, beautiful and dramatic Chopin piece that I used to play all the time in the 80’s; I’ve just recently relearned it.   You can hear Jack Nicholson playing part of  it in the back of a driving pickup near the end of this trailer from “Five Easy Pieces.” (That’s not really Jack playing, BUT he does play Chopin’s Prelude in E minor for real in another part of the movie.

Thelonious Monk:  Round Midnite (arr. VPN)

My favorite jazz pianist/composer, one of his most beautiful and popular pieces.  But I think most people do it way too slow and lugubrously;  sometimes Monk played it with a restless, nervous swing feel, and I like doing it that way.

Liszt:  Hungarian Rhapsody #2

And I’m gonna end the first half with a classical piece almost everyone recognizes, from old Warner Brothers cartoons like this one.  I was glad to find out, when I first learned this piece, that at the top of the last page Liszt wrote “cadenza” – meaning that the pianist can improvise whatever he wants there.  Hardly any classical pianists do that any more – but it’s right up my alley!

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.