Pianist Pratt Fills Thorne

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Author: Anne Wolfstone

Acts ranging from ensembles to solos, tragic to comedic, unknown to world-renowned have taken to the stage at Occidental College’s Thorne Hall. Saturday evening’s performance was certainly one act that perhaps lacked the flash of Dance Production or the macabre of a typical pre-Halloween concert. But much to its merit, virtuoso pianist Awadagin Pratt’s solo concert on Saturday featured some of the most inspired and elevated music ever to grace Occidental College’s campus.

Pratt, 45, has studied the violin and conducting, but is most famous for his mastery of the piano. Throughout his professional career, he has received numerous awards, such as the Avery Fisher Career Grant, and has performed at the White House as well as internationally. Pratt’s international fame drew  to Thorne Hall many of Occidental’s music students, along with faculty, staff and listeners from the greater L.A. area. The overall attendance number was less than expected, but Pratt rewarded those in attendance with an intimate performance, followed by a meet and greet with the world-class artist.

To many on campus, and to those not tuned into the world of classical music, Pratt is a relatively unfamiliar name, but within that world, Pratt’s is a household name. As stated in the concert program’s introduction, “Among his generation of concert artists, pianist Awadagin Pratt is acclaimed for his musical insight and intensely involving performances in recital with symphony and orchestra.”

In the visual sense, Pratt’s Saturday performance at first appeared anything but involving as he sat alone on a dark and unadorned stage in front of a black piano, atop a black stool, dressed in black attire. His dark, long and dreaded locks were partially pulled back, exposing his full beard and contemplative face. The lack of color in the entire performance, however, created a monochromatic artifice against which the intense emotion and colorful depths of his music could be seen.

“In concert, Pratt brought the music off of the page in a way that I have never experienced before. He was extremely focused in the varying parts of each song with intentions that were right on point,” said Music major Kristine Nowlain (senior), who was in attendance on Saturday. When Pratt began his second piece, Franz Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, there was a slow crescendo, which ebbed and flowed without pause throughout its four movements, lasting over a half hour. Pratt’s interspersed his movements with improvisational pieces, something not standard in piano performances of today.

“It used to be a requirement for all good musicians to be able to improvise, just as jazz musicians today are expected to be able to improvise,” said Nowlain. Pratt’s style is remarkable. His hands moved with controlled fury, then glided slowly, but energetically across the ivory keys. The constancy of his attributed “intensity” is apparent in the persistence that rings through every note.

“At some of the most passionate moments I almost felt that he was frustrated he could not get up and dance at the same time as play,” said Nowlain. In addition to his recital on Saturday night, Pratt has been participating in the Music Department’s master class series, in which a guest composer works with student musicians on a specific piece before an audience. When asked about Pratt’s offstage demeanor during one of the Master Classes offered during Pratt’s campus visit, Nowlain praised his sense of humor and casual approach to music.

“He told us about a prank he did for a concert of his that happened to fall on April Fools Day and had himself and the whole class laughing so hard that he could not finish his sentences,” she said.

For all his well-earned artistic acclaim, Pratt still makes it a priority to teach and to relate to students. Currently he is a Professor of Piano and Artist in Residence at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.

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