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Friday, November 05, 2021

A Bouquet of Ives

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Wondering what I might have been up to, culturally speaking, thirty-five years ago, I came upon this piece, written as an advance for the Schenectady Gazette, back in the day when newspapers felt a responsibility to promote classical concerts. Back when there were newspapers. I’m sorry I didn’t see the concert itself, and can’t remember why, but Drury has gone on to a significant career as a pianist and conductor who continues to champion comparatively recent works. Here’s his website.


“I offer a couple of kinds of ordinary programs.” says pianist Stephen Drury, “with pieces like some late Schubert sonatas and selections from Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Clavier.’ I do a program that is half John Cage and half a collection of other American composers. But the people in Troy asked me for the all-Ives program, and I was happy to oblige.’

Stephen Drury
Drury is a rare kind of American pianist, one who eagerly supports the work of American composers. His recital at the Troy Music Hall at 3 p.m. Sunday consists of three sonatas by Charles Ives, the turn-of-the-century firebrand whose work is still only gradually being discovered and accepted by the concert-going public.

“I guess my interest in 20th-century music goes back to when I was in junior high school,” says Drury. “I happened upon a book on the subject by Peter Yates, and I started listening to records and playing the music. I was at the perfect age to discover the music, and it’s stayed with me.”

Drury’s Ives recital also features his own introductions to the pieces. “It seems always like a good idea to explain what’s going on. Even though the pieces were written 70 to 80 years ago, they’re still so unfamiliar to the lay listener that they lend themselves to some comments. If you’re not sure what to listen for with Ives it can sound pretty dissonant.”

A Harvard graduate, Drury has concertized all over the Northeast in recital and with such groups as Collage (a contemporary chamber music unit of the Boston Symphony), Boston Musica Viva, and the Commonwealth Chamber Players.

The U.S. Information Agency sent Drury through northern Europe last spring as part of its Artistic Ambassador Program. “I played a recital in the little town of Julianehab, Greenland, where there had never been a piano recital before. There doesn’t seem to be enough people willing to take the chances to present 20th-century music, but it’s always been successful with me. But when I presented my program for the Julianehab recital, the promoters were nervous. Not even about the Ives: they were worried about the crazy stuff by Debussy and Ravel! I went ahead and played it anyway and it was a big success.

“The hardest part was in introducing the pieces. I would say a sentence or two in English, someone would translate it into Danish, and someone else would translate it into Greenlandic, since the population is split about 50-50 in speaking those languages.”

Drury also is music director of the American Repertory Theater, a group he has worked with for two years, “and I spent a couple of unfortunate months with the show ‘My One and Only.’ That was first put together by Peter Sellars and the Boston mafia, but when they brought it to New York the Broadway hacks got hold of it and destroyed it. It had a beautiful book, very poetic, and they eviscerated it. And that included the scoring, the lighting – everything! So I left quickly.”

The Troy program also includes Ives’s “Three-Page Sonata” and the Sonata No. 2, subtitled “Concord, Mass., 1840-1860.” Tickets are $7 and $5 and are availab1e at the Troy Music Hall box office, now located at 88 Fourth Street, and at Records ‘n’ Such in Stuyvesant Plaza, Records Etc. at the Clifton Country Mall, and Music Shack in Troy and Albany.

– Schenectady Gazette, 5 November 1986

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