Easley Blackwood | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Easley Blackwood 

EASLEY BLACKWOOD

It was at an Easley Blackwood recital in the early 80s that I was won over to Ives's Concord Sonata, that massive, daunting, naively avant-garde statement by the Yankee iconoclast. Blackwood's performance (now available on the Cedille label) brought coherence to the Concord's seemingly stream-of-consciousness outpourings, underscored its sly humor, and suffused it with a transcendent beauty. Since then, I've been a fan of the pianist-composer's take on modernism, both with longtime chamber collaborators in Chicago Pro Musica and in solo outings. And his latest CD, Radical Piano, a compilation of seldom-heard and hard-to-categorize pieces by the likes of Berg, Nielsen, and Copland, is another confirmation of his ingenuity at making the difficult sound logical and expressive. Blackwood grew up listening to the large collection of 20th-century music amassed by his father (a bridge expert who invented the Blackwood bidding convention), then spent his formative years studying in Paris with Messiaen and Boulanger; his mentor at Yale was Paul Hindemith, who must have been amused by his early infatuation with serialism. As a composer, based at the University of Chicago since 1958, Blackwood has morphed from wide-eyed experimenter to middle-of-the-road neo-Expressionist to, lately, born-again Schubertian. Had he done this on the east coast or been born earlier, such eccentricities might have heightened curiosity beyond academic circles; here and now, however, he's an out-of-fashion Chicago oddity awaiting rediscovery. As a pianist, though, his encyclopedic knowledge of modern idioms and techniques--not to mention the repertoire--is unimpeachable. For this concert, which teams him with CSO clarinetist John Bruce Yeh and the emerging Ad Hoc String Quartet, he's picked Copland's sextet and Roy Harris's concerto, both exemplars of folksy Americanism. Also on the bill is Concerto da Camera II, one of his colleague Shulamit Ran's better works. Tuesday, 8 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th; 773-702-8068. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Uncredited photo of Easley Blackwood.

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