By Brian Schuth
The audience who braved the threat of oncoming weather to attend Danny Holt’s piano recital for the Sunday Series were rewarded with a program of intriguing, even surprising works, all of which bore the title “Sonatina.”
Holt is “newly local” to us; previously based primarily in southern California, he lives in East Machias and currently teaches at the Elm Street School. However, he brings with him a very impressive resume that includes performing with organizations from Los Angeles Philharmonic to the Bang on a Can All-Stars, in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to Joe’s Pub in New York, from the Copenhagen Jazz House to “wherever else he can find a piano.”
Holt explained that the Sonatina Project grew out of the sudden and depressing evaporation of concertizing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Deprived of his primary creative outlet, he turned obsessively to the research of new repertoire, and gradually he developed the idea of searching out and exploring sonatinas.
A “sonatina” just means “little sonata”, and initially sonatinas were often student pieces. However, in the Romantic and modern eras one encounters sonatinas requiring significant skill – the only thing little about them is typically their running time. That was certainly true here, where some of the sonatinas were quite technically imposing -and yet he managed to perform five complete sonatinas plus movements from four more in under ninety minutes!
Holt has a passion for neglected and modern repertoire, which meant we experienced a program whose most famous name was Béla Bartók – who, though well known, still has an air of the exotic about him. Otherwise, proceeding chronologically, we heard works from Muzio Clementi, Anton Diabelli, Theodor Kirchner, Stephen Heller, Sigfrid Karg-Elert, Ahmet Adnan Saygun, and Nikolai Kapustin. It was an almost absurdly wide-ranging program: the earliest work written probably around 1790, the latest in 2000. The spectrum of styles was also immense: from Clementi’s late-classical student work, simple and charming, to modest essays in Romanticism, to the “Horon” movement of Saygun’s Sonatina, which was violent, asymmetrical, technically demanding and exhausting. He saved the most crowd-pleasing work for last, the Gershwin-influenced one-movement Sonatina of Nikolai Kapustin, an unexpected effloresence of jazz written in Russia at the turn of the 21st century.
Each work was preceded by a brief explanation by Holt, who clearly loves performing and who expressed deep appreciation for the opportunity to play before an attentive and appreciative audience in his newly adopted far-from-Los-Angeles home.
Brian Schuth lives in Eastport, is an EAC Board Member, and reviewed classical music for several years for the Musical Intelligencer in Boston.
THE MUSIC LIFE DOWN EAST—Flights to California and long snowy drives on Route 1
“My concert at Eastport Arts Center was a delight,” writes Danny Holt, “because I cherish the opportunity to connect with live audiences, especially in a relaxed and intimate setting. It was also an adventure for me because we happened to have some exciting winter weather that day–and after spending most of my adult life in Southern California, it was wild to drive home after the concert in a snow storm!” Holt’s EAC appearance was part of an 11-stop bicoastal tour; he heads back to California this weekend to kick off the 10th anniversary season of the concert series he runs there: https://www.dhsclassicalconcerts.org. “I’ll be making three trips this winter to manage those concerts, and Molly Gebrian and I will be performing music from our new album as part of that series, in March.”
A PLACE I’D VISIT REGULARLY—On first impressions of the EAC
“I first visited EAC when I was looking at homes Down East and always knew it would end up being a place I’d visit regularly. Shortly after moving to East Machias in the final days of 2022, I attended a contra dance at EAC, and I subsequently attended several theater and music performances. It was great to be back, this time to kick off the winter Sunday series!”
NEW ALBUM COMING SOON
Holt’s new album with violist Molly Gebrian, Trailblazers, will be released on February 6th by Acis Productions, and features rarely-heard sonatas composed by women in the early 20th century. Holt and Gebrian will be performing concerts on the west coast this spring, and hope to bring the program to New England in the ’24/’25 concert season.
Sunday Afternoons at the Arts Center programs are held in Eastport Arts Center’s cozy downstairs Washington Street Gallery, amidst rotating exhibitions. Admission is by voluntary donation; proceeds are shared equally between the presenters and EAC ongoing program The Concert Series, which offers year-round programming run by volunteers. No one is turned away for lack of funds.