Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 5, 2019

REVIEW: Sevenars Music Festival, George Bowerman

The Academy, Worthington, MA
July 14 - August 18, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

George Bowerman
Three years after his triumphant debut at this family-based music festival as a “Young Artist to Watch,” Springfield-born pianist George Bowerman made a stunning return visit as a “Young Artist to Watch, Version 2.0,” as fellow pianist Rorianne Schrade, a daughter of Sevenars founders Robert and Rolande Schrade, introduced him on August 4. His adventurous program solidified Bowerman’s continuing growth into a mature professional artist.

It opened with a seldom played work by a rarely heard composer. Bowerman helpfully prefaced each piece with an articulate spoken introduction, and his dramatic performance of the Fantasy in F-sharp minor by Johann Sebastian Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel depicted exactly the musical journey that he had prepared the appreciative full house to listen for.  

Next came a brilliant account of Cesar Franck’s demanding Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue, whose three sections are played without pause. From the solemn Prelude, through the plaintive Chorale and the exuberant Fugue, Bowerman varied the weight of his tone to build a mounting tension that was only resolved in the thunderous final chords.

Intermission was followed by the last of Brahms’ four Ballades, written at age 21, when he had just met his lifelong soulmate Clara Schumann. Bowerman related the tempo marking “with the most intimate feeling” in the middle section to the young composer’s affection for Clara, making the “adagio” pace at which he took the other sections, which Brahms had marked “andante con moto,” powerfully convincing.

Bowerman described the pleasure of working with Berkshire-based composer Stephen Dankner to prepare for today’s world premiere of his Four Preludes. Influences as diverse as Gershwin, Bartok, and Messiaen could be heard in these slightly jazzy, mildly dissonant, and altogether delightful pieces. Bowerman was in total command of their technical challenges and the emotional depths of the lengthy finale. The composer signaled his pleasure in return from the audience.

The formal program closed with a free-wheeling rendition of Chopin’s mercurial Polonaise-Fantaisie. A standing ovation was rewarded with an affectionate version of Chopin’s fleeting seventh prelude, Op. 28.

At age 29, Bowerman seems to have it all: dazzling keyboard technique; profound interpretive skill; charismatic and communicative stage presence. His devoted Sevenars following will not want to wait three more years for “Young Artist to Watch: Version 3.0.”