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Arts & Entertainment - Friday, September 28, 2012

A century of Cage
Stanford pays a 100th-anniversary tribute to the influential avant-garde composer
Rebecca Wallace

Thomas Schultz sits down at one of the two Steinways in his Stanford University office and plays a flutter of Schubert, melodic and refined. His fingers pause at just the right moments, keeping the listener poised.

"In older Western music, silence was meant to be very dramatic. It makes the musical tension greater," Schultz says. "In this kind of silence in Schubert, you're wondering what happens next."

What happens now is a mini-musical revolution for the nice old Steinway. This usually occurs when you go from playing a truly classical classic to Mr. John Cage.

Schultz starts to play the first of Cage's 1946 composition "Two Pieces for Piano," chords and chords and wandering notes and chords. In between are long pauses, deeply felt pauses, so long that the listener stops waiting for the next note and starts feeling that the pause is a thing, its own entity of ambient sound. The pianist breathes. The aged wood of the piano settles.

"In Cage," Schultz says, "you listen to the silence."

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Piano Spheres series; Zipper Concert Hall,
Colburn School of Performing Arts, Los Angeles April 19, 2005

Thomas Schultz cuts a tall, imposing figure, and although he can fire the big technical guns at will, he seemed to be most interested in color, in exploiting the massive range of the Fazioli piano in a sympathetic hall. These qualities were immediately put on display in a strikingly characterized performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Klavierstück IX. Some notes exploded and were held within an inch of their lives. The upper treble glittered like icicles. Ghostly harmonics emerged in the distance.

He captured the unrelenting driving elements of Rzewski's piece but also produced a variety of colors - particularly the growling bass resonances - that went beyond even the composer's own virtuosic performance on record.
By Richard S. Ginell, The Los Angeles Times

"This was a fine undertaking, equally impressive for its thoughtful planning and for its strong, fearless execution. Schultz brought a depth of feeling to the music that gave even the splashiest passages an undercurrent of soulfulness. To dispatch Rzewski's extraordinary masterwork with the sort of fiery elegance and formal command that Schultz brought to the piece is another order of achievement entirely."

Joshua Kosman, The San Francisco Chronicle

"A sensation... a stunning program... these were sterling performances of quality scores written between 1919 and the present. Schultz is the master of an enviable keyboard technique that is nourished by an incisive intellect. He' s an impressive artist who makes clear that technique alone does not lead to a satisfactory performance of contemporary music; the instinctive musicality that Schultz brings to his work is equally important."

Wes Blomster, The Boulder Daily Camera

"Schultz is a formidable player. He produced real pianissimos in addition to great power, and a lovely legato in the Chopin Fantasy."

"Schultz proved to be an ideal player for Kurtág's intricate textures and mercurial moods, with his incisive clarity and broad vocabulary of tone colors... especially strong moments came from Schultz's driving second movement ostinato and the sweeping figures layered over it."

San Francisco Classical Voice

"Rzewski's Four Pieces for Piano were played with great skill and enormous effectiveness."

The Denver Post