St. Clair Piano Concert Enjoyable and Exciting

Richard St. Clair

The Daily News, Newburyport, Massachusetts, Dec. 8, 1970

By Ned Brown

NEWBURYPORT - A friendly audience of music lovers experienced an exciting evening in Unitarian Parish Hall Friday when Richard St. Clair, pianist-composer, played his own works, assisted by his wife, the former Gay Pearson.

It isn't often that one has an opportunity to talk with a composer about his creative life, and we enjoyed the rare privilege of querying Mr. St. Clair about how his remarkable musical expression comes into being.

Although his writing is predominantly pianistic in evocation, one of the offerings, "Medley" has been performed by orchestra. All of the music was characterized by vibrancy and mobility. There was considerable percussive dissonance, frequently relieved by sweet, legato melodic passages and fascinating rhythms.

Mr. St. Clair's composition is very much in the contemporary vein. but not to such an extent as to be difficult listening, even to one who has not been exposed to a great deal of mid-20th century music. The perceptive listener (and this is the only proper kind of listening, we think) can follow melody and pattern and find himself very much attune. In this instance even passively absorbing the music yields the excitement we spoke of earlier.

It was a naively-phrased question we asked Mr. St. Clair, but it was the only way we could get the answer: "Do you hear this music in your mind's ear and relate it to the keyboard, or is this a feat of construction in the classical sense?" (We were thinking of the careful and detailed architectural design of Mozart and Beethoven.) It's a matter of the total creative personality, the prolific young composer replied. "To sum it up, it is all in the hands." He explained that hands should be considered an extension of the brain.

We admired St. Cair's expansive genius, his dynamic keyboard skill and his personal modesty. In "Medley" he was assisted by Mrs. St. Clair, whose capability is well known to music lovers here. She is a member of Dr. Robert W. Pearson's remarkable musical family, which has given so much joy to the coxnmunity and neighbors.

Expressive Language - When it comes to describing the music, one could not do better than to quote the composer's own program notes. He has annotated program for at least one symphonic group, and his musicology and psychological acuity are revealed in this effort.

Of "Medley"' he said: "As its title implies (this) is a series of song-like sections similar to the overture in opera and the Broadway musical. As in the operatic overtures, there are unifying devices and an over-all recapitulatory form." Here are the notes on the other three compositions.

"The Second Piano Sonata is being given its world premiere The four movements are sharply contrasted in mood, ranging from an explosive sonata-allegro to a pensively lyrical slow movement to a brilliant scherzo to a sturdily intellectual finale. The aural palate ranges from the softly sweet to the pungently acrid, although the classical structures remain intact. Technically, this is the most virtuosic work on the program, presenting problems of execution on every page, but the figuration is decidedly classical in origin. It is in the sphere of compositional abstraction that this piece difiers from its classical predecessors: similar materials are used in radically different ways.

"The Sonatina is a completely lyrical work. There is no attempt to exploit virtuoso possibilities, but rather. simple but appealing sonorities are developed gradually. There is no jarring of senses, but rather a soothing. Taken as an uncomplicated work, it becomes more subtle, but if one is searching for'subtlety, he may ,have some difficulty finding it. The Sonatina is in three movements. The first is the longest and most deeply developed. The second is a diversion, if not a degression, In the form of a classical minuet, in which the trio takes on an over-indulgent humor. The last movement is a mixture of episodes of short duration and abrupt contrast.

"The First Piano Sonata, like the second, is in four movements: Allegro molto, scherzo, lento, and finale. There are as many similarities as differences between the two. They differ in temperament, the first being for the most part bright and entertaining, the second, more serious and expressive. They resemble each other more in form than in mood."

Mr. St. Clair's encore was an appropriately rhythmic "Toccata Rag," with a fast, solid left hand and lots of elaborate, inventive figuration in the right. The enthusiasm of the final burst of applause was expressive of the audience's reaction to the entire concert.

At the conclusion of the music, refreshments, were served and there was opportunity to congratulate the composer and his wife.

At 24, Richard St. Clair is firmly launched on a musical career which offers great possibilities. He is a native of North Dakota, studied music in Minnesota and was recently graduated from Harvard, where his music was of prizewinning caliber.

The concert was part of the First Religious Society's Man and the Arts series. The minister, the Rev. Bertrand H. Steeves, was on hand to greet the people and to assist in serving coffee. Mr. and Mrs. Warren Thompson were listed as principal sponsors of the cultural series.

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