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Header: Jess Anderson in Madison Wisconsin
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Harpsichord Debut Recital, April 7, 1974
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In May of 2006, a search for a missing software license led, of all the unexpected things, to finding a folder containing yellowed copies of the newspaper review of my first outing as a harpsichordist.

It was indeed something of an event, with an amazing audience turnout (1600, the museum people said), and I'll write more about it. But first the review, from Madison's afternoon daily, the Capital Times, Monday, April 8, 1974, pg. 19:

Brilliant Concert at the Elvehjem
by John Patrick Hunter, Associate Editor

If Karl Barth had been present Sunday afternoon in the Elvehjem Art Center's jam-packed Paige Court concert, he might have rewritten one of his memorable pronouncements: "When the angels play for God, they play Bach, but when they play for themselves, they play Mozart -- and God listens secretly."
     To be sure there was no Mozart on Sunday's program -- the emphasis was on Johann Sebastian Bach. But it was heavenly Bach that would have intrigued God and all of his angels and certainly theologian Barth.
     An overflow audience heard the beautiful Bach presented by a trio of talented artists -- harpsichordist Jess Anderson, soprano Bettina Bjorksten, and flutist James Westbrook.
     With the exception of a thoroughly charming but frothy composition for the harpsichord by Jean Philippe Rameau, the entire program was devoted to Bach, played excellently by Anderson, on a beautiful new instrument built for him in 1972-73 in New York by Rutkowski and Robinette.
     The youthful Anderson [I'm copying this on my 71st birthday!--JA] accompanied Mrs. Bjorksten in three lovely arias from the "Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach." She was especially engaging in the beautiful "Slumber On, O Weary Eyes," with its soaring phrases.
     The Rameau, composed in 1728, is a perfect showcase for the harpsichord. It consists of a series of courtly dances that drew sustained applause. But it was the Bach that highlighted the extraordinary beauty of the harpsichord. From the keyboards of Anderson's instrument came phrases as subtle as starlight and as dynamic as lightning flashes.
     Westbook joined Bjorksten and Anderson in the spirited devotional "I follow Thee also my Savior," from Bach's towering "Johannespassion." Just before intermission. Anderson excelled in playing the familiar and demanding "French Suite VI in E Major."
     Anderson's harpsichord and Westbrook's flute joined in a lovely duet in Bach's "Sonata No. 1 in B Minor" for flute and harpsichord.
     Anderson received a standing ovation when he concluded the concert with a brilliant rendition of Bach's "Chromatic Fantasy" with its intricate convolutions.
     [...]

I respected Mr. Hunter (long ago deceased), though I didn't know him personally. While I remembered his review as generally positive, I hope it will not seem churlish of me to say the prose now seems pretty purple and Hunter's overall assessment as pertains to me is surely excessive. On the other hand, I was grateful for the good notice. It led to my getting gigs playing Bach concertos in Indianapolis that summer and again in 1977.

But as mentioned above, the debut was an event. The interior spaces of the Elvehjem Art Center (renamed the Chazen Museum of Art in 2005) are beautiful and elegant, dominated by the warm texture of travertine floors and staircases. Paige Court is a large, fully enclosed rectangular, glass-roofed atrium, three stories high, flooded with light and flanked on all sides by galleries. The two floors above somewhat resemble balconies overlooking the expanse of the main floor, where the harpsichord was centered along one of the long sides.

We had had a long, bitterly cold winter but that day was the first warm, sunny, really springlike day (and Palm Sunday as well), which partly explains the fantastic turnout for our concert, two or three times the usual number of people for a university event.

Though the museum has since become a regular venue for Sunday afternoon concerts, this was in fact the first-ever such event there. I really expected an audience of perhaps 50 (mostly friends, including my mother and my sister), so I thought it was probably a bit silly to ask the museum to put out 200 chairs.

On the day of the concert, I waited in an office until it was time to begin. When I came out, I was completely surprised. Not only were the 200 chairs all filled, but there were hundreds more people sitting on the floor and hanging over the railings of the two levels above.

Because of the throng sitting on the floor, there was no path open to the harpsichord, so I had to tap people on the shoulder and say, "Excuse me, can I get through? I'm supposed to play now."

Though I'm a nervous wreck when a concert is over, I'm generally quite calm while playing; I've never had stage fright. The instruments and voice sounded great in that space, which was both resonant and, despite there being so many people, rather intimate.

One thing I'd forgotten in the 12 years since my previous performance (a senior piano recital) was that applause is a truly raucous thing, actually an ugly, nasty sound -- unless, of course, it's for you!

One thing I had not practiced at all was bowing to acknowledge applause. It simply had not occurred to me that I might have bow upward to an audience above me on all four sides. I managed, though.

Music School people I knew came up to me and commented on the size of the audience. I heard that the guards were having fits on account of the masses of humans too near the artworks. The museum's programming staff were surprised by the audience size too; they said it was a larger crowd than had attended their grand opening several years earlier, when there was free champagne.

All in all, it was a success.

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