Pianist Charlie Albright’s emotion-filled and skilled piano playing rang throughout the Memorial Chapel on Sunday evening. Before starting, Albright informed the audience that he hoped the afternoon to be informal and relaxed, unlike other piano recitals where onlookers are shunned for coughing in the middle of a piece.
He began with the “Impromptus from Opus 90” by Franz Schubert. Albright took a moment to collect himself before spilling his soul on the keys. His playing was artful and precise making it easy to forget that he was performing live. He moved with the music: as it got quieter, he moved closer to the keys and as it got louder, his body seemed to be thrown back by the intensity with which he played.
Albright explained the emotions behind his next song choice, “Piano Sonata,” also known as “1 X 05’” by Leoš Janáček. Janáček had composed “Piano Sonata” after hearing about a man who was slain because he protested for higher education.
“The first movement starts off with a single minor cord and a haunting melody that keeps coming back throughout the piece,” Albright informed the audience. “In the second movement, the man is struggling to stay alive and holding onto his last breaths.”
As the piece went on, it was easy to imagine the man Albright had spoken about trying not to die.
As a child, Albright practiced playing the piano by listening to songs by the Backstreet Boys and other popular bands and playing them by ear. His interest and enjoyment in improvisation, which stemmed from his childhood habits, prompted him to add an improvisational element to all of his recitals. He asked the audience what notes they wanted him to base a piece on. After audience members chose C sharp, G sharp, B flat and A flat, Albright quickly turned the cheery and simple string of notes into a full blown piece, over five minutes long.
In the last piece before intermission, Albright chose to play the “Blue Danube Waltz” by Johann Strauss II. He paused slightly before each new set of notes, in a unique interpretation from Strauss’s original piece. Much like his playing in “The Impromptus from Opus 90,” his body moved with the music.
Albright powered through “Etudes,” “Opus 25” by Frédéric Chopin, playing “No. 1 in A-Flat Major” through “No. 12 in C Minor.” Roughly 30 minutes long, he became more energized as time flew by. His fingers danced across the keys at an alarmingly fast speed, but the effect was exhilarating. Finally, after receiving a standing ovation from the audience, he performed the Turkish March by Mozart for an encore.
Albright has a Pre-Medical and Economics degree from Harvard, as well as a degree from the New England Conservatory. Most recently, he received the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2014, the Arthur W. Foote Award in 2013 and played 77 concerts in the past year. His unique piano playing in the Memorial Chapel is a testament to his great accomplishments.