Malan delights at festival’s Summer Soiree

South African pianist Petronel Malan performs at the Summer Soiree, the donor-only party for Music in the Mountains, on a 1961 Steinway D grand piano restored by area resident Paul Bara. The classical music festival begins today and will run through July 28. It also includes world music concerts. Enlarge photo

ISAIAH BRANCH-BOYLE/Durango Herald

South African pianist Petronel Malan performs at the Summer Soiree, the donor-only party for Music in the Mountains, on a 1961 Steinway D grand piano restored by area resident Paul Bara. The classical music festival begins today and will run through July 28. It also includes world music concerts.

Franz Liszt groupie Petronel Malan did her crush on the “rock star” composer proud Sunday night at the Music in the Mountains Summer Soiree at Durango Mountain Resort. And her tributes to Haydn, Bach, Mozart and Rachmaninoff weren’t too shabby, either.

Don’t believe me that she’s a bona fide fan of Liszt? She names him as her “husband” on her Facebook Page (I checked) and talked about how women swooned to get a piece of his gloves and wore the dregs of his coffee in flasks as pendants. She even bakes a piano-shaped birthday cake for him on the Oct. 22s when she’s not on tour. And since she’s the rare musician who only tours and records, not making her bread and butter from teaching, that’s probably not often.

I should mention that glamorous Malan looks like a rock star herself, and is apparently thought of almost as one in her native country, South Africa.

About 160 music lovers had their breath taken away by her bravura performances on Rachmaninoff’s Moments Musicaux Opus 16 presto movement and her beloved’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 19. But perhaps the moments that stick with me the most are her tenderly rendered musings of Haydn from his Piano Sonata in A-flat.

Many great pianists amaze during the big moments, the showpieces. But not all have the control, patience and finesse for the so-called smaller moments, the delicate lyrical moments. Malan showed herself to be a mistress of both.

She was also a delight, sharing music trivia that turned out not to be so trivial. She feels Haydn gets lost in the shadow of Mozart and Beethoven, so she gave him top billing Sunday.

The three-time Grammy nominee also took some time to explain the art of transcription, reconfiguring the themes of a piece written for an orchestra to a string quartet, or a cello piece for the piano.

I will never look at that small notation on a program the same way after hearing of her admiration for Ignaz Friedman, a gifted pianist who escaped war-torn Europe on the last boat to safely leave Barcelona, Spain. Friedman spent the last eight years of his life in Australia, where he was a major contributor to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Many of his recordings have been lost, but Malan has given new life to his published transcriptions by recording the Bach, the Mozart and the single Beethoven.

On the Liszt, she told of how Ferruccio Busoni transcribed the Hungarian Rhapsody from a piece written for piano to a piece written for piano, with the themes condensed. Then Vladimir Horowitz recorded Busoni’s transcription with a lot of modifications of his own, inspiring Malan to take the “collaboration” and do some transcribing of her own. I’m not sure Liszt would have completely recognized it, but I’m sure he would join me in giving Malan a “Bravo!”

There’s a story behind the magnificent Steinway she was playing, too. Paul Bara, a music professor at Fort Lewis College, has long been the expert piano tuner for Music in the Mountains, but he’s also a restorer. He rebuilt the 9-foot Steinway D on stage at the Festival Tent to what may be more than its original glory.

In a 10-month project, he replaced many of the innards (spruce soundboard, maple bridge caps, maple wrestplank and restringing), replaced the action with new Steinway parts, stripped the case, completely repaired the damages and lacquered and hand-rubbed, lacquered and hand-rubbed, lacquered and hand-rubbed until it reached its current gleaming condition.

The piano is for sale for $70,000, and Music in the Mountains Executive Director Angie Beach said her dream is for someone to buy it and loan it to the festival for its three-week run each year. Hint, hint.

The event was a “bonbon,” as Artistic Director Gregory Hustis put it, a thank you to donors to the classical music festival, which kicks off officially today. (More on that later.)

The evening began with hors d’oeuvres courtesy of the staff at Purgy’s and included smoked turkey, cream cheese and walnut wontons with raspberry-jalapeño dipping sauce; Pacific oysters on the half shell; blue cheese and smoked bacon-baked Pacific oysters; grilled poached jumbo shrimp with atomic horseradish cocktail sauce; grilled baguettes with sautéed wild mushroom ragoût; hickory-smoked trout dip with toasted flatbread; a platter of Sunnyside Farms cured meats and imported cheeses; a hugely decadent display of fresh fruit and superb seared fois gras-and-prosciutto crostinis.

Guests found chocolates from Animas Chocolate Co. on their seats in the Festival Tent for a sweet finishing touch.

The sponsors for the evening were Durango Mountain Resort, with CEO Gary Derck and his wife, Jan, on hand to welcome guests; and Chevron, represented by Gregory Hardy and Lynn Woodworth. Both are longtime supporters of the festival.

You had to be a major donor to be invited to Sunday’s event – now you can see that generosity to Music in the Mountains has even more good karma than just supporting a wonderful arts organization in our community – but anyone can attend tonight’s very special event at the Glacier Club.

After goodies prepared by the talented chefs at the club, oboist Erin Hannigan, who has wowed Dallas audiences and us here, too, will perform with pianist Gabriel Sanchez to a backdrop of Paul Boyer’s photographs of the Four Corners. (I personally am particularly looking forward to “Gabriel’s Oboe” from “The Mission” by Ennio Morricone.)

I’ve had enough of a preview of Boyer’s photos and Hannigan’s playing to know that this is going to be one of those evenings people will talk about for years to come, and many others will regret they missed for just as long.

And there are still a few tickets available. This is a benefit, so tickets are $150.

Call the Music in the Mountains office at 385-6820, stop by the offices at 1063 Main Ave., or visit www.musicinthemountains.com to get yours.

While you’re there, check out the schedule to see what else you don’t want to miss.

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Happy Cancer birthday greetings go to Henry Bell, Don Magill, Vivian Pinkerton, Avril Fisher, Shiloh Keitz, Linda Curtiss, Dillon Harris, Dillon Irwin, Grace Latham, Roger Ptolemy, Jeanie Morford, Drew Downs, Vicki Linn, Joni Bender, Tim Goodson, Tim Schrag, Chris Atchison, Sam Atchison, Joe Lusby, Mary Howell, Nevaeh Livingston, Priscilla Shand, Jerry Sheldon, Debby Morgan, Bee Atwood, Nancy Van Mols, Mike Dalenberg, Frank Priest, Duane Danielson, Abigail Lowe, Charlie Mickel, Clark Lagow, J.C. Ellingson-Condie, Bonnie Jung, Freddie Mickel, Michael Meyer, Patricia Padilla, Gina Pruett, BJo Hatten and Robin Goldman.

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Saturday was a golden day all around. It started with a brunch at the Electra Lake Clubhouse for the 50th anniversary of Dean and Sandy Brown. If birds of a feather flock together, then the fact that everyone attending was someone fun to see says a lot about the Browns. I promised I wouldn’t write too much – I was there as a longtime family friend, but you know me, I can never resist a good story.

Their son, Travis, looked pretty dapper in the suit his father had worn to leave the wedding; daughter-in-law Mary Monroe had done a smashing job on the invitations and a computerized slideshow; and granddaughter Zara Rose Brown, 9, knows a good excuse to dress up when she sees one. (Her dad couldn’t understand why she needed three dresses, but as every woman knows after seeing any modern awards show, a girl can’t wear just one.)

She and friend Teagan Mapel, 7, served the shrimp direct from New Orleans that Dean Brown had spent 10 hours cleaning and preparing. The secret, folks, in addition to fabulous shrimp to start with, is Tony Chachere’s Crab Boil. Yum.

Joey Hughes, who runs the restaurant at the Clubhouse with husband, Scott, turned out a scrumptious brunch with artichoke quiche, salmon with blueberry-mango salsa, a fancy green salad and a cornucopia of grilled veggies. Bread prepared two beautiful cakes, carrot and lemon-coconut, to go with the champagne toast.

As close friend Sandra Mapel said in her remarks, Dean loves to garden and hunt, Sandy longs for a condo with concrete, they both love to argue, and they each always thinks they are winning. A match made in heaven – many happy returns to two of my favorite people.

I didn’t realize that the restaurant is open, including to the public, even if the lake is closed for recreation during the dam repairs. It’s one of my favorite places for a summer repast.

Then I headed south to another 50-something party. This time it was Moni Grushkin’s 50th birthday. The party took place at the lovely home, featuring killer views from the rim of Florida Mesa, she and husband, Jonas, built. I don’t mean hired built, although there was some contracting involved, I mean hands-on built. It would take dynamite to get me to go to work every day if I lived there.

Great food prepared by Durangourmet included crostinis, chicken satays with peanut sauce, beef skewers with what looked like chimichurri sauce, watermelon, and, of course, more cake.

Most of all, it was just a lovely summer evening with one of Durango’s great ladies. Welcome to the 50s, Moni.

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Hmm, a romantic evening with beautiful music sounds like a good way for these celebrating couples to mark their anniversaries – Chad and Ann Tidwell, John and Laura Lewis Marchino, Scott and Cindy Atchison, Lee and Debbie Van Winkle, Jim and Margie Winkelbauer, Larry and Margaret Hjermstad, Don and Laura Yale, Jim and Julie Williams, Steve and Debbie Williams and Dan and Robin Goldman.

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