Alberto Gamez, Michelle Powell, Austin Blair, Ellen Lazarus, Marilyn Jones, Barbara Freggens, and Gregory Riviello

Grace House is nestled in the quiet suburbs of northern Silver Spring, and it has been on the AMSF performance schedule for many years. The residents look forward to the recitals each year, and 14 of them were ready and waiting when we arrived. There were six pianists and two guitarists on the program. After our President, Michelle Powell, introduced the AMSF, we started promptly at 4 p.m.

Our first pianist, Austin Blair, played four short pieces. The first was a Finnish Folk Song named “Sydamestani Rakastan” by Jean Sibelius (1865 – 1957). Then he played three Preludes by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (1872 – 1915). They were Op. 11, No. 13 in Gb Major, Op. 16, No. 4 in Eb Minor, and Op. 16, No. 3 in Gb major. Austin created an atmosphere of peace and tranquility with all four pieces by skillfully using his sensitive touch.

Austin was followed by classical guitarist Ellen Lazarus, who played a solo by Gerard Montreuil (1927 – 1991) named “Miami,” which was in ¾ time and sounded much like a waltz. It was beautifully played. Barbara Freggens then joined Ellen to play three delightful guitar duets. They were a melodious “Sarabande” by Arcangelo Corelli (1653 – 1713), “Rustic Dance” by J.S. Bach (1685 – 1750), and “Das Nest und die Rose” by Fernando Carulli (1770 – 1841). The Bach piece sounded like a folksong and the Carulli piece sounded dance-like. All three pieces were well appreciated and drew warm applause from the residents.

Alberto Gamez played next. He is a fixture at Community Outreach and must have a large repertoire because he plays a different piece each time he performs. His choice for this recital was the final movement — Rondo Alla Turca — of Mozart’s Sonata No. 11 in A major K331, which was written in 1783. Alla Turca means “Turkish March” and imitates the style of a Turkish Janissaries company. The piece has a steady pulse with two beats to a measure, and is characterized by the sound of piccolos, cymbals, triangles and numerous percussion instruments. It is a challenging piece to play, and Alberto rose to the challenge.

Marilyn Jones and Barbara Freggens then teamed up to play three piano duets by two living female American composers. The first piece was “Squaring Off” by Eugenie Rocherolle (b. 1939), and the last two were “Valse Bleu” and “Danza Havana” by Catherine Rollin (b. 1952). The latter was particularly exciting because the music included intermittent synchronized hand clapping, which held the attention of the audience. Some of the residents actually tried to clap together with the pianists. They obviously enjoyed it. 

There’s never a dull moment in Community Outreach recitals however, and while Barbara and Marilyn were playing, the serene atmosphere was suddenly interrupted. A resident seated near the front loudly proclaimed to her neighbor, “I wonder why men lose their hair and women don’t!” We were all completely baffled as to what could have prompted such an aberrant outburst, but it is a testament to the professionalism of the pianists that they continued playing without missing a beat!

Michelle Powell followed the duetists and took us to Spain with “Andaluza” by Enrique Granados (1867 – 1916) and to Russia again with Prelude in C, Op. 11, No. 1 by Alexander Scriabin. “Andaluza” is the 5th in a set of 12 Danzas Espaniolas written by Granados, who Michelle told us was one of three famous Spanish composers to expand the piano repertoire. The other two were Isaac Albeniz and Manuel De Falla. 

The Scriabin Prelude presented quite a contrast. Unlike the distinct dancing melody of the Granados, the Prelude flowed seamlessly like running water, which is typical of Scriabin, who often wrote music without measures. Michelle performed both pieces with confidence and great artistry. The applause was immediately forthcoming as she finished.

Gregory Riviello closed the program with two Chopin Etudes. They were Op. 25, No. 1 in Ab major named “Aeolian Harp” after the Greek God of the wind, and the very well-known Op. 10, No. 3 in E major, which was written in 1832 when Chopin was just 22. Chopin himself felt that this was one of his most beautiful melodies, and in the 1950’s the melody was used in a song called “No Other Love.” Gregory played both pieces masterfully and with tremendous depth of feeling, often not even looking at his music. As he ended, Gregory was greeted with robust applause.

After thanking the audience, we socialized for a while and then took our group photo. In the process, a lovely lady named Phyllis came over to ask if we could please come again. She said that everyone seated at her table enjoyed the music and appreciated the variety. As always, we promised to return.