25 years ago pianist William Wellborn made his debut in the Old First Concerts series at Old First Church with a program that provided an engaging combination of the familiar and the lesser-known. At the end of this month Wellborn will celebrate his 25th anniversary with Old First Concerts, and his approach to programming is as imaginative as ever. With all of the other bicentennial and centennial birthdays attracting attention this year, Wellborn is one of the few who has been recognizing the French pianist and composer Charles-Valentin Alkan, whose 200th birthday will be celebrated this coming November 30.
As I have previously observed, Alkan is probably best known for having composed some of the most difficult keyboard music in the nineteenth-century, notorious for not only its technical demands but also for its daunting durational scales. In an effort to make Alkan more approachable, Wellborn began this year with a Noontime Concerts™ recital at which he performed selections from Alkan’s Opus 63 Esquisses (sketches), a collection of 48 short pieces. When Wellborn returns to Old First Concerts, he will continue his exploration of this collection, which I have previously called “music of essences.”
The other less-familiar gem of the program Wellborn has prepared for Old First Concerts will be the original solo piano version of Carl Maria von Weber’s “Invitation to the Dance,” whose orchestration by Hector Berlioz is so popular that most audiences do not know that the music was originally for piano. The more familiar selections will include two sonatas by, respectively, Joseph Haydn (Hoboken XVI/48 in C major) and Ludwig van Beethoven (Opus 27, Number 23 in C-sharp minor, best known as “Moonlight”). He will also perform the first book of Claude Debussy’s Images and, in recognition of his ongoing affiliation with the American Liszt Society, the first of the compositions that Franz Liszt called “Mephisto Waltz.”
Old First Concerts events take place in the Old First Church at 1751 Sacramento Street (on the southeast corner of Van Ness Avenue). This recital will be held on Sunday, October 27, at 4 p.m. General admission is $17 with a special $14 rate for seniors and a $5 charge for full-time students. (There is no charge for children aged twelve and under.) Tickets may be purchased through the Performances page on the Old First Concerts Web site. Further information may be obtained by calling 415-474-1608.