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Hilary  Demske’s  Winterreise  a  Shocking  Success     This  recital  was  one  of  the  craziest  things  I’ve  ever  seen  in  my  life.       I  knew  that  I  was  going  to  see  a  piano  recital  by  the  young  Utah  Valley  University   professor  Hilary  Demske.  I  knew  the  recital  began  at  9:30  PM.  I  was  expecting  some   Beethoven,  Chopin,  Liszt,  or  Mozart,  and  frankly,  I  was  worried  that  I  would  be   nodding  off  by  the  end.  Boy,  was  I  wrong.     Before  Demske  took  the  stage,  I  noticed  a  toolkit  on  a  spare  seat  next  to  the  piano   and  the  words,  “Die  Winterreise,”  on  a  projector  screen.  I  thought  there  was  some   mistake.  Die  Winterreise  (The  Winter  Journey)  is  Franz  Schubert’s  monumental  song   cycle  (24  pieces  in  total)  about  a  young  man  whose  beloved  has  left  him  for  a   wealthier  suitor,  so  he  takes  a  long  trek  through  the  winter.     But  this  was  a  piano,  not  a  vocal  recital.  I  was  perplexed  until  the  ushers  produced   the  program  notes  and  I  saw  that  the  whole  concert  was  titled  “Piano  Paraphrases   on  Schubert’s  Winterreise.”       Demske’s  choice  of  the  word  “paraphrase”  is  absurdly  modest.  Her  composition  is  a   revelation.  She  follows  the  same  structure  as  Schubert’s  magnum  opus,  and  she   readily  borrows  melodies  and  motifs,  yet  this  is  anything  but  a  “paraphrase.”     The  variety  of  styles  alone  that  Demske  works  into  her  24  pieces  is  shocking.  Some   of  the  movements  are  strictly  conservative  and  neo-­‐classical  (e.g.,  the  helplessly   charming  “Frühlingstraum”),  but  a  great  many  rely  on  extended  piano  techniques   and  a  thoroughly  modern  sensibility.  Her  reinventing  of  “Der  Lindenabum,”  which  is   easily  the  most  famous  song  from  Die  Winterreise,  suggested  the  original  piano   motifs  at  times,  but  they  were  overshadowed  by  the  sound  of  a  full-­‐on  drum  set.   Somehow,  she  turned  the  lower  strings  into  a  series  of  snare  and  bass  drums.   Schubert’s  subtle  and  tinkling  song  suddenly  mutated  into  acoustic  techno.     In  every  instance,  these  extended  techniques  furthered  the  poignancy  and  beauty  of   her  sprawling  tone  pome.  They  were  never  a  gimmick  or  affectation.     There  were  many  forces  at  work  to  make  this  recital  the  absolute  marvel  that  it  was.   For  one,  Demske  played  entirely  from  memory.  Just  remembering  the  sequence  of   the  24  songs  would  be  impressive,  let  alone  their  very  many  notes.       And  Demske’s  technical  prowess  was  both  breathtaking  and  impeccable.  She   imbued  even  the  most  abstract  pieces  with  a  shining  lyricism  while  still  tackling  the   most  monstrously  difficult  passages  with  a  deft  precision.     Mostly,  though,  the  whole  endeavor  was  boundlessly  imaginative.    


Not  many  humans  are  capable  of  what  Demske  has  accomplished.  Think  about  it.   She  took  one  of  the  most  celebrated  works  from  the  classical  repertoire  and   successfully  reinvented  it  into  something  entirely  different  but  equally  exciting,   beautiful,  and  profound.  I  know  we  all  have  our  hobbies,  but  come  on.  Who  does  this   kind  of  thing  in  their  spare  time?       It  hurt  me  that  I  wasn’t  more  familiar  with  Schubert’s  original  24  songs,  because  the   ones  I  was  familiar  with  made  the  corresponding  sections  of  Demske’s  work  that   much  more  enjoyable.  I  have  a  dream  of  someday  owning  a  box  set  recording  of  the   original  Winterreise  with  Demske  accompanying  someone  like  Ian  Bostridge  in  the   tenor’s  role.  And  in  this  fantasy  box  set  of  mine,  the  second  disc  would  be  Demske’s   own  composition.     This  was  her  first  performance  of  the  full  work,  and  I  hope  she  performs  it  again— soon.  The  first  thought  I  had  after  she  concluded  with  “Der  Leiermann”  was  that  I   wanted  to  hear  the  whole  thing  again.  I  need  something  to  hold  me  over  until  that   recording  eventually  comes  out.  


Winterreise Review