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Beginning in Bach flat: Pianist opens first concert of festival

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
June 10, 2014 at 1:10 a.m.
Updated June 11, 2014 at 1:11 a.m.

Melissa Marse opens the Victoria Bach Festival at First United Methodist Church with Piano Preludes. The noon presentation was one of the free performances scheduled for this season.

"I guess I'm no longer a new young artist. I'm officially an old young artist," said Victoria Bach Festival's opening pianist, Melissa Marse, 39, of Houston.

Marse, talking to an audience of about 150 at the First United Methodist Church on Tuesday, reflected on her younger years as a concert pianist performing as a highlighted young performer.

Her comment was met with laughter as she opened the noon recital - and Bach Fest itself - with introductory remarks, followed by a series of preludes.

And it seemed fitting, she said, that her first prelude to begin the week of classical music be a work of Johann Sebastian Bach.

"All of the pieces today were preludes," she said, mentioning that she followed the same theme with her new album. "I love the idea of making them stand alone, whether or not they were written to stand alone."

Marse's hourlong concert included preludes from composers such as Federico Mompou, Dmitri Shostakovich and George Gershwin, among others - highlighting romantic and playful sounds, and she performed one piece entirely with her left hand.

"When I crafted this recital, I tried to make a connection between each piece and allow for a flow that keeps the audience actively interested," she said, explaining the crescendo of the musical selection from start to finish. "So sometimes I put difficult pieces between more palatable pieces, or I pick pieces that I feel the audience will relate to."

Christ the Victor pianist and organist Eleanor Anderson said that even though she's not a fan of Bach, she has been a fan of Marse for many years.

"I always love hearing her play," Anderson said. "She did a great concert on (Frederic) Chopin one year that was so good."

As a pianist, Anderson admitted that her skills are not on par with those of Marse - a Juilliard and New England Conservatory trained musician - but she appreciates the classical music genre and the annual Bach Festival concert series.

Anderson's Bach Festival companion and fellow Christ the Victor church member Linda Kramer said she, too, enjoyed the afternoon concert.

"I just love this, and I'm so glad I came," said Kramer, who serves as church secretary at Christ the Victor. "I enjoyed the later pieces she played - the ones that were more sprightly. Those were fun."

Both Anderson and Kramer said Bach Festival is a must-see concert this week, whether attending one of the free afternoon performances or purchasing tickets for an evening concert.

"We are blessed to have Bach Fest here," Kramer said.



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