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Tonight: Pianist Adam Sherkin shows off both composition and interpretive skills at the Jane Mallett Theatre

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Adam Sherkin (Nick Kozak photo).
Toronto pianist Adam Sherkin, who presents a solo recital at the Jane Mallett Theatre tonight, is a model of the 21st century solo artist in art music.

His repertoire includes Bach and Haydn, but he is a big fan of 20th century music, as well. He adds a 21st century component by writing his own, becoming one of those rare pianists who is a creator as well as interpreter.

If there are no invitations to play elsewhere, Sherkin creates his own concerts, as is the case for tonight’s event.

He opens his Toronto season with a very nicely thought-out programme that pairs pieces by mood, attitude and style. Many of the pieces share a searching quality, by composers having a later-career epiphany of some sort.

The evening opens with Samuel Barber’s Op. 46 Ballade, one of his last pieces, written in 1977. Ballades are usually breezy things, but Barber’s is more like a solitary walk by someone worrying an idea or problem over and over in their head.

The piece is big and dark, but in a satisfying way. Sherkin says the piece, “has the qualities I’ve really come to appreciate in [Barber’s] vocal writing. There’s a lyricism and an economy of means that I thought would be a great opener to the programme.”

Sherkin says he wants to relieve the gloom without an applause break with Frédéric Chopin’s Op. 36 Impromptu. “I can’t think of a sunnier key than F-sharp Major,” he explains.

The first half of the evening ends with Aaron Copland’s Piano Fantasy from the mid-1950s. The pianist is fond of Copland and a mid-century Modern sensibility. “He was my first port of call in getting to know American piano music,” says Sherkin, who studied piano performance in Toronto and composition in London, England.

The musician says he has rarely played the music of Robert Schumann in public, but is taking the plunge with a late set of five pieces, Gesänge der Frühe (Songs of Dawn), written in 1853. Sherkin was drawn to these pieces because they’re forward-thinking “and they have a skewed sense of tonality.”

“All of the technical and structural issues are turned toward expressive purposes, which, I’d like to argue, is not always the case in some of his earlier works,” he adds.

The recital closes with Sherkin’s own five-piece cycle, German Promises, which he premiered in Toronto last year and that will feature on As at First, an upcoming album release from the Canadian Music Centre made up entirely of Sherkin’s creations. The album was recorded at the Glenn Gould Studio, with the CBC’s gifted David Jaeger acting as producer.

Sherkin feels he’s lucky to have a support network of friends, fans and donors to help make all of these projects possible — from posting flyers around the city to helping underwrite a recording project.

As for what all this freelancing means for his own career, Sherkin describes it as “a long-term investment — if you’ve got content.”

He does, and it’s worth sampling.

You’ll find all the concert details here.

In case you need an introduction to two of the pieces on tonight’s programme, here is Paul Barnes playing Barber’s Ballade:

And here is Philippe Bianconi tackling the Schumann cycle:

John Terauds

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