ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — As his fingers caress, glide and then pound the keyboard of his 1910 Steinway, it seems like pianist Brian Ganz is living a lifetime of emotions in just 10 minutes.
His eyes shut, his head shakes and he purses his lips into both grins and grimaces as he plays the few thousand notes in Frederick Chopin’s “Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23.” The piece always has this effect on him. In fact, as a teenager, he had trouble playing it because the sheer beauty overwhelmed him.
“It was so beautiful it hurt,” Ganz said. “I was utterly mystified by it.”
“Ballade No. 1” has since become his favorite piece by the 19th-century Polish composer — and that’s saying something, because the Annapolis resident worships everything Chopin.
From the simplest works to the most involved, Ganz reveres them all and he intends to play them all, 250 to be exact, in a series of concerts that could span a decade. The first is set for Saturday night at The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.
The inaugural concert in the pianist’s Chopin project covers the composer’s early work, including two polonaises written when he was only 7. A total of 12 pieces will be showcased, including “Sonata No. 2, Op. 35 (the Funeral March),” and “Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53 (known as Heroic).”
Eventually, Ganz will perform even some obscure pieces that he knows he’s going to have to hunt down. He plans a trip to Poland to aid in his quest. Chopin died in 1849 at age 39.
“What I want to do is conduct a search for every conceivable work that he wrote,” the pianist said. “Hopefully, I can find some things no one’s ever heard before. Some things aren’t as good as others, but all are worth hearing. For me, it’ll be a pleasure to learn every single note.”
Ganz got the idea for the project from his friend, Piotr Gajewski, the music director and conductor of the National Philharmonic, which is the ensemble-in-residence at Strathmore. The current plan is to have one Chopin recital per year at first, and then move to a more frequent performance schedule so the concerts don’t go on forever. The exact timetable has yet to be set.
Whatever the schedule, Gajewski is confident Ganz has the musical chops to pull off the project.
“Well, obviously I think the world of Brian,” the conductor said. “He’s a very expressional pianist. He plays every concert like it’s his last.”
When he first approached the pianist with the idea a little over a year ago, Ganz said he was thrilled and overwhelmed.
“It’s like I have to pinch myself. It’s been my lifelong dream … the culmination of a … love affair.”
The 50-year-old Ganz really never wanted to do anything else but play the piano. His grandfather was a pianist, and from an early age, he was enthralled by the instrument.
“I remember sitting in awe at his feet,” said Ganz, who has a 13-year-old son, Dylan, who plays the violin.
In addition to performing at venues across the country, Ganz also teaches at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and the Peabody Institute of the John Hopkins University.
Cecelia Wyatt, an Annapolis piano teacher who knows Ganz well, said he’s generous with both his music and his time, something that benefits his students.
“I don’t think it’s ego that drives him,” she said. “It’s a real love of life; a love of humanity.”
Wyatt attended a preview concert Ganz gave for the Chopin project at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis last weekend and came away impressed by his knowledge of the composer’s works.
“I’m not sure anything makes you ideal to do 250 Chopin works,” she said. “(But) of all the pianists I know, or know of, he’s the most immersed in Chopin.”
All this isn’t to say Ganz only likes Chopin.
Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann and Prokofiev are among his other favorite composers.
But Chopin is definitely at the top of the list.
“For me, Chopin goes into the soul very deeply and explores every facet,” Ganz said. “He even invents some facets of soulfulness.”
The pianist hopes people who attend the concerts will be more impressed by the composer’s skills than his own.
“I want people to leave not thinking, ‘Oh, what a great pianist.’ But, ‘Oh, what extraordinary beauty; what an extraordinary gift to the world.’ ”
Those who know Ganz, though, have plenty of their own accolades for the pianist, saying he forges a unique bond with the music he plays.
“He’s fabulous,” added Holly Hamilton, a violinist with the National Symphony Orchestra who’s performed with Ganz. “He has this energy about him; this irrepressible energy; a contagious energy.”
Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md., http://www.hometownannapolis.com/
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)