Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Awadagin Pratt

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Winner of the prestigious Naumburg prize, the 26-year-old pianist Awadagin Pratt commands attention with his funky, self-absorbed stage manners and unorthodox playing style--sort of a cross between Stevie Wonder and Glenn Gould. Son of parents from Sierra Leone, Pratt embarked on his musical education at age six in Normal, Illinois. Later, at the University of Illinois at Champaign, he studied piano, violin, and conducting. When he graduated from the Peabody Conservatory, he became its first student ever to receive degrees in all three areas. For now Pratt is devoting his energies to a career as a concert pianist, which, with the Naumburg imprimater, could blossom into a major one. The program for Pratt's local recital debut demonstrates a keen intelligence in grouping familiar works: it amounts to a survey of how the fugue, that most intricate of musical forms, was treated by composers of various vintages. Bach, the pioneer of the form, is represented by his Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor. Beethoven's Sonata no. 31 provides a dramatic yet subtle shift in mood from sorrow to joy. Brahms's Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, of course, is justly celebrated for its virtuosic grand counterpoint finale. By the time Cesar Franck wrote Prelude, Choral, et Fugue, his homage to the Baroque forms, the requirements of romanticism had turned the old techniques into launchpads for rhapsodic flights of fancy. It ought to make a bravura showcase for the flamboyant Pratt. Friday, 8 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th St. 702-8068.

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