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Awadagin Pratt

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AWADAGIN PRATT

By now 32-year-old pianist Awadagin Pratt is hardly a newcomer on the classical concert circuit, and the novelty of his skin color and heartland upbringing (in Normal, Illinois) has worn off. But he's still amazing to watch, his fullback-size body sitting on a tiny custom-made stool, crouching over the keyboard a la Glenn Gould. Unlike Gould, who sort of pecked at the keys to produce his trademark staccato sound, Pratt uses his size for power: he probably commands the loudest fortissimo around, with a brutal flamboyance peculiarly suited to the romantic swoons and bombast of Liszt, Busoni, and Rachmaninoff. His flair for seeming to improvise also fits the mold of the late-19th-century romantic virtuoso. Even though his technique and interpretive skills could be improved a bit, Pratt might easily cultivate a career as a brawny Andre Watts. But since winning the prestigious Naumburg Competition in 1992, he's been giving signals that he wants to broaden his range and tone down his forceful playing. Indeed, for his Orchestra Hall debut--a belated one for a soloist who's performed at other local venues for almost a decade--he's put two of Beethoven's late sonatas, the 28th and 30th, on the program. Both of course require polished digital dexterity and an acute understanding of the complex emotional ebbs and flows. It'll be interesting to see whether Pratt, who is good at conveying an almost off-the-cuff casualness, can navigate their twists and turns with his typical spontaneity. Other works on the lengthy bill are more in keeping with the stuff on which Pratt's reputation is built; they include the op. 117 intermezzi by Brahms, a Chopin nocturne, and Busoni's florid arrangement of Bach's D minor chaconne (a Pratt showstopper). Sunday, 3 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000.

TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Pratt by V. Richard Haro.

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