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Leon Bates Performs  R. Nathaniel Dett’s Juba: Dance from In the Bottoms


Review Excerpts

LEON BATES IN VIENNA: “Leon Bates was top performance with ‘Rhapsody in Blue:’ Brilliant. powerful, a virtuoso. He has Gershwin in his little fingers, in his spirit and in his intellect.” — Vienna Symphony

LEON BATES IN NEW YORK: “Rarer still is the artist who can carry off as wise an interpretive touch…” — The New York Times

LEON BATES IN SAN FRANCISCO: “Even on a day like Sunday when the piano was king on The City’s concert circuit, Leon Bates merits at least a duchy of his own.” — San Francisco Chronicle

LEON BATES WITH THE PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA: “His firm rhythmic sense was not unyielding, He made the jaunty solo passages sound like elegant improvisations, He gave such impetus to the first movement that he was interrupted by applause at the end.” — Philadelphia Inquirer

LEON BATES IN DETROIT: “…catch Bates when you can. He will be one of the great ones.” —Detroit Free Press

LEON BATES IN IRELAND: “Mr. Bates has all the brilliance wanted, but so much more. Just after the opening there is a magnificent cadenza to which Mr. Bates gave full value, but with great power that was never hard, and always lyrical, and cascades of notes that all made melody.” —Irish Times

BATES IN ITALY: “Leon Bates alone succeeded in giving the music its explosive power, dramatic character and unmistakable color…Bates is a formidable pianist and a virtuoso…” — Le Repubblica (Rome)

BATES IN AMERICA: “… he is an artist of powerful impact.” — High Fidelity/Musical America

The New York Times, October 28, 2000, by Allan Kozinn

Leon Bates devoted most of his Sunday evening recital at Carnegie Hall. to American piano music composed in the first half of the 20th century, a part of the literature that has long been the backbone of his repertory. And as a programmatically puzzling side trip, perhaps meant to cleanse the palate between the angularity of Copland’s variations and the dreamy softness of Barber’s Ballade, he glanced toward Japan for two brief, gently dissonant works by Takernitsu, “Rain Tree Sketch” (1982) and “Rain Tree Sketch II” (1992).

Mr. Bates began with Edward MacDowell’s “Keltic” Sonata (1901), a relic from a time when American composers embraced German Romanticism in all its bombastic grandeur. Even in MacDowell’s own time, that preference was fading: his younger colleague Charles Tomlinson Griffes was more taken with the picturesque delicacy of French Impressionism, and for composers like Copland, Barber and Ned Rorem, a generation later, the German style was an antique world not worth revisiting.

Still, MacDowell’s music has always kept at least a tenuous foothold in American musical history, and Mr. Bates’s assured, thoughtful performance of the “Keltic,” with its cascading chords and brawny textures: was a useful reminder that this country’s musical tradition began long before Nadia Boulanger began teaching its most promising young composers.

Having established that, Mr. Bates turned to the music of Copland, one of the earliest and biggest stars of Boulanger’s class. When he composed the Variations, in 1930, that class was a recent memory for Copland, and the folksy ballets that made him a household name were more than a decade in the future. Here Copland was exploring the edges of modernist angularity, something he would return to later in his career. Mr. Bates’s reading was stolid at first, but he quickly got into the details of the piece and presented them forcefully and with an admirable clarity.

Where Mr. Bates was most fully in his element, though, was in. the three Barber work that closed the program. His graceful, carefully shaped accounts of the Ballade (1977) and Nocturne (1959) preserved the steady rhythmic flow that drives each work, without shortchanging the subtle demands that each makes on a pianist’s technique and imagination. In Barber’s Sonata (1949), by contrast, the demands are not subtle at all: a mixture of classic forms, 12-tone figuration and pure old-fashioned virtuosity, it is the most galvanic work Barber composed. Mr. Bates tapped into its spirit immediately, contrasting the prickly rhythms, dancing melodies and the chromatic undercurrent of the opening Allegro energico, and then shifting gears easily (from. sparkling to dreamy to sizzling) as each of the last three movements required.

As an encore, he offered a bravura reading of a Gottschalk showpiece, “The Banjo.”

Recommended with Pleasure
Fanfare Magazine, August 2001

Fanfare magazine review of Leon Bates’ recording for Naxos of piano works by George Gershwin and Chick Corea.

A native of Philadelphia, Leon Bates began his formal study of music at the age of six on both piano and violin. His talent was recognized and he was groomed for a concert career. Irene Beck gave him his early training at the Settlement Music School and his advanced study was under Natalie Hinderas at the Temple University Esther Boyer College of Music.

In addition to a full concert schedule, Mr. Bates is often called upon to give master classes. He is a favorite on college campuses because of his broad interests outside classical music. He enjoys all the performing arts including dance, theatre and most types of music. Leon Bates is also a sports enthusiast and disciplined bodybuilder, which he feels aids his playing ability. Recently he has begun composing and finds great satisfaction in this aspect of music making.

Recently, Leon Bates has performed with the symphonies of Indianapolis, Oregon, Florida, Rochester, Dallas, Hartford, Baton Rouge, Omaha, Louisville, Winston-Salem, the Orchestra of Pomeriggi Musicall di Milano in Italy and the Malmo Symphony of Sweden. He has appeared with the Battle Creek Symphony and the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra in connection with the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Michigan. He has also performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and with the Italian Symphony Orchestra of Bergamo on its U.S. tour, which included a concert at Carnegie Hall. In addition to recitals and residencies from coast to coast in the USA, he has recently traveled to perform at Rome’s Academia di Santa Cecilia and in South Africa.

Leon Bates has been invited to appear with the Atlanta and Tucson Symphonies, the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2001 celebrations and in Leipzig’s Gewandhaus. Popular at summer festivals, he has performed at the Hollywood Bowl, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Chicago’s Grant Park, the Lake Tahoe Festival and at the Mann Music Center with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Bates also periodically performs on summer tours with the Boston Pops.

For Naxos, Leon Bates has recorded a vibrant account of piano works by George Gershwin and Chick Corea.

Fiery Brio in Settlement Alumni Recital
by Lesley Valdes
for The Inquirer
Pianist Leon Bates brought a fiery brio to his distinguished alumni recital for the Settlement Music School Sunday afternoon. The Philadelphian, who came to the Settlement at age 6, offered his audience at the Independence Seaport Museum substance, sentiment, and the technique to serve the music chosen.
Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 31, No. 3 in E-flat major opened – the tonic chords repetitive as birdcalls, the whimsies teasing. Each movement carved a niche. Bates’ presence is cordial but his prowess is considerable.

Before intermission, Bates performed etudes by Cleveland composer Leslie Adams, whose series of 24 is modeled on Chopin’s. The works, in G minor and G major, are neo-romantic in the extreme, rife with passagework and flourishes that might have been written two centuries ago. They are well-constructed, flowing, persuasive on their own terms.

Jeux d’Eau, Ravel’s essay on the play and splash of antique water fountains, was elegantly essayed, its considerable difficulties made light of, its joys distinct. George and Ira Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” was a wonderful addition to the program, boldly played – perhaps with more heart-on-sleeve than necessary, but always with rhythmic flair.

Bates is more sensitive than the performance of this arrangement showed. Either he was hamming up the flourishes, runs and variations of rhythm (stop time, syncopation – you name it, you’ll find it rushing along in this Lisztian arrangement), or he needs to find a tad more subtlety.

Either way, it’s still a gem. Bates has made (at least) a half-dozen Gershwin arrangements, some recorded for Naxos; this one is recent, and unrecorded. He’s also made a number of Duke Ellington arrangements. Excellent ideas, the arrangements, and their programming: As the Gershwin proved, it’s not only our American music, it’s not for sissies.

“Someone to Watch Over Me” led right into the finale, the Liszt Sonata in B minor, also not for the weak of heart (or hand). Apart from early moments in which the treble sounded shallow, even shrill (and which could have been the fault of the German Steinway), Bates uncovered a variety of sonorities, and tremendous beauty to the famous theme. When appropriate – which was often – the steel-coiled strings thundered. There were many eloquent moments during the continual transformation of Liszt’s thematic material. It was an impressive account: bravely controlled and compelling.

A Symphony and Soloist Romance Appreciative Audiences as Season Continues
Napa Valley Register, November 21, 2007, L. Pierce Carson, Register Staff Writer

If you missed one of the two opportunities to hear the Napa Valley Symphony Orchestra perform last weekend, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Neither of the weekend concerts was a complete sell out, although lots of enthusiastic music lovers were on hand at both. If Saturday night’s performance was as good as the repeat on Sunday afternoon, you sure would have gotten your money’s worth. Those of us who were there sure did.

A glorious program included the most played Rachmaninoff work for piano and orchestra in the repertoire, featuring brilliant soloist Leon Bates; an opportunity to become reacquainted with the father of Bohemian music, Bedrich Smetana; and another welcome occasion to listen to our finely tuned orchestra pay tribute to the Napa Valley in a rewarding pastoral suite composed by symphony maestro Asher Raboy.

A very accessible work written and premiered five years ago — while the orchestra’s current digs were under renovation — “A Mystic Valley” is a series of eight snapshots of the Napa Valley, commissioned by symphony benefactors Lonne and Donald Carr.

A musical celebration of the Napa Valley, the work is Raboy’s impression of wine country, spotlighting Mother Nature and people, past and present, as well as the “beauty, mystery and humanity” of the place where we live.

The enchanting tone poem is launched with a sweeping romantic theme carried by warm, comforting violins and the rich, creamy sound of a saxophone. It is evocative of the greening of the valley, while other sections speak to romping tykes, terpsichorean hijinks, and the majestic workhorse of another day, the Old Bale Mill. The 25 minute work at times is reminiscent of the descriptive scoring of Ferde Grofé, painting musical pictures of a dewy sunrise and a breathtaking, mystical sunset.

Addressing the beauty that is Napa Valley, the work sounded a lot better in Lincoln Theater than it did during the orchestra’s 70th season at Chardonnay Hall.

The 64-member orchestra doted on the composer’s every down beat, every nuance, delivering a lovely reading.

For this listener, Raboy has captured the mood and movement of the nation’s best known plot of wine country in both playful and romantic fashion. As noted five years ago, “A Mystic Valley” is a charming work, one of which the maestro can justly be proud. Great choice for romantic work.

One couldn’t have asked for a better interpreter of Rachmaninoff — and his “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” — than Leon Bates.

One of the nation’s best pianists, Bates has appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony and the Atlanta Symphony, to name but a few. It was his second appearance this past weekend with the Napa Valley Symphony Orchestra.

As the title suggests, Rachmaninoff took the 24th of Paganini’s notoriously difficult Caprices for Solo Violin and wrote his own notoriously difficult 24 variations for piano and orchestra.

Highlights of the 25 minute composition — composed in the style of a concerto — include the seventh, with its echoes of the medieval chant Dies Irae, and the ultra romantic 18th — probably Rachmaninoff’s “biggest hit.” The Rhapsody became the composer’s own signature piece, and he performed it often and to great acclaim on tour.

Bates can hold his own with any of his peers who’ve recorded the work. I used to think that the Philippe Entremont recording in the early ’60s was the be all, end all disc to own. But Bates and the Napa Valley Symphony Orchestra made me wish Sunday afternoon’s collaboration had been recorded.

Magisterial and powerful, Bates made it seem so effortless, like he tosses it off every other day before breakfast. The personable pianist’s performance was dazzling. Raboy was with him in every bar, orchestral detail persuasively delineated, ensuring a glorious blossoming of string tone at the 18th variation, the finale reaching an exciting pitch.

The orchestra was on the mark as well in the opening segment, performing Smetana’s “Overture to The Bartered Bride,” along with a trio of seldom heard dances from the opera, including a festive Czech dance called the furiant.

Overtures to operas are usually written almost as afterthoughts, but Smetana was so taken with the plot line for this comic tale of love that he wrote the lively prelude before beginning any other work on the opera. The result was a piece that stands alone beautifully, yet still serves as a wonderful introduction to the work that made Smetana famous.

Raboy injected imaginative detail in the reading and the players faithfully followed. The composer would have been pleased.