Something old, something new for Orkis

May 10, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

It's pure happenstance that Lambert Orkis plays the fortepiano -- the ancestor of the modern piano and the instrument such composers as Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin actually used.

But let Orkis, who will play Beethoven's B-flat Concerto with the Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra Monday at Peabody, tell the story:

"Up until 1982, I was known only as a new-music man and as a chamber pianist," says Orkis who is now one of the best-known fortepianists in the nation. "A friend of mine at the Smithsonian was telling me how difficult he was finding it to persuade a famous European pianist to record the music of Gottschalk on an 1865 Chickering. Old instruments are notoriously difficult to play and the pianist had told my friend that he had a reputation to

uphold. I said, 'I have no reputation to uphold -- give me the project!' "

The record, released on the museum's own label, earned sensational reviews and opened up a new career for Orkis. In the last two years alone, he has made nine recordings on the fortepiano for the Virgin label. Next fall he begins the formidable task every pianist fears and desires: Recording -- on the fortepiano -- all 32 of Beethoven's piano sonatas.

Despite his fortepiano activity, Orkis continues to do all of the things he used to do. He is still a chamber music pianist (he is the favorite accompanist of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter); he is principal keyboard player of the National Symphony, and he is still a new-music specialist (his world premiere performances of Richard Wernick's new piano concerto were acclaimed earlier this season in New York).

"Somehow I'm still able to do it all," the pianist, 45, says. "Last week I was in California playing some heroic stuff with 'Slava' [Rostropovich] on a modern Steinway and then I took the red-eye to New York to rehearse with the Castle Trio on an 1852 Erard. I don't know where all of this stuff with early pianos will take me, but I must say that playing the fortepiano has finally made me understand why the great composers wrote the way they did."

Lambert Orkis When: Monday at 8:15 p.m.

Where: Friedberg Hall, Peabody Conservatory

Tickets: $8 at the box office

Call: 659-8124.

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