In music, as in fashion and a host of other endeavors, exoticism sells.
It is this capitalistic imperative, coupled with our natural feeling that the cachet-laden foreign model must somehow be superior to the domestic one, that whispers to us that pianists from, say, Vienna, Seoul or Tashkent are better than the home-grown variety.
That stereotype was exposed for the nonsense it is Saturday at Maryland Hall when Brian Ganz, a concert pianist from exotic, far-off Crownsville, made his long overdue debut with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.
Ganz, a grand-prize winner at Paris' prestigious Marguerite Long/Jacques Thibaud International Piano Competition 13 years ago, teaches on the piano faculty of Baltimore's Peabody Institute. He played Frederic Chopin's 1st Piano Concerto under the baton of guest-conductor Arthur Post.
The visiting maestro is in his first year as music director of the San Juan Symphony.
Chopin's two concertos don't often appear on concert programs, probably because conductors object to being squished so far into the back seat by the composer's piano-centric writing. But exquisite works they are, as anyone lucky enough to have attended Saturday's concert can tell you.
While many soloists take Chopin's E minor Concerto as an opportunity to "out-dream," "out-ache," and "out-swoon" every other pianist who has ever played the piece, Ganz went in another direction.
He took the stage as an ardent lover out to declare his boundless affection for the beauty of Chopin's handiwork. And he sang of that love with full-bodied fervor to the conductor, to the players and to everyone listening.
Ganz's delivery, in fact, made Chopin seem reminiscent of Mozart, not because he imbued the rhapsodic E minor Concerto with any undue 18th-century restraint, but because he made the piano line sound so operatically conceived.
Mozart, after all, crafted his piano melodies as a singer would sing them, so that the most celestial of the 27 concertos are full of wonderful mini-arias for the solo instrument. Ganz worked the same magic in Chopin. After an arresting opening statement, the piano sang out with a full-throated passion that went light on the swooning. The cascades of notes employed by Chopin to embroider his matchless lyricism were full of gentle, flirtatious charm.
Even Movement II, the "Romanza" so often milked for every drop of gooey pathos a pianist can find there, emerged as a warm, flowing, deeply felt surge of affection. It was gorgeous.
Post struck me as an apt collaborator for such an approach. While the opening orchestral tutti didn't exactly crackle with excitement, he was an accompanist who knew his place, yet responded in kind to the ingratiating flair of his soloist.
Post also led a tautly paced, no-nonsense account of Cesar Franck's Symphony in D minor. The playing, though less in tune than usual, sounded plenty impassioned to me.
Once again, the Maryland Hall ushers let the side down by seating late-comers during the opening selection - Paul Dukas' quick, brassy Fanfare to La Peri. The work takes all of two minutes to play. What would have been the harm in having people wait until it was over? Once again at Maryland Hall, the mind boggles.