Thursday, September 11, 2008

Paley: back to basics

Alexander Paley, the Russian-émigré pianist who in 1998 launched a Richmond music festival on his own initiative and with no local institutional support, was ready to call it quits last fall at the end of a poorly attended 10th anniversary installment.

Paley changed his mind over the winter. His frustration over organizational and financial difficulties that plagued the 2007 festival gradually gave way to a desire to continue an event that gives him free rein in program content and in choosing artistic collaborators – a luxury rarely enjoyed by musicians who work mainly as guest soloists – as well as a desire to continue performing in a city that, he says, "taught me a lot of what I know and love about America."

Timely encouragement to return to Richmond came from Linus Ellis, music director at First English Lutheran Church, where Paley’s festival had been staged from 2002 through 2006. Ellis assumed the logistical responsibilities of a board that dissolved after last fall’s festival. Another key helper is Alexander Brusilovsky, the piano technician who will tune and maintain the Blüthner instrument brought in for the festival.

This season's concerts, Sept. 26-28, will focus on German romantic music: Schumann’s three piano sonatas, played by Paley; works for piano four-hands by Schumann and Weber, played by Paley and his wife, Pei-Wen Chen; and small-scaled chamber works by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Reinecke, featuring Paley’s longtime collaborators, clarinetist Charles West and violinist Kathy Judd, along with French horn player Patrick Smith and cellist Clyde Thomas Shaw.

"This is music that I love," Paley says, "music of great expression and programs on an intimate scale," which he believes have always been the festival’s strongest suit. "This is the way, I think, for this festival to begin again."

Performances will be at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26 and Saturday, Sept. 27, and at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28. First English Lutheran Church is located at Stuart Circle (Monument Avenue at Lombardy Street). Admission is by donation.

For information, call the church at (804) 355-9185, or visit