Alexander Paley is Richmond’s unlikeliest impresario. In 1998, Paley, a Moldovan-born pianist best known for his fiery interpretions of Russian and romantic literature and virtuoso showpieces of the 19th century, was in town for a recital at Virginia Commonwealth University. Walking downtown, he came across the old Books First shop on Grace Street, decided the place would be ideal for salon-style musicales, and persuaded the owner to stage a late-summer, three-concert festival.
The bookstore closed before a second installment could be presented there; but Paley has played on, working on low budgets (sometimes no budgets) with local volunteers, using a variety of church and school venues before settling into First English Lutheran Church several years ago.
His festival returns for a 12th season of three concerts, Sept. 25-27. Admission is free (although donations would be welcome).
Programming this year, as always, centers on repertory for piano four-hands, played by Paley and his wife, the Taiwan-born pianist Pei-Wen Chen, and by a duo of guest pianists, Ivo Kaltchev and José Ramos Santana.
Paley and Chen will play the "Brilliant Grand Sonata" in C minor by Carl Czerny on opening night, Hindemith’s Sonata (1938) on Sept. 26, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s keyboard transcription of a suite from his opera “The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya” on Sept. 27. Kaltchev and Santa will play dances by Grieg, Dvořák, Brahms and Mortitz Moszkowski in the Sept. 26 program. Paley will survey Rachmaninoff’s 24 preludes for solo piano on Sept. 25.
Three of Paley's regular collaborators, Washington-based violinist Kathy Judd, Audubon Quartet cellist Clyde Thomas Shaw and VCU-based clarinetist Charles West, return to join the pianist in Mendelssohn’s Sonata for clarinet and piano, Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor and Rachmaninoff’s "Trio élégaique" on Sept. 26; and Brahms’ Clarinet Trio and Chopin’s Piano Trio in G minor on Sept. 27.
Paley Music Festival concerts begin at 8 p.m. Sept. 25-26 and 3:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at First English Lutheran Church, Monument Avenue at Lombardy Street (Stuart Circle). Details: (804) 355-9185; www.paleyfestival.info