It's been two years since pianist Awadagin Pratt performed in the Virgin Islands, and his stature as a performing artist has only increased in the interim.
On Sunday, Jan. 30, he'll appear again at Island Center, after earlier dates at Tillett Gardens on St. Thomas and the Nazareth Lutheran Church on St. John.
Pratt will open his program with "The Italian Ground" by the early 17th Century composer Gibbons. Also on the first half will be Contrapunctus No. 1 from "The Art of Fugue," BWV 1080, by J.S. Bach, and Beethoven's Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110. Following intermission, the pianist will perform the Liszt Sonata in B Minor.
The tall, 33-year-old artist is bringing his mini-piano stool to the territory once again; the seat, which rises just 14 inches off the floor, is as much a standard part of his baggage as rehearsal sheet music and whatever he intends to wear in lieu of a tuxedo when he performs. His explanation is that playing from the unusually low position, leaning closely over the piano keyboard, causes less stress on his wrists.
The other external appearances for which he is known — shunning tie and tails in favor of turtlenecks or bright-colored print shirts and wearing his hair in shoulder-length locks — are simply expressions of personal taste. Collectively, these characteristics have attracted a lot more public attention than the excellence of his musicianship, and yet the musicianship is unquestioned.
Pratt started studying piano at six years of age and added violin three years after that, meantime taking tennis lessons as well. At the age of 16, he was ready to enter college and got to choose between a violin scholarship at one school and a tennis scholarship at another. He pursued his musical muse and eventually became the first student ever to earn three performance certificates from the prestigious Peabody Conservatory of Music — in piano and violin as an undergraduate and in conducting at the graduate level.
In 1992 he won the prestigious Naumberg International Piano Competition, and two years later he was awarded an equally prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant. From there, his career as a concert and recital artist skyrocketed, with critics hailing both his virtuosity and his individualism. (This year along, he's already been to Augusta, Ga., Bermuda, Buffalo and Cleveland. After his Virgin Islands tour, he'll be off to Washington State and his hometown of Albuquerque, then Italy and Hawaii.)
Before committing himself to learning a work from the classical repertoire, Pratt researches it and its composer extensively — and then interprets it to suit himself. Studying violin, piano and conducting, he noted in an interview for Piano & Keyboard Magazine last year, "I would get lots of musical input, sometimes five different opinions on the meaning of the one phrase. . . There are only points of view, no absolute right or wrong. . . I have a hard time believing that Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt played the pieces exactly as written."
Although he is known today primarily as a pianist, he looks forward to devoting more time to the violin in a chamber setting and would "like to have a parallel career as a conductor," he told Piano & Keyboard.
Pratt's fourth CD album, released late in 1999, is called "Transformations." On it he performs his own transcription of the Bach Passacaglia and Fugue, BWV 542; Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24; and Mussorgsky's "Pictures as an Exhibition." In the most recent interview posted on his web site (www.awadagin.com), he describes how he sought to replicate the original organ sounds of the Bach work at the piano.
Sunday's program begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 general admission and $6 for students. For reservations and outlet information, call 778-5272.


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