Guest pianist gives classic yet sprightly performance

Award-winning pianist Robert Auler gave a lively concert this past Sunday afternoon in Wadsworth Auditorium, playing a selection of fairly modern and surprisingly vivacious works rather than the expected repetitive classical pieces.

All of the selections reflected what Auler called the "American vernacular" - music of the last 100 years that resembles American style. Though the pieces were written for the concert hall, influences of jazz, ragtime and folk were clear and provided energetic rhythms and melodies.

It was hard to pick out recurring melodies in any of the pieces. They instead concentrated on rhythm and harmony. The tempo, however, was perhaps the most impressive; all of the pieces were amazingly fast-paced.

Auler played pieces by Pieslak, Haken, Gershwin, Pann, Barber and Kapustin. A personal friend of Pieslak, Auler noted the brevity of his pieces, which are each about four minutes long. He explained that, because Pieslak grew up watching MTV just like the rest of the world, it seemed reasonable that they would be short. One advantage of this was that if you didn't like a song, you only have to wait a few minutes and it's over.

Auler, a professor at SUNY Oswego, had a down-to-earth personality that showed as he addressed the audience between songs. His explanations were brief and occasionally humorous, and the pieces were more interesting after hearing their background.

The final selections were a little longer and slower. It was more obvious they were meant for a concert hall and they weren't quite as engaging as the previous songs. The 15 minutes of restlessness, however, was not bad and was in fact worth the prior hour of the show.

The crowd was enthusiastic, but small - it would have been nice to see more of an audience at the performance.

The winner of multiple competitions, Auler has performed across the globe in concerts and notable festivals. In June 2004, he made his first appearance at Carnegie Hall. He also has a CD, American Century, which features, unsurprisingly, American music from the past 100 years. If his performance is any indication of his recorded work, it's definitely worth a listen.