It’s official. Jeremy Denk has arrived.
The MacArthur Foundation awarded the American classical pianist one of its twenty-four MacArthur Fellowships for 2013. Musical America named Denk its Instrumentalist of the Year for 2014. And Out, a magazine covering gay and lesbian perspectives on culture, politics, style, and more, featured Denk in its nineteenth-annual Out100 list of achievers.
“Of all of America’s up-and-coming classical instrumentalists, Jeremy Denk, the pianist-blogger who won a MacArthur Foundation ‘genius grant’ in September, might well be the most interesting,” asserts a Wall Street Journal writer.
“Mr. Denk, clearly, is a pianist you want to hear no matter what he performs, in whatever combination—both for his penetrating intellectual engagement with the music and for the generosity of his playing,” writes a New York Times critic.
Denk’s Penn State debut recital, on January 29 at Schwab Auditorium, includes Fantasy, a work by jazz composer and pianist Brad Mehldau co-commissioned by the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State through its membership in Music Accord.
“Jeremy Denk is a concert pianist enlivening the musical experience for amateurs and aficionados alike through his eloquence with notes and words,” the MacArthur Foundation notes in its biography of the musician. “As a soloist and in concerti and chamber ensembles, Denk masterfully performs some of the most technically demanding works of iconic masters—Bach, Beethoven, Chopin—as well as compositions of storied twentieth-century artists—Ives and Ligeti—with virtuosic dexterity and imagination. Noted for his unexpected pairings of pieces in recital programs and recordings, he often draws out surprising themes and continuities between historically and stylistically disparate works.”
The pianist recently released a CD/DVD set of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. A New York Times critic writes that Denk has a “profound affinity with Bach.” A Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer calls his Goldberg interpretations “mesmerizing.”
The recording reached number one on both the Billboard “Classical Albums” and “Traditional Classical Albums” charts.
Ligeti/Beethoven, his Nonesuch recording debut, was featured in many “best of 2012” lists. “All in all,” a BBC Music reviewer writes, “it’s a marvel.”
In addition to performing solo recitals and appearing with many of America’s great orchestras, Denk tours widely with violin virtuoso Joshua Bell. French Impressions, their 2012 Sony Classical recording of music by Franck, Saint-Saëns, and Ravel, earned rave reviews.
The pianist is also lauded for his witty and personal music writing, which has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, and the NPR Music website. His blog, Think Denk, is frequently referenced by the media and music industry.
“Denk’s writings not only offer poignant and humorous meditations on such subjects as the complex relationship between protégé and mentor, they also demonstrate the connection between the process of writing and the practicing musician’s ceaseless efforts to find the most vivid and meaningful way to bring a particular phrase to life,” the foundation notes. “An extraordinary pianist and essayist of keen musical intellect, Denk is engaging listeners and readers in a deeper appreciation of classical music.”
The MacArthur fellowships are awarded to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction,” according to the foundation’s website. “There are three criteria for selection of fellows: exceptional creativity, promise of important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.”
The fellowship comes with a stipend of $625,000, paid in quarterly installments for five years, that each recipient can use in whatever way he or she sees fit.