Esteemed jazz pianist Fred Hersch came to the University of Connecticut’s von der Mehden Recital Hall Friday night as the Heilig Memorial Concert main performer. Hersch played for nearly an hour and a half, showcasing his immense talent in front of an enthralled audience. Called “the most arrestingly innovative pianist in jazz over the last decade” by Vanity Fair, Hersch’s performance was expectedly breathtaking, and something I won’t soon forget.
After a brief introduction, Hersch entered the stage featuring a lone Steinway piano to great applause. He quickly launched into a dissonant yet soothing original piece. Hersch played some of his own original work but mainly covered work by other famed pianists. Honored composers like George Gershwin and Jerome Kern found their way into a classics-medley near the middle of the program, which saw Hersch effortlessly leaping from piece to piece without hesitation.
Hersch occasionally injected the pauses between songs with humor. Near the end of the program, a ringtone went off near the left side of the stage, something we’ve all cringed at. Hersch quickly broke the tension by saying, “Looks like we’ve got an extra musician,” drawing laughter from the audience.
Hersch ended his concert with a stellar Thelonious Monk cover that ranged from discordant chords to piano-spanning melodies. After a lengthy standing ovation, Hersch performed an encore, and left to convene with his fans in the lobby. The Heilig Memorial Concert was yet another shining example of the joy that instrumental concerts bring to this campus time and time again.
Hersch’s work rises far above the keystrokes. Hersch has been (and continues to be) an advocate for HIV/AIDS research and education agencies, including a charity called Classical Action, raising more than $300,000 for the cause. In addition to his profound activism, Hersch has taught at numerous institutions about jazz, including The Juilliard School and the New England Conservatory. He is currently faculty at Rutgers University.
The annual Heilig Memorial Concert is made possible by the Alice Murray Heilig concert fund. It was generously established on behalf of the late Charles E. Heilig Jr., in honor of his wife Alice, the latter of which loved piano music. Each year, von der Mehden organizes a concert with this endowment showcasing some of the best pianists music has to offer, and Fred Hersch more than filled that role on Friday.
Hersch’s eleventh solo record, 2017’s “Open Book,” is available on most streaming and music platforms. Upcoming von der Mehden events include this Thursday’s Wind Ensemble: Lollapalooza! Works by Adams, Bates, & more and next Tuesday’s Symphonic Band: Red Sky.
Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.