The Return of von der Mehden: Morgan Lee performs works by Rachmaninoff, Liszt and Ravel

Morgan Lee during her performance of Rachmaninoff, Liszt, and Ravel. Audience members were able to enjoy Lee’s virtual performance from the comfort of their own homes. Photo provided by author

Newly mandated COVID-19 regulations have certainly brought change to many aspects of campus, including the University of Connecticut’s Fine Arts department. In turn, the mandate of an online semester has caused venues such as Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) and the Ballard Institute to adapt to having remote audiences. Both have since hosted successful events like CRT’s Zoom performances of “Men on Boats” and the Ballard’s virtual fall puppet slam. Among these venues, however, is one that has remained relatively quiet compared to the rest. For those who were missing the sights and sounds of UConn’s beloved von der Mehden Recital Hall, Morgan Lee’s Thursday evening piano performance was surely a treat. 

The description of the event included that works by Rachmaninoff, Liszt and Ravel would be performed. Although it was never mentioned during the performance which piece was made by which composer, audiences were likely immersed in Lee’s charming musical ability nonetheless. 

As a bit of background, Sergei Rachmaninoff was a Russian composer whose musical style coincided with the ongoing Romantic period at the time. The period was characterized by inspiration from nature or art forms such as literature and poetry. Hence, the music of this era was identified by garnering a dramatic, emotional atmosphere. 

Being a UConn DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) candidate, Lee seemed to possess remarkable skills that easily captured the Romantic aura. With no sheet music in sight, she was able to produce songs by memory, an impressive feat when performing for an hour long. Following a confident walk onto the stage, she opened the recital with pieces that consisted of increasing tempos and broken scales, evidence of Rachmaninoff’s passionate musical style. Lee was clearly accomplished enough to match the late Russian composer’s manner through her equally passionate piano-playing. 

The next composer Lee performed from was Franz Liszt. Like Rachmaninoff, Liszt was also a contributor to the Romantic era, whose prominence during the time granted his title as one of the greatest pianists of all time. His complex compositions usually serve as difficult for some players to imitate, but it was hard to see any indication of difficulty from Lee’s performance. From gradual crescendos, smooth sounding scales and fluctuating tempos, Lee flourished in an expert display of instrumental phenomena. 

Moving away from Russia and Hungary, the impressionist and baroque traits of Maurice Ravel’s music originated from France. Ravel is often linked to Claude Debussy, composer of the famous Clair de Lune, who both shared similar musical styles. Like the Romantic period, impressionism focused on the creation of mood and atmosphere, a description in which Ravel’s works fall in line. Generating these specific ambiences required complex writing, thus like Liszt, Ravel’s pieces usually turn out quite difficult to play. 

As the event progressed, the intricacies of Lee’s performance seemed to increase gradually, likely due to Ravel’s complicated arrangements. A large amount of focus was evidently necessary for the execution of her last remaining pieces, most of which were much more lively and looked like they required three hands instead of two. Lee succeeded in delivering a remarkable presentation regardless, dazzling audiences from the comfort of their homes with the dulcet tones of Rachmaninoff, Liszt and Ravel. 

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