Sunday afternoon at Waimea’s Kahilu Theater began with Sara Davis Beuchner’s most quiet entrance. But mere seconds after taking her seat upon the bench, her fingers presented an explosive frappe’ of Mozart’s Fantasy in D minor. Her hands grand Jeté’d off the keys moving from abrupt and quick allegro to softer and slower adagio at a turn— performing a complete ballet class, albeit sans the warmup. But then Beuchner warmed the audience right up with her first “talk story,” describing her early childhood concert experiences as a disturbing image wherein the pianist, who is dressed as an undertaker, lifts the lid of the piano-cum-coffin, providing a memorable visual. Warm-up accomplished, she had us in the palm of her hands.
Ms. Beuchner’s has enjoyed a lifelong affinity for Mozart – at age 6 a bust of Mozart was her birthday present from her parents – she was the first artist to perform the entire cycle of Mozart Piano Sonatas, at Alti Hall in Kyoto, Japan in September 2018. Her flight through his music, particularly in the second piece, Sonata in D major “Durnitz” had the effect of a trompe l’oeil. Her hands played crossed for extended periods, and my dancer’s sensibility pondered the difficulty of holding one’s hands close enough to strike keys – much less at warp speed – without tangling one’s wrists and arms. A sonic beauty emanates from Beuchner’s piano, our eyes can barely register that keys have been struck.
Talk story II: Brahms. A cigar-smoking large man discovered by composer Robert Schumann (who married his sweetheart and musical companion Clara whom he first met when she was just 9 years old) prompted a #MeToo comparison from Beuchner. More Schumann intrigue than Brahms, whose life story seems rather dull in comparison, Brahms’ Two Rhapsodies op. 79, written 23 years after Robert Schumann’s demise, seemed descriptive of Clara and Robert’s love story insofar as the way that Buechner narrates it with the piano. A scholar and natural teacher, Beuchner informed the audience that this piece is in an ABA musical pattern which I soon interpreted as MaleFemaleMale. Grand gestures, intense, low barometric weight-like pressured hands hovered over the Klavier Gross during the dramatic A’s. In the B sections fingers fluttered alit, dancing like ballerina feet. At one point, the A form was played with a single, right-handed thumb, along with a hammering left hand and a near stomping right foot. Double entendres were duly noted. Was that move the artist’s particular – or peculiar – choice? Is that what the score calls for in order to execute it properly? Beuchner nearly springs off the bench during the A, masculine passages with her whole body moving closer to the keys during the more feminine B sections bringing to mind her own words: “…my fingers touching the keyboard are connected to a heart at peace and a truthful character that knows the serenity of inner honesty.” In case you haven’t read the numerous reviews, interviews, and published pages, her website has a menu choice titled Transgender Issues. I couldn’t help but think I was seeing a kinesthetically musical interpretation of the trials and tribulations of having gender dysphoria. She has gracefully become one with both herself and her euphoric talent.
The curtains were lit in warm, pretty blues for the second act. But first was Variations on a Theme of Poulenc (1957) composer Kouji Taku, a cheerful piece albeit with a slight melancholic twist. The concert closed with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. My first impression – fabulously frenetic. Igor Kipnis’ more eloquent words, found in browsebirography.com quoting from Stereophile, ”a more effective or stylish treatment” of Gershwin’s Rhapsody he had never heard describing Buechner’s technique as “sizzling.” Above all, Beuchner is unique, riveting, remarkable, and quite simply outstanding. Dear Sara, please come back and bestow us with your aloha again soon. Mahalo.
Also, from her website: As a prominent figure in music and proud transgender woman, Sara also appears at LGBTQ events to speak about her experience transitioning from David to Sara Davis, at age 39. Sara Davis Buechner joined the faculty of Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance in 2016, after previously teaching at the Manhattan School of Music, New York University and the University of British Columbia. She has presented masterclasses and workshops at major pedagogic venues worldwide, adjudicated important international piano competitions, and is also a contributing editor for Dover Publications International. In 2017 Ms. Buechner marked her 30th year as a dedicated Yamaha Artist.
Leslie Larch studied dance with the San Francisco Ballet, danced the can-can at the Moulin Rouge, and now teaches Pilates on the Hamakua Coast.
Photos: Steve Roby