In Charleston, Neely Bruce is best known as the composer/conductor behind this year’s revival of Flora, An Opera. Elsewhere he’s known for his own original works, his piano playing and his knowledge of American music. He’s a living library of vernacular, hymnal, early, and contemporary tunes. Music in Time provided the perfect vehicle to show these aspects of Bruce’s career at the Simons Center Recital Hall yesterday. There were some thoroughly modern compositions, but the concert was at its most enlightening as an echo of past music styles like ragtime and slave songs.
Series director John Kennedy introduced Bruce, promising that the day’s selection would show the breadth of his work and the spirit of his personality, synthesizing his omnivorous love of music. Bruce proved this by spanning a century of musical styles in just over an hour. One of Bruce’s true loves is rag, with its infectious syncopated rhythm. You could tell by the way he tore into a 1991 solo piano piece, "Louis Chauvin Surveys the Current State of Affairs." Chauvin was considered the best pianist-writer of his time. He was a black ragtime pianist who counted Scott Joplin among his contemporaries. Juxtaposing low, dark notes with high, bubbling ones, he suggested water running and time passing.
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