"I don't play pieces because I feel comfortable with them," says the pianist Mitsuko Uchida, "but because I feel compelled to play them." Though best known for her performances of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, as well as the 20th-century Viennese renegades Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, Uchida has been no less attracted to the music of Bach. But her love affair with his work has been a private one. In the past, she has "felt shy," she says, "at playing too much Bach in public."
Apparently, Uchida is ready to burst out with some Bach: On May 9, she will perform the Contrapunctus No. 1 from The Art of Fugue, along with the Sarabande from the French Suite No. 5, on an inventive program that includes excerpts from Hungarian composer Gy‹rgy Kurtšg's Jšt_kok ("Games"). At first, the juxaposition of the great 18th-century contrapunctist and the modern master might seem odd. But Kurtšg's and Bach's music "go unbelievably beautifully together," Uchida says. "It took me a long time to come up with this combination." In making her artistic decisions, she consulted Kurtšg himself‹who has recorded Bach transcriptions with his wife‹for programming advice.
Uchida returns to Carnegie Hall later in May to celebrate something else near and dear to her heart: the Borletti-Buitoni Trust (BBT), dedicated to developing the international careers of young artists. She has been part of the foundation since its creation in 2003 and is a trustee. "I was the midwife at the birth of this trust," she explains, and on May 17 she joins this year's winners of the BBT awards on stage in Zankel Hall.
"We are a European group based in London. So I said, half jokingly, 'For our five-year celebration let's go to America!'" laughs Uchida, who will also perform with the BBT winners in Kalamazoo and Philadelphia, the trust's first American performances.
With clarinetist Martin Fr‹st, violinist Soovin Kim, and cellist Christian Polt_ra, Uchida will perform Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time‹an apocalyptic work that originated during the composer's detention in a Nazi prison camp. One of Messiaen's best-known works, the Quartet was included to honor the centenary year of the composer's birth. Uchida points out that she doesn't have a chance to perform much chamber music during the regular concert season, although she devotes weeks each summer to coaching and performing chamber music with young musicians at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, of which she and the pianist Richard Goode are co-directors.
The May 17 program also includes Bart‹k's Contrasts for violin, clarinet, and piano, with Welsh pianist Ll _yr Williams, who also makes his New York solo recital debut next season in Weill Recital Hall. "I didn't want to program standard repertoire with Messiaen," explains Uchida, "and the Bart‹k is a wonderful, fun piece." Liszt's La lugubre gondola, a late work, is also featured on the program and will be performed by Williams. He "plays Liszt wonderfully," says Uchida, adding that she approaches programming with the performers in mind. "Liszt composed with such a spirit of adventure and view to the future; he was looking into the 20th century."